Toasting Sesame Seeds and Life

Charles | May 22, 2010 | 2 Comments

“Everything I cook or write about here in Oregon is shaped not only by those who cooked for me as a child, but by my family and friends who shared cooking with me as I grew up.” I wrote that last September in a post I called Comfort Me with Apples.

In the New Year’s Day post of 2010 I wrote, “If you know me as family or friend, there is no less of you here than all whom I mentioned by name. There is an essence of you in all that I do and it can’t be any other way. Thank you for being important ingredients in my life.”

On Tuesday evening, May 18, my dear friend Barbara Grove called to tell me that our friend Larry Thompson had passed away. Hearing such news is not always a surprise but the reality always hits hard.

It was through Barbara that I came to know Larry as a friend. Previously I knew Larry as the English Horn player for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and as my chamber music coach at Southern Methodist University School of Music. Even after our lives took each of us to other cities in Texas, it was Barbara who kept us connected. Like a mother, she is good about things like that.

One vivid memory of Larry was in the mid-1960s. Charles Munch, conductor and music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1949 to 1962, was in Dallas conducting Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz. In the slow movement of this piece, there is a hauntingly pastoral duet between the English Horn and an offstage oboe, representing two shepherds. Larry, of course, was performing the English Horn solo, and his execution that night was as good as it gets.

Charles Munch was famous for his interpretations of French orchestral music, especially that of Berlioz, and the whole orchestra and soloists were in superb form for these concerts, especially Larry. It is customary during the applause at the end of selections for the conductor to recognize soloists in the orchestra who distinguished themselves. When Maestro Munch motioned for Larry to stand and take a bow, he also walked through the orchestra and led Larry by the hand to the podium in front to receive his applause. So electric was this performance of the Berlioz that I scored a ticket for the next evening’s performance for a second hearing.

The second vivid memory occurred sometime after that. I was a dinner guest in Barbara’s family home, as were Larry and his wife. Larry insisted that the salad would not be complete without some toasted sesame seeds. We all agreed and I scooted over to the range for a lesson. Larry explained that toasting sesame seeds took about as much concentration as performing. If you don’t remove the seeds from the heat at just the right moment, they burn and become bitter, he pointed out. I was mesmerized watching him swirl the seeds in the hot, dry skillet and occasionally tossing them up and catching every one of them on the fall and then casually depositing the perfectly toasted seeds onto a cool plate. Bravo again, Larry!

Larry left the Dallas Symphony at some point to perform with the Houston Symphony. After several years there, he eventually retired to his ranch in Montana to enjoy the fruits of his successful music career.

Thank you, Larry, for so much rich entertainment and friendship. Thank you, Barbara, for being the glue.  A toast to Larry Thompson!

Toasted Sesame Seeds
as learned from Larry Thompson

Toasted sesame seeds are a wonderful topping on salads as well as many entrées and side dishes.

  • ¼ cup (60 ml.) or your desired amount of sesame seeds.
  • A dry skillet (small is good for this).
  • Heat the skillet over medium-high heat and toss in the sesame seeds.
    Using a wooden spoon or just the movement of the pan, keep the seeds moving as they toast.
  • Watch for them to begin turning a golden color and releasing their sesame aroma.
  • Turn out on a cool plate or saucer to cool.

Toasting sesame seeds is a good time to practice your skillet-tossing and -turning skills. As long as the pan has sloped sides, you can thrust the skillet forward and up, sending the seeds slightly airborne, and then catch them on the way down.


Bon appétit

— Charles

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Category: Condiment

About the Author (Author Profile)

Music, food and photography are at the center of Charles’ life. He performed with the Dallas Symphony, Dallas Opera and was assistant principal bassoonist with the Fort Worth Symphony for more than 20 years. When Charles and Victor moved to Baltimore, Charles created Lone Star Personal Chef and Catering Service and taught cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma. Now in Salem, Charles is a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Mountain West Real Estate, taught cooking classes for children at the A.C. Gilbert Discovery Village, and owns and operates Charles Price Photography. Charles and Vic enjoy entertaining and frequently host dinners as fundraisers for local non-profits and charities

Comments (2)

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  1. Dearest Charles,

    Thank you for your lovely words of tribute to our treasured friend and the re-awakening of beautiful memories and the good times we all had together AND food was ALWAYS a part of those times! A kind, gentle, immensely talented, curious and deeply caring human being has moved on to the next great adventure! Safe journey, Larry!


  2. Claudia says:

    Beautiful sentiments, Charles. It’s too fun as I had no idea Larry was the inspiration behind the sesame seeds! When combined with the perfect greens, avocado, scallions, tomatoes, and purple onions, they were perfection. Hmmm….thinking I’ll add them to my grocery list today. Thanks for that delightful reminder.

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