Professor Schwan's Gastrofantasmapromenautomaton

8.28.2007

Category: Huh?

In small-town USA, a new wind stirs. Signs have appeared all around this simple village; portents of an approaching phenomenon. Wheatpasted on barns and five-and-dimes are announcements of an inbound traveler, one Professor Schwan, and his "AMAZING!" "STUPENDOUS!" "MUST-BE-SEEN-TO-BE-BELIEVED (AND MAYBE NOT EVEN THEN)!!!" mystery: the Gastrofantasmapromenautomaton.

Rumors flow and excitement builds throughout the shire until one day, lumbering down the main thoroughfare, is the Professor himself. He manages to cut a handsome figure in his slightly disheveled, lace-trimmed three piece suit, bow tie, and velvet top hat. He kicks up dirt with a showy canter. Behind him is a massive mechanical beast: an ornate, mysterious trolley like the luxury rail cars of old. Pipes and vents of every description belch odors both pungent and delicious. Brass and woodwork is splayed in the organic swirls of pastry decorations.

As curious onlookers approach, the silver-haired Professor barks his call to one and all. To the residents of this fine hamlet he offers all of the wonders the eyes, nose, and stomach can behold: the Gastrofantasmapromenautomaton! In this horseless locomotive, he waxes, is more than just the kitchen of the future, more than just the finest victuals ever devoured, more than the speed of the space age and the power of the atomic age. At the core of the Gastrofantasmapromenautomaton is the greatest culinary motherbrain ever assembled of circuits and vacuum tubes ...

One by one the townspeople are led aboard the trolley. Inside they bear witness to the Professor's claims: it is a mechanized masterpiece of which Mr. Wonka would be proud. Machines of alien appearance chop and cook and mash and peel and boil and bake foodstuffs of every description. In automated symphony and before their very eyes, metal hands knead dough, roll a crust, assemble cherry filling, and bake a pie to Rockwellian golden-brown. A dozen other down-home staples are similarly and artfully prepared, all at the Professor's theatric pull of oversized levers. With each new meal the onlookers' eyes and stomachs grow. With every forkful, they are further convinced of the Professor's magic.

But one resident remains dubious. Ethel, the unofficial matriarch, has mastered her culinary craft through the toil of her eighty-some years. Her biscuits are known in three counties. Her sweet potato pie is blue ribbon. She naturally finds such automation preposterous, and wears her distaste in a suspicious squint.

The Professor politely accepts the praise of his happily stuffed guests and focuses his attention on his lone unsatisfied customer. To her, he admits that the machine's motherbrain, the Deep Blue of deep fry, is a parlor trick.

"You see, my dear", confides the Professor, "these recipes are the real magic. I have traveled to every corner of this fine land, and visited a great many towns such as yours. In each town, I've met a remarkable woman such as yourself -- proud, skilled, a master of her craft. And each woman, in realizing the twilight of her life, was eager to share with me her greatest accomplishment -- her secret family recipe."

"Now, I knew I hadn't the skill to recreate their delicacies myself, so I used the skills I do have to build the Gastrofantasmapromenautomaton to make them for me. So really, that was Mrs. Kelley's cherry pie you had. And Mrs. Lundgren's pot roast. And what about Mrs. Albert's corn casserole? Delicious, don't you think? And though Mrs. Kelly and Mrs. Lundgren and Mrs. Albert are no longer with us, bless their souls, fine people in towns just like yours can still enjoy their master works, for ever and ever. All thanks to their generous hearts and my wondrous machine."

With a twist of his mustache, the Professor leans in to whisper.

"So, my dear Ethel, tell me about this sweet potato pie I've heard so much about?"

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