Condiment acquisition gene

Copyright Annette Marie Hyder

A capacious purse with bottomless depths

We were at the Olde World Cheese Shop, a gourmet shop that had a restaurant attached (or vice versa) that served all things delicious, from savory soup and zesty salad to puffy omelets and garlicky escargot. I was ten years old and by now used to (but nonetheless mortified by) the way that my grandmother would remove the jelly packets off of restaurant tables and plunge them into her capacious purse of bottomless depths.

But this restaurant had special fancy single serving size jelly and jam packets. They were not simple flat plastic envelopes of jelly but tiny plastic bowls with shiny foil covers that had the names of the jam and jelly flavors in cursive font. After my grandmother swept the entire supply of them off the table and into the gaping mouth of her purse, she wanted more. So she told me to ask for more. In my family, my grandmother was the strong armed matriarch and you did not disobey her.

So, to my embarrassment, I found myself asking our server if we could have more jelly (“and jam” sotto voced my grandmother) — and jam — please. He took one look at the plundered plate that previously held no less than fifteen single servings of jam and jelly and asked me “Where did all of those go?”

“Well,” I explained “my grandmother likes them so much that she has put a few in her bag to take home with her. I hope that’s OK?”

“Sure!” he said. “And perhaps you would like to take the salt and pepper shakers home too? Tablecloth? Napkins? Just let me know. I’ll be right back with your jam.”

Total. Complete. Horrified. Embarrassment.

“You never know, these could come in handy.”

I had also seen her take a red cloth napkin out of a Chinese
restaurant with her. The hostess came chasing out after us to get it
back. My grandmother said it was an accident; she didn’t mean to take it out with her. She would also take salt packets, plastic utensils and extra napkins (“You never know, these could come in handy.”)

I wondered why she did it. Did it have something to do with her age (but I didn’t see other older ladies behaving that way)? Did it have something to do with her having lived through the Great Depression? Whatever her reasons, my grandmother’s penchant for packing her purse with packages of
condiments was a great source of embarrassment to me and I swore that
(duh!) I would never embarrass my dining companions like that when I was an adult.

It’s not just old ladies: generations of condiment acquisition

Fast forward: I’m an adult, and I am on a visit to my cousin’s place in Texas. We’re in the college town of College Station. We go out to a Mexican place with authentic tacos, pitchers of beer and plastic forks. when we leave, my cousin not only  takes extra napkins home  with her — but plastic forks too!

“I can’t believe it!” I said.

“What?” she replied.

“You take stuff from restaurants — just like Grandma did!”

“So?” she replied.

“You’ve got the — the condiment acquisition gene from her!” I spluttered.

“Well,” she replied “I’ve seen you ask for extra soy sauce when we order Chinese. You’ve got the condiment acquisition gene too.”

“No I don’t! That doesn’t count.” I refused to believe that I too had been tainted by this genetic disposition to covet plastic cutlery and nab napkins.

Condiment abuse

Yet, I have discovered myself to be just as condiment compromised as others in my family (yes it is a family malady). I do ask for extra napkins. I do ask for extra packages of sauce when we order Chinese. But (I tell myself) that’s only because they never put enough in the takeout bag!

And my daughter has recently told me, while getting a sample of food at the supermarket, “Free food samples! Oh my gosh they taste better than the actual food!” Is this a mutated manifestation of the condiment acquisition gene?

I ponder.

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