‘Smooth and Creamy’

Would you welcome a bit of relief from the tension and anxieties of today’s news? Me, too.

All right, then, today let ‘s consider mayonnaise. Tasty, creamy, neither too tart nor too sweet. Just the perfect spread.

Growing up in World War II, I lived with my parents and two siblings in a narrow rowhouse, one of 11 in a block in Baltimore, 40 blocks north of the city center where Rafael Moulton, chemist, toiled in a lab at the Panzer Packing (formerly called Pickling) Co, at 1512 Fleet Street, in Fells Point.

There, this mild-mannered gentle man created Panzer’s own mayonnaise, the delicious stuff I grew up with. It garnished my school lunches from first grade through high school. Was it good? Oh my.

Our family developed a personal interest in this wonderful stuff. Mr. and Mrs. Moulton lived in the house next to ours. We lived at 819 Cator Avenue, the Moultons at 817. The adjoining walls between these dwellings were thin. During the day, Mrs. Moulton listened to soap operas on the radio one after the other. I can still hear them — Oxydol’s Own Ma Perkins, the Romance of Helen Trent, Stella Dallas.

At some point, we became aware of Mr. Moulton’s mayonnaise, and he brought home a quart of it and gave it to us. From that day on, whenever Mom’s mayonnaise ran low, she had only to mention this to kindly Mr. Moulton, and next day, he would hand Mom another free quart.

As I became an adult and moved away, I never could find a mayonnaise to equal Mr. Moulton’s, not Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or anywhere in South Florida, where I lived for 20 years. Not in Chapel Hill, where I have lived since 1977. Until last week, after I bought a jar of Duke’s at Harris Teeter.

Mayonnaise is important to life. Certainly we spread it on our sandwiches, but that’s not all. It’s essential in potato salad, cole slaw, egg salad, tuna salad, chicken salad and a host of other popular foods.

In 1900, Eugenia Thomas, a Columbus, Georgia, native, married Harry Duke and created her own mayonnaise in her kitchen, sharing it on sandwiches with friends and neighbors. The Dukes had moved to Greenville, South Carolina, near the Army’s Camp Sevier. This is where her mayonnaise became a business. Duke Mayonnaise’s website tells this story:

“It was at Camp Sevier that the Duke’s Mayonnaise legacy began. Noting the hardworking, hungry soldiers-in-training, Eugenia Duke began selling sandwiches slathered with her homemade mayonnaise starting in 1917. Popular favorites like chicken salad, pimento cheese, and egg salad cost a dime each, and Duke made a profit of 2 cents per sandwich – about 40 cents in today’s dollars. On the day that Eugenia sold her 11,000th sandwich, she invested in a delivery truck that enabled her to distribute her increasingly popular sandwiches to more people than ever before. Eugenia’s sandwiches and the mayonnaise that gave them their special flavor were so unforgettably delicious that years after they’d left the camp, soldiers wrote to Eugenia begging for her sandwich recipes and jars of her delectable spread.

“In 1923, Eugenia’s top salesman, C.B. Boyd, noticed something important. Eugenia’s classic and simple sandwiches were delicious, but it was her tangy spread that was truly distinctive and kept people wanting more. Though her sandwich enterprise was still flourishing, Boyd urged Duke to shift her efforts to the mayonnaise that made her sandwiches so flavorful. As a result, Duke began selling her mayonnaise as a separate product.”

You can’t live in North Carolina without hearing native Tar Heels and longtime residents carry on about Duke’s mayonnaise. When my last jar of Hellmann’s ran out, I decided, what the heck, let’s try some Duke’s. See what all the fuss is about.

Last week, I spread some Duke’s on a sandwich of sliced turkey. One bite, and I was transported back to Mr. Moulton’s wonderful spread. Oh my.

Friends, I have found my mayonnaise again, and  I’m never going back.

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