Appreciation: A Buffet of Ann Lemons Pollack’s Writing

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With the passing of Ann Lemons Pollack in April and preparations underway for the July 24 celebration of her life, we’ve been enjoying re-discovering some of her early writings. Tucked onto dusty bookshelves and archived in old wine boxes, we’ve found dozens of dog-eared hard copies and tear sheets of her old writings, largely lost in time and some predating the Internet era. 

These are musings on food and travel and life. Her old St. Louis Magazine column on food and cooking in the early 2000s was called “The Flavor of Lemons,” and that seems an apt description for these excerpts and anecdotes from various publications. We’ve highlighted a few amusing passages so we can share, ahem, a little Lemon zest with you.

It’s an appetizer, if you will, for celebrating Ann’s life at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, July 24 at The Grandel theater, 3610 Grandel Square, in St. Louis. Everyone is invited. In the meantime, cheers and enjoy! 

On the Great River Road north of Alton, Ill., from November 1973 in the Mill Creek Valley Intelligencer, Ann’s first published article: “The (Mississippi) River that comes so close to us here might as well be 30 miles away for all the attention most of us give it. Go and look at it - smell it, ride on it, taste what its communities eat. Throw a picnic lunch, a cooler, or nothing, if it’s really an impulse, in the back of the vehicle and head north.”

On eating strategies, from 1983 in New Orleans Menu: “The word serious probably ought not to be applied to the pleasures of the table. Unlike the kitchen – where art is being fashioned – a dining room should be marked by relaxation and indulgence. And with any luck, glee, too. ‘Serious’ in this connotation brings to my mind a slit-eyed evaluator descended from the Cromwellian Puritans, noting instead of enjoying the meal.”

On food and relationships, from 1986 in St. Louis Dining: “I somehow had an ongoing relationship with a fellow who had a large appetite for food but whose interest in it was strictly intellectual and, at that, rather lukewarm. One evening we were in an excellent and extremely elegant restaurant. Waiters bowed and scraped. A senator dined at the next table. The first courses, his fish soup and my salmon mousse, had been exciting. The entrees arrived. We were perhaps two bites into them, when one of those intermittent drops in the room noise occurred. Just as it did, he turned to me, and said in a voice that carried, ‘Why can’t you cook like this?’ The entire room, including the waiters, broke up. This from the man for whom I had prepared chicken Rochambeau and marquise au chocolat on his birthday. It was the beginning of the end of the relationship.”

On food and relationships, from a 1982 letter exchange with legendary food writer M.F.K. Fisher. The California food icon noted this in a neatly typed letter to Ann on onion-skin paper: “I myself cannot imagine wanting to spend my whole life, or even part of it, with someone who had absolutely no comprehension of reading or Mozart or a good ripe tomato.” Ann later wrote: “Sounds about right to me.”

On food and relationships – do you detect a theme? – from February 2000 in St. Louis Magazine: “After years of being single, I learned that early in a relationship – really early, like the first date – is when you hear a great deal of truth. For instance, if a guy says, ‘I’m not much on fancy food,’ this almost guarantees you won’t be visiting any Asian restaurants. It puts a big question mark over the possibility of dinners at French and contemporary American ones, even Italian.”

On eating peculiarities from February 2000 in St. Louis Magazine: “I once knew someone who wouldn’t eat whole animals, thus precluding shrimp, sardines and gingerbread men, among other things. (Once I yanked the leg off a soft-shell crab and popped it in my mouth. He turned absolutely pale and, briefly, I thought he might faint.)”

On food adjustments after marrying Joe Pollack, from February 2000 in St. Louis Magazine: “Anglo-Saxon that I am, my sandwich-making skills had to be sharply adapted for my delicatessen-going husband. I knew better than to use white bread or mayonnaise on a corned-beef sandwich, of course. But apparently I was far too skimpy on the meat.” Family note of amusement: We never saw Joe turn down food that Ann made.

On brunch at the old Schneithorst’s restaurant at Clayton and Lindbergh, from 1985 in St. Louis Dining: “ ‘What’s that?’ I asked a server. ‘Ah … seafood Lindbergh,’ said the young squire behind the line. He promptly got an elbow in the ribs. ‘Seafood Newburg,’ hissed the fellow next to him. By either name, the old Delmonico’s classic is a good idea at breakfast, the white sauce spiked with wine and generally well seasoned.”

On eating outdoors from June 2000 in St. Louis Magazine: “The French eat outside without a moment’s hesitation. It’s a tendency that I admire immensely. Living in the Central West End, I wait for the time of year when I can take my morning coffee, juice and newspaper out to the miniscule balcony, balance my feet on the rail (to the censorious stares of a neighbor just beyond the fence) and spend as much of the morning as I can outside.” Family note of amusement: Ann’s bare feet not only drew the ire of gentrified condo dwellers, her fondness for walking barefoot while living in the Dog Town neighborhood in 1969 prompted anonymous letters to be dropped into the family mailbox. Such behavior, the letters warned, could be subversive to the neighborhood children.

On visiting European Christmas markets, from November 2016 in Ladue News: “Call me a rebel, but I love leaving home at Christmastime and traveling to locales across the globe. Doing so constitutes a sociology lesson akin to a wedding – interesting to experience even if it’s not your own.”

On the pleasures of pot roast, from January 1999 in St. Louis Magazine: “Most of our recipes for that kind of food are heirlooms, the way my grandmother’s bed and her pressed glass are. Such traditional food is striking today, in this world of Chilean sea bass with shiitake mushrooms and a coulis of raspberries. What, as children, we greeted with ‘Oh, no! That again?’ is now something like a big, soft, wooly red sweater, simultaneously comfy and fashionable. Like the sweater, it seduces us into wanting it.”

On porch suppers, from August 1999 in St. Louis Magazine, discussing her childhood living in Desloge, the Southeastern Missouri town where she grew up: “My great-aunt had the best back porch I knew. I gravitated toward it on any visit when the weather was suitable. It, too, had awnings, and plenty of trees, so there was no sky, only green, the feel of being under water. The porch itself had a day bed and plenty of reading material, a magnetic combination for me. In addition there was a table where they often ate supper.”

On food resolutions from January 2, 1999, in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Food resolutions? Tell me one person who doesn’t have any, and I’ll send him to Crown Candy Kitchen.”

Terry Lemons, June 2022

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