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This is (not) a cow cookie

A quick jaunt to Johnson Creek’s Pine Cone Restaurant obscures reality.

A quick jaunt to Johnson Creek’s Pine Cone Restaurant obscures reality.

This is our newsletter-first column, Microtones. It runs on the site on Fridays, but you can get it in your inbox on Thursdays by signing up for our email newsletter.

René Magritte’s “The Treachery Of Images” was painted to spark a debate about reality versus representation. He paired a realistic tobacco pipe with the phrase “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” or “This is not a pipe,” to plainly illustrate that it’s inaccurate to refer to an image of a pipe as a pipe. To properly make this point, the image doesn’t have to be a facsimile necessarily, but it does need to be a fairly faithful recreation of its real-world counterpart.

That takes us to the Pine Cone Restaurant: a mandatory stop in Johnson Creek between Madison and Milwaukee, if only to grab a cow and/or pig cookie for a sugar rush. Besides being tasty, the cookies are surprisingly anatomically correct, down to their shape and pink-frosted udders. One could easily hold up either barnyard cookie in front of a toddler and expect them to point it out as a cow or a pig, to which one could reply “Uh-uh, it’s a cow cookie. That’s different,” if one was compelled to be condescending toward a child.

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The point is the Pine Cone’s cow and pig cookies have consistently met the “Treachery of Images” criteria for kicking off conversations about surrealism. That is, until recently, when my wife and I stopped for a cow cookie and a pig cookie and got an extra jolt to our concept of perception thrown in for free. The familiar shape and slightly discomforting details were gone, replaced by standard round cookies with only passing resemblances to cows and pigs.

Case in point: the man behind the counter referred to this new cow cookie as “some kind of white pig.” My wife must have looked concerned because he quickly assured her that it was just a “funny batch” and that the Pine Cone had definitely not abandoned its classic cow and pig cookie recipes.

Back in the car, the pig’s yellow eyes stared through us from the center of his too-round face, challenging our inherent knowledge of standard pig eye color. The cow’s nose was so similar to the pig’s that we began to wonder if maybe it really was some kind of white pig. These thoughts persisted until we ate both cookies, which were still delicious.

Next time we stop, I’ll be relieved to see our familiar farm friends back in the bakery case. The taste is only part of the expectation because the color and shape are both crucial for pretending you’re biting off an animal’s head. And if we’re going to talk about the difference between a real cow and a cow cookie, the representation needs to be udderly accurate. 

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