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Little agreement on placement of pickles

Joyce Walter writes about the arrangement and rearrangement of food at a recent event
Reflective Moments by Joyce Walter

Sitting back and quietly being a spectator and taking vicarious pleasure in the sport of life’s experiences is sometimes more educational than actual participation.

While recently watching human interaction, it soon became apparent that an adage from the past had definite merit: more than one woman in the kitchen might definitely spoil the broth, or in this case, the arrangement of foodstuffs and condiments for a public dinner.

If this had been a potluck supper where attendees are expected to provide a salad, main course and dessert to share with other guests, I might have expected some sort of one-upmanship. From personal experience, my offerings for such occasions have been scrutinized with judgmental eyes, some of those eyes looking with disdain at the slightly mangled devilled eggs or the potato salad I prepared with mustard added to the dressing.

When my dishes were mostly empty at the end of the evening, I smiled inwardly with the knowledge that some of the guests were polite enough to try what I prepared, and perhaps even went back for seconds. The true highlight of such an evening is being asked for the recipe.

But the public dinner previously mentioned was a catered affair, with some of the guests having volunteered to assist in the kitchen, setting out the condiments to accompany the meat and baked potatoes, and to fill trays with slices and cookies for dessert.

The helper carried a bowl of pickles to the counter and placed it where she thought suitable. When her back was turned, another helper moved it to a new spot and returned to the kitchen. A third worker brought out relish and mustard and horse radish and moved the bowl of pickles to make room for her armload of condiments. A teen helper brought out salt and pepper and moved items to make room for them. 

Before long, all the foodstuffs were moved again to suit another helpers’ idea of efficient placement. But that didn’t last long before a new worker entered the competition and took the pickles back to the kitchen. The original pickle placer returned them and re-arranged the table.

Then it was the dessert trays that drew the attention of many: cookies here, butter tart squares there and brownies in another corner. But wait, all of those sweets had to be removed from the trays and placed in paper containers then settled again with a scheme that seemed to draw considerable discussion.

Meanwhile, the pickles went into the centre with the condiments arranged around them — until a bowl of sour cream was added to the mix and all semblance of order was lost.

By this time, the main courses were ready and we lined up to fill our plates. The meal was worth the wait. The moving parts on that side table only added to the entertainment value of the evening. 

No one, except maybe the pickle lady, noticed that few pickles had been forked from the dish. Perhaps it was after all a matter of location, location, location.

Joyce Walter can be reached at