Spicy Slumgullion: An Emergency Meal Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Spicy Slumgullion: An Emergency Meal

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It may happen that, during an emergency, some food improvisation is required. This recipe for slumgullion will provide a surprisingly tasty, though plebeian, option when supplies are limited.

Slumgullion: What is it?

The etymology of the US English word 'slumgullion' is much disputed. A current fancy derivation blames Hermann Melville, who wasn't describing food at the time. At least, we hope not1. In 1872, Mark Twain uses it in Roughing It to describe an unpalatable drink. By the 1890s, it seems to have meant a catch-as-catch-can sort of stew made of ad hoc ingredients. In the context of this entry, 'slumgullion' will be used in the sense that it had in 1960s Pittsburgh-area schools: a filling meal made of ground beef (mince), tomato sauce, and macaroni.

This spicier variant will make a good, quick, almost-no-effort meal for any Researcher who happens to be in the US. Researchers who happen to be elsewhere on the planet at the time may need to improvise.

How to Throw Together Spicy Slumgullion

Note: This recipe goes entirely by volume. No weights or precise measurements will be given, no matter how much the cook is threatened. Let these easy-to-follow instructions be your guide.

This recipe will feed two people, as we are assuming you are both snowed in, stranded by a hurricane, or under quarantine. If you aren't, why are you making this? Go to a restaurant.

You will need:

  • Half a tube of breakfast sausage (more on this later).
  • A mug to measure things in2.
  • 2 mugs' worth of elbow macaroni3.
  • 1/2 a mug's worth of chopped onions.
  • 1/2 a mug's worth of bell (green) pepper. (Optional: substitute whatever vegetable you've got that is not past its use-by date.)
  • 1 mug's worth of commercially-prepared tomato sauce.
  • 1 mug's worth of water.
  • A largish skillet (frying pan) and a heat source (gas or electric range, propane cooker, etc).

A Note on Breakfast Sausage

US breakfast sausage is a form of spiced pork sausage meat that is sold loose, not in link form, in plastic tied at the ends to make a cylinder, weighing 12 ounces (340g) each. The usual procedure is to make slices of the contents, remove the wrapping (which is not edible), and fry in a skillet. This mixture goes well with eggs, and is part of a 'farmer breakfast'. Unlike office workers, farmers need a high-protein breakfast to keep going.

This breakfast sausage was historically produced and consumed on farms, so the product is very popular in rural areas of the US. Today, most consumers buy their breakfast sausage at the supermarket, or get it cooked in a restaurant. Popular brands include 'Jimmy Dean' (named for its country music singer/owner), 'Tennessee Pride' (based in Nashville, Tennessee), and 'Bob Evans' (named for a diner owner from Gallipolis, Ohio).

None of this is important to the production of slumgullion, except to note that commercially produced breakfast sausage comes in 'mild', 'regular', and 'hot', indicating levels of spiciness from minimum to maximum. 'Hot' is quite spicy, indeed.

Should you be unable to acquire US breakfast sausage for this experiment, it is perfectly all right to substitute your own favourite type of spiced mince. This recipe will absolutely not work as a vegetarian exercise. If you are a vegetarian, do not go near this stuff.

How to Cook Slumgullion

  1. Chop the onions, peppers, and whatever else you want to put in – mushrooms, zucchini (courgettes), all the leftover veggies from the week? Go wild. Sauté these in a little butter or margarine in your skillet. Leave them there.
  2. Add the sausage, mixing until the meat is brown. You're going for 'well done', here.
  3. Throw in elbow macaroni, tomato sauce, and water. Cover and simmer until the macaroni is tender (nobody eats macaroni al dente).
  4. For a gourmet touch, lay a few slices of 'processed cheese'4 on top, cover, and let melt.

You now have a slumgullion that tastes surprisingly good. Serve with bread and salad, if there's any in the fridge, or leftover coleslaw, or a tin of green beans. Or shrug and write yourself a veggie IOU.

Suggested Ambience

  • Lighting: Firelight. Lantern-light. A flashlight. It is not necessary to see this food very clearly – in fact, that would be detrimental to the experience. Candlelight, however, would be unduly romantic.
  • Music: Anything 'country'. Definitely not Chopin.
  • Mood: Somewhere between nostalgia and resignation. Tell school jokes.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

1'It is called slobgollion; an appellation original with the whalemen, and even so is the nature of the substance. It is an ineffably oozy, stringy affair, most frequently found in the tubs of sperm, after a prolonged squeezing, and subsequent decanting. I hold it to be the wondrously thin, ruptured membranes of the case, coalescing.' Moby Dick, Chapter 94, 'A Squeeze of the Hand'.2What Hyacinth Bucket of Keeping Up Appearances would call a 'beaker'. To non-fans of this Britcom, 'beaker' sounds like a type of laboratory equipment. Although a clean beaker would also do for measuring and, come to think of it, it's metric.3Elbow macaroni are short, curved pasta tubes.4'Processed cheese' is the US euphemism for something that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike cheese. However, it has a marvellous melting quality that is very satisfying to the undiscriminating palate. It is also easy on the lactose intolerant.

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