In October of 1997, I had lunch with Jeff Keating, then editor of the Ashland Daily Tidings, to sell him a new idea: A column called Food History. Jeff read the three samples I had written and bought the concept. The first column, "Of Hush Puppies And Runaway Slaves," was published Nov. 11, 1997.

We both thought it would run for six months or 26 columns. We were wrong. That was 10 and a half years ago. This is column No. 539. Regretfully, it is also the last one, but it gives me an opportunity to say "thank you" to many loyal readers who have followed Food History for more than a decade. As the column was published in other newspapers in Oregon and one in Texas, these comments apply to readers in two states.

During those years, 171 of you sent me cards, letters and e-mails praising specific columns. I treasured these kudos. They were ego trips but they also helped me discover what story lines appealed to the audience.

Three of you wrote letters gently reminding me of three times I had made a mistake. I checked my notes. You were right; I was wrong. I had misread my notes or used inaccurate data. I wrote a letter of apology to all three.

One reader, a college professor, invited me to be a guest lecturer for her history class. During my three-year tour of Spain, 1977-80, I had researched the way our government used American wheat to keep Spain neutral during the early days of World War II. The lecture was well received. Another teacher invited me to speak to her middle school class. I was also invited to speak by various social and religious organizations in our valley.

Just for the record, I am an Episcopalian, but my philosophy of religion is best expressed by a letter written by Roman Senator Symmachus to Emperor Valentinian roughly l,700 years ago, pleading with the emperor to allow people to worship without interference from the state. We find these views codified in our First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free expressiion thereof."

Symmachus's letter reads: "It is reasonable that whatever each of us worships is really to be considered one and the same. We gaze up at the same stars, the sky covers us all, the same universe compasses us. What does it matter what practical system we adopt in our search for the truth? Not by one avenue only can we arrive at so tremendous a secret."

I quoted that because I received only one hate letter. I am proud of that record. I had published a column on a dish called Mormon Trout. I praised the Mormons for their courage, marching l,500 miles through trackless wilderness to establish their homeland in Utah.

The hate letter raged that "all Mormons, Catholics, Jews and gays" were going to hell. (He used a cruder word for gays.) Furthermore, the letter stated that I did not know what I was talking about and challenged me to write a column telling the truth, which was contained in his letter.

There was no way I would give that bigot the publicity he so obviously craved. I burned his letter.

Finally, I must include a recipe provided by my friend Kim Cook, Superbowl Stuffed Eggs.

PREPARATION: Boil and stuff 22 eggs. Draw a line down the center of the serving tray; that's the 50-yard line. Arrange eggs in a pattern of seven (linemen), three (backfield) and one (quarterback) on each side. Sprinkle one team with paprika to differentiate them from the other team and serve. Try this next Superbowl!

Thank you and goodbye.