Experiment #1: A "Symphony of Beef"


Do you hear it? No?

Listen closely.

Listen even more closelier.

It’s the sound of comfortable comestibles. It’s the sound of chipped beef swaying in a milk-warmed intestinal wind. It’s the sound of a vaguely salty, creamy, sensation.

It’s the sound of…

Today’s recipe, scare quotes and all, comes to you from Mrs. Burt Talcott, whose name is actually “Mrs.”

Just kidding. It’s Lee.

Although both Burt and Lee Talcott were born in Montana (he: Billings. She: Great Falls), Burt represented the great state of California in the House of Representatives from 1963 to 1977. His wife was his fourth-grade sweetheart (You go, Lee.  Bag ‘em before you nag ‘em!).

Burt was a lifelong Republican in a Democrat-heavy district (California’s 16th snakes along the coast between LA and San Francisco). He secured the Republican nomination handily—and when the Democrats failed to mount a worthy opposition candidate, Burt’s supporters launched a write-in campaign and gave him the Democratic nomination as well.

True to his origin story, Burt’s legislative record is mixed. Although he voted for the Civil Rights Act, Burt also co-sponsored five anti-immigration bills introduced on the same day (May 19, 1975)  including HR7103, a bill that sought to establish criminal penalties for “any U.S. citizen who marries an illegal alien for the sole purpose of establishing immediate relative status for that alien.” It died in committee (cause of death: atherosclerosis).

But the conductor of this symphony is his wife, Lee. Lee was a Worthy Advisor for the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls, which is a Masonic group and not, as one might assume, an underground railroad for conservative lesbians.

>Lee’s recipe—a decidedly mid-century tribute to condensed soups, dried beef, and gratuitous pools of sour cream—makes a lot more sense when you take into account Burt’s history. The World War II vet and Quaker bomber pilot (infamous for their bombers, Quakers) spent 13 months in Stalag III. If that’s ringing any bells, it’s because it was the POW camp featured in The Great Escape. A 1969 profile of Burt in The Chicago Tribune reported that he lost 45 pounds during his imprisonment.
Which means: Burt needed to gain some FREEDOM LBS, STAT. Enter sandman cream soups on toast. Enter the concerto sonatina symphony of beef.

At the outset: this recipe serves four, and there is a literal pound of sour cream in this bad boy. But the concert master is the half-pound of dried beef, which we could only purchase in 2.25 ounce glass jars.

If you’ve never purchased a jar of dried beef, this isn’t the time to start. Ours came in slight pepperoni-style slices, which tasted depressingly little like pepperoni and alarmingly much like old salt from a fish graveyard that time forgot.

Beefiness? 2/10. Tom said it best: “For a ‘symphony of beef,’ I’d expect more complex instrumentation.” Unfortunately, the rest of the dish is milquetoast.

Sorry, milk toast. The rest of the dish is literally milk toast (remember that pound of sour cream?)

Step 1: Gather your ingredients

We’re sticklers about recreating these recipes to spec. But we knew Lee omitted the Hamm’s by accident.

This is it, folks. This is what we signed on for. The 1982 food pyramid contained only two segments: dairy and cans. The dearth of spices is not a mistake. The only spice the recipe calls for is paprika, which we all know is just glorified deviled-egg glitter. There’s no salt, either—but since the beef has enough sodium to brine your intestines, that’s a good thing.

Step 2: Make hot milk soup

Movement I: Adagio for Butter and Wet

Lee’s instructions call for melting butter in a saucepan over low heat and then adding a can of cream of mushroom soup and a pint of sour cream.

Why did you need to melt the butter first? Well, to fry the soup of course.

Whenever you want something to taste vaguely like the 80s, just add a can of condensed soup.

Step 3: Draw the rest of the fucking owl

There’s no rhyme or reason here. You just…dump the rest of the shit in like you’re making jungle juice for pledge week. In this case, “the shit” is a half-pound of chopped dried beef, a “one-pound can” of chopped artichokes, and half a cup of dry vermouth or white wine.

The artichokes and vermouth would seem classy, if they weren’t immediately drowned in a gloppy ocean of beige. Imagine the faint, delicate strains of a violin drifting across a pond—and then a bevy of middle-school trombonists leaping from the reeds.

Step 4: Trick yourself into thinking its biscuits and gravy

Served atop an unwilling toast. Nothing sops up failure like the Nooks and Crannies™ of a Thomas English muffin.

So this doesn’t look…indescribably bad. Midwesterners are no strangers to “Hot Shit on Toast.” And look at those flaps of artichokes—a whole vegetal! This is a COMPLETE MEAL.

We had a couple friends over for dinner that night, and three out of four finished their plates. Tom even went back for a second movement, a theme and variation with hot sauce. Which is really the way to approach it, because alone, the Symphony of Beef tastes like a canal. The brine is incessant, the beef adolescent, the tang near-flourescent.

And the papery meat scraps cling to the roof of your mouth like tissue.

Audience reactions:
“This tastes exactly like the sum of its parts”
“This is like the fondant of beef”
“It’s the only not-soft part of the dish”
“It tastes like hospital food, except everything in it is trying to kill you.”

Final analysis:
Suitable for cats without hypertension.

Olive is a beef beast.

Burt Talcott lived to be 96, which is proof positive that sodium, cholesterol, and nitrates turn the human body into an invincible, impervious jerky. TAKE THAT, SCIENCE.

Call it the Mozart effect.

Symphony of Beef
By Mrs. Burt (Lee) Talcott
Adapted from the 1982 Congressional Club Cook Book, Tenth Edition

2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 can mushroom soup
1 pint sour cream
1 lb can artichoke hearts, sliced
½ cup dry white wine or vermouth
½ lb. dried beef, chopped
1 heaping tablespoon parmesan cheese
2 cans Hamm’s beer

Open the Hamm’s beer. Melt margarine over low heat. Add can of mushroom stop. Add sour cream and stir. Drink some Hamm’s beer. Add sliced artichokes, wine, beef, and parmesan. Keep hot and serve on toast or toasted English muffin. Drink the rest of the Hamm’s beer. Good for brunch or luncheon. Makes four servings.


  1. Oh my gosh. More of this!!! The recipe is gloriously hideous. Your blog post is simply glorious. Can't wait for the next addition. And can you even still buy Hamm's beer?

  2. Liz, I'm sure your mother will say, "Well, that doesn't surprise me at all," to my comment but I grew up on this. It had a variety of names, depending on who was serving it, Hash, Save Our Soldiers, shit-on-a-shingle. However, your recipe was a bit fancier than what anyone in southern Ohio ever served up. You and Mr. Willoughby are very funny and I like your style. By the way, Hamm's is the bomb!