The Magic of Ferdinand’s Bar

You can have strong emotional reactions when you eat a food that arouses those deep unconscious memories.

~ Susan Krauss Whitbourne

Even if I stood on my tiptoes, I still couldn’t see over the counter at Ferdinand’s Bar.

But I could smell the waffled sugar cones cooking in the waffle irons and hear the Washington State College dairy science students packing them with the best ice cream ever. Those students, all male in those days, almost made cheese, similar to English white cheddar, called Cougar Gold.

Ferdinand’s name stemmed in part from Walt Disney’s 1938 short film, “Ferdinand the Bull.” And the same year a WSC student whose middle name happened to be Ferdinand served on a fundraising committee―the WSC Dairy Products Judging Team―so people put two and two came together. Ferdinand’s it was.

Daddy landed his first professional job at Washington State College in Pullman just after my third birthday. He worked for the USDA, researching cures for wheat diseases. Surrounded by the rolling hills of Palouse country, prime wheat-growing land, Pullman was a small town with few culinary outlets. The weather turned cold as early as August, and frequent winter snowstorms challenged my parents, both snow-averse San Diego natives.

Ferdinand’s Bar became an escape for me. And for all of us. We lived in a tiny two-bedroom barracks-like apartment, left over from a World War II training camp. At one point, three children and two adults crowded into a space the size of a modest hotel suite. Possibly 850 square feet in total. One bathroom.

Our infrequent trips to Ferdinand’s, limited by Daddy’s slim wallet and five hungry mouths, stimulated my thirst for food adventures.

When it came to ice cream flavors, I wasn’t so adventurous. Yes, I usually chose vanilla, thick and creamy and shiny, in the right light conjuring up the texture of an off-white satin wedding dress.

Open-Face Cougar Gold Sandwiches

Serves 4

4 slices country-style bread, about ¾ inch thick

¼ cup mayonnaise, preferably Duke’s

4 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Slices of Cougar Gold or other sharp white Cheddar

1 large beefsteak tomato, sliced thin

Preheat broiler to 500°F. Place rack about 4 inches from coils. Toast both sides of the bread quickly, turning when slightly golden brown. Slather mayonnaise and 1 teaspoon of mustard on one side. Layer cheese slices over mayonnaise/mustard and top with tomato slices. Broil until cheese melts in the corners. Eat with knife and fork, as they do in Norway.

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