Mark Schatzker confesses his cottage sins: Gluttony

illustration of the word gluttony with various food items being eaten by people around it Illustration by Sam Island

Pride, wrath, envy, sloth, lust, greed, gluttony—the cottage can bring out the best and the worst in us. We asked seven of Canada’s top writers to come clean about their cottage sins.

I Have a Confession to Make…

Is there a more embarrassing, vulgar, judgment-inducing piece of kitchen equipment than a deep fryer? Compared to boiling, grilling, steaming or braising, deep frying is the racist uncle of food preparation.

Is it ever okay to own a deep fryer? The answer is yes—at a cottage.

Having a deep fryer in the city is tacky and also medically inadvisable, not to mention culinarily lazy. Coating your food in a high-calorie armour of carbs and fat is about as impressive as fishing with dynamite or lighting a campfire with napalm.

Yet for reasons that elude me, the rules of socially acceptable kitchen equipment change when that kitchen is perched on the edge of a deep blue lake. Our cottage cooking arsenal also includes an electric Teflon griddle, a smoker, an ice cream maker, an electric rotisserie barbecue attachment, and a sandwich press.

It didn’t start out this way. For the first decade or two, the point of owning a cottage seemed to be just keeping the thing standing—staining the pump house, clearing the eaves, chopping wood, and digging-out the grey water pit—all punctuated by the seasonal ritual of replacing the foot valve. We ate, of course. But we didn’t, you know, eat.

That began to change in the early ’90s when my father, acting on some new and fabulous impulse—did he see the late night infomercial for Ron Popeil’s 5-in-1 turkey fryer?—purchased the first deep fryer. Between lakeside chores, we found the time to peel, cut, and fry our own french fries. It took around two decades, but eventually the whole point of the cottage changed.

It hit me while I was sharing some cottage pics with a friend from California. “It’s beautiful,” he said. “What do you do there?”

I didn’t know what to say. We do all sorts of things—kayak, windsurf, swim, hike, fish. But are any of those things the point of a cottage? You could go to the cottage and do none of those things and it would still qualify as a trip to the cottage. If a ski chalet is for skiing, what is a cottage for?

“We eat,” I told him.

We eat things that one might well eat in the city. But the cottage features a day-to-day density of indulgence that would just be, well, wrong in an urban context. Around the middle of this past July, for example, we found ourselves in the midst of a typical run of culinary greatest hits. One night we had spareribs with Caesar salad and, what else, french fries. The day prior, we had grilled octopus with romano beans braised in olive oil, sage, and garlic. Two days prior, I spent ten hours smoking a beef brisket. But that night, it was spareribs. I pulled a chunk of meat off the bone, chewed and swallowed and then looked at my wife and said, “So tomorrow night. I was thinking we could do fresh tagliatelle with prosciutto, cream, and peas. And then we can do the chicken pot pie on Thursday, and my brother can bring up fresh sea bream Friday.”

There we were, halfway through one dinner and already we were talking about the next, and the next after that, and the next after that.

There is a word for this, one that’s even worse than “deep fryer.” That word is gluttony. The dictionary defines it as, “habitual excess in eating.” Excess of any sort is bad. Habitual badness is worse. And the habitual and excessive eating of delicious food is, well, do we really need to dwell on this?

Am I a glutton? The answer, I’m afraid, is yes. Guiltily and unreservedly. But only at the cottage.

Award-winning food and travel writer Mark Schatzker’s newest book, The End of Craving: Recovering the Lost Wisdom of Eating Well comes out in November.

Featured Video