Last or­der

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TASTE - By LEO HICK­MAN By MICHELLE LOCKE

death row pris­on­ers’ last meals.

THE news that Texas has taken away the right of pris­on­ers fac­ing ex­e­cu­tion to choose their last meal high­lights some of the un­usual choices that have been made.

When Lawrence Rus­sell Brewer, a no­to­ri­ous white su­prem­a­cist mur­derer, placed his or­der for his fi­nal meal early Septem­ber, it was too much for US Se­na­tor John Whit­mire, chair­man of the Texas se­nate’s crim­i­nal jus­tice com­mit­tee. He halted the state’s tra­di­tion of grant­ing a pris­oner fac­ing ex­e­cu­tion the right to re­quest their favourite food.

Brewer, in one last at­tempted act of de­fi­ance, had su­per­sized his re­quest, or­der­ing two fried chicken steaks, a triple-meat ba­con cheese­burger, fried okra, a pound (453g) of bar­be­cue meat, three fa­ji­tas, a meat lover’s pizza, a pint (0.47litre) of ice-cream and a slab of peanut but­ter fudge with crushed peanuts.

But as he was led off for his lethal in­jec­tion, he hadn’t eaten any of it.

Brian Price, a former prison chef who wrote Meals To Die For based on his ex­pe­ri­ence of pre­par­ing “spe­cial meals” for pris­on­ers, of­fered to con­tinue the tra­di­tion for free, call­ing the ban “cold-hearted”. His re­quest was turned down.

The his­tory of the last-meal in Texas – recorded online at sites such as Dead Man Eat­ing – sums up both the back­ground and predica­ment of death-row pris­on­ers. Rare are the re­quests for lob­ster or caviar. (The meal has to be pre­pared from ingredients avail­able in the prison kitchen.)

More com­mon are Dr Pep­per, fried cat­fish, grits and burg­ers. In other words, the cheap, fast food of child­hood – giv­ing so­ci­ol­o­gists and psy­chol­o­gists plenty to chew on.

But some re­quests are more un­usual than oth­ers. Be­fore James Smith was ex­e­cuted in 1990, he asked for a hand­ful of earth to com­plete a voodoo rit­ual. He was re­fused so set­tled for yo­ghurt in­stead.

In 2002, Robert Buell asked for a sin­gle pit­ted black olive be­fore his ex­e­cu­tion.

And just be­fore Thomas J. Grasso was ex­e­cuted in 1995, he was asked if he wished to say any­thing: “I did not get my Spaghet­tiOs, I got spaghetti. I want the press to know this.”

In 2010, Texas was treated to the rather un­usual spec­ta­cle of a deathrow pris­oner re­ceiv­ing – and eat­ing – his “last” sup­per only to have a stay of ex­e­cu­tion.

Hank Skin­ner was con­victed in 1995 of mur­der­ing his girl­friend and her two sons, or­dered three pieces of fried chicken, two cat­fish fil­lets, a bowl of green onions, a bowl of tar­tar sauce, a bowl of home­made ranch dress­ing, a bowl of shred­ded cheese, a bowl of crum­bled eggs, two dou­ble ba­con cheese­burg­ers, a large or­der of fries RE­MEM­BER when but­ter came in two va­ri­eties – salted and not?

Food writer and blog­ger Lei­tha Matz can, which makes it all the more sur­pris­ing when she con­tem­plates the herd of but­ter choices now crowd­ing gro­cery shelves.

“There’s cul­tured but­ter, there are ar­ti­sanal but­ters. You can get but­ter that is more yel­low in the spring and sum­mer than it is in the au­tumn and win­ter be­cause you can ac­tu­ally see the tran­si­tion of what the an­i­mal is eat­ing.”

In fact, Matz, who taste-tested a raft of but­ters for her blog Miss Ginsu.com, found her­self “as­tounded at the sheer breadth and va­ri­ety of but­ter that was avail­able.”

Spread the news: But­ter is get­ting bet­ter in the United States.

“There’s def­i­nitely been a kind of whirl­wind with but­ter,” says An­drew Knowl­ton, restau­rant and drinks editor at Bon Ap­petit mag­a­zine.

Like ba­con, but­ter has trav­elled an in­ter­est­ing path. A hand-crafted prod­uct 50 or so years ago, it de­scended into a mass-pro­duced, taste-shack­led com­mod­ity only to be res­ur­rected in re­cent years as in­ter­est in good, hand-crafted food has grown.

First the bread at restau­rants im­proved, then chefs, who were list­ing the names of farm sup­pli­ers on their menus, got se­ri­ous about but­ter. These days, there are wildly pop­u­lar but­ters pro­duced by out­fits like Straus Fam­ily Cream­ery on the West Coast and the Ver­mont But­ter & Cheese Cream­ery on the East.

There are even “cult” but­ters, like the hand­made prod­uct from a small dairy called An­i­mal Farm in Or­well, (nat­u­rally) Ver­mont, which is a sup­plier to cel­e­brated chef Thomas Keller’s Per Se and The French Laun­dry restau­rants.

And for those with a taste for the ex­otic, there’s the but­ter made in Brit­tany that is flecked with al­gae.

“When you go to the gro­cery store now, it’s not just the lo­cal dairy and the big brand. You’ve got seven or eight to choose from, in­clud­ing im­ported but­ters. We kind of caught up to the Euro­peans,” says Knowl­ton. Mix­ing things into but­ter, or mak­ing what are known as com­pound but­ters, is an­other de­vel­op­ment that has be­come more com­mon. In the Oc­to­ber is­sue, Bon Ap­petit fea­tures a and a choco­late milk­shake.

He was de­ter­mined to fin­ish it all, but had to give up half­way through his sec­ond cheese­burger.

If he faces ex­e­cu­tion again – he is still on death row – he will have to eat what­ever the prison can­teen serves that day. – Guardian News & Me­dia 2011 clas­sic herb-le­mon zest but­ter that can dou­ble as an in­stant sauce.

The nice thing about but­ter is you can in­dulge in a lit­tle lux­ury with­out in­cur­ring the kind of fi­nan­cial out­lay that will cut through your bud­get like, well, you know.

“It’s not truf­fles or foie gras or some crazy Hi­malayan salt,” says Knowl­ton. “It’s a cheap lux­ury.” – AP

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