Left in Andover: A love for ‘Park-a-Lene’ food

By Susan Leader
©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

In a world gone mad for pets, I am a proud but cat-free “cat person.”

I got my cat Park-a-Lene in the early 1980s when we were living in our cabin in Andover. She was from a friend’s long line of fine-tempered tortoise shell beauties.

Park-a-Lene was my last feline soulmate. After I had kids, I lost my appetite for additional dependents even though I shared my bed with a parade of them that the girls convinced us to adopt.

Brownie, our long-time chocolate lab, was a member of the family. After all, the breeder made us promise to let her sleep with us.

Luckily, she stuck to John and the girls like glue, leaving me free to treasure every moment alone that I could get.

Sunflower seed croutons

But my Park-a-Lene came and went on her own, through a hole in the upstairs of the cabin leading out onto the roof. I never had to provide cat litter or do anything except feed her. Whenever she deigned, she graced my rocking chair, the epitome of home.

Park-a-Lene was addicted to nutritional yeast. She consumed endless quantities of it sprinkled over kibble. After she suddenly disappeared one day, I searched the ditches far and wide.

At least it wasn’t like when I was a little girl in the 1950s when my father broke my heart disposing of our kittens in a burlap bag in the frog pond. He was not alone in practicing this method of population control. In those days, barn cats multiplied without restraint.

A girlfriend on one of my apple-picking crews swore her outsize consumption of nutritional yeast repelled mosquitoes. Conversely, I wondered if my beloved (spayed) Park-a-Lene had been targeted by a yeast loving fisher cat. We never cracked the case. But for years afterward and in her honor, my family referred to nutritional yeast as “Park-a-Lene” food.

Umami dominates

Park-a-Lene food, a complete protein comprising all nine amino acids that the human body cannot manufacture, rates very high in B vitamins. Its strong umami flavor makes it ideal for concocting dairy-free taste profiles.

Large flake nutritional yeast can be found in the bulk section of any health food store, even in a shaker at some popcorn concessions. It is the same yeast used to raise bread or brew beer, but specially cultured on a sweet medium such as molasses, then deactivated through a drying process.

A hundred years ago, yeast starred as one of the earliest modern health fads. A “Yeast for Life” campaign was instigated by the Fleischmann brothers to boost sales after inexpensive commercially baked bread undermined the home baking tradition in America. Consuming blocks of active yeast, the company claimed, would cure a plethora of nutritional deficiencies.

By 1950, the FDA had put the kibosh to such extravagant health claims. My mother stocked unappetizing bitter dried brewers yeast flakes. Her cult health guru, Adele Davis, advocated disguising these in a blender energy drink cleverly labeled Tigers Milk.

It took Steve Gaskin’s Tennessee commune The Farm to popularize the versatile nutritional yeast flakes of today. In the early 1970s, glory days of vegetarianism, mail order from The Farm was the main if not only source for this versatile ingredient.

Loved by pets and kids

All of our pets, canine and feline, have loved it. Ditto for kids and grandkids. I use it for flavor as much as its nutritional profile. My 1-year-old granddaughter attacks her yogurt with renewed vigor each time I sprinkle it with a blizzard of yeast flakes.

If you are a newbie, try it on popcorn. It soaks up the fat and salt, forming delicious finger-licking clumps in the bottom of the bowl. No one even complains that I use olive oil instead of butter. It is that good.

A variation is my recipe for sunflower seed croutons. Toast raw sunflower seeds in olive oil until lightly browned. While still hot from the oven, dabble Braggs Liquid Aminos over the pan, it will evaporate on contact. Dust generously with nutritional yeast flakes.

I use these savory dairy and gluten free “croutons” on salads, rice, pasta, stir fries, mashed potatoes, just about anything. They will keep a few days at minimum. That is, if you can resist consuming them right out of the pan.

Warning: Store out of reach of pets.


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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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  1. henry homeyer says:

    My mother read Adele Davis in the 1950s and made us drink a potion of OJ and Brewer’s yeast every night at bedtime. I have found it a great energy booster and take some every day – without the OJ. It is full of Vitamin B.