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The Food Almanac: Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Food Almanac: Tuesday, January 8, 2013

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In The Food Almanac, Tom Fitzmorris of the online newsletter The New Orleans Menu notes food facts and sayings.

Days Until. .
Mardi Gras--34
Valentine's Day--36

Annals Of Bacon And Beans
The Battle of New Orleans took place today in 1815, the last battle in the War of 1812. The war had already ended, but word hadn't reached the 7500 British troops. They slogged through the swamps in what is now St. Bernard Parish, where they met defeat in Chalmette by Andrew Jackson's collection of 3100 back-bayou defenders. Who took a little bacon and a little beans, so that a rhyme could be made with a mispronunciation of "New Orleans." The battle was a rout, with 2000 British killed. It turned Andrew Jackson into a hero both here and nationally. His statue stands in the most prominent possible place in New Orleans.

Today's Flavor
Today is National Vol-Au-Vent Day. Or, to translate into Creole, Pattie Shell Day. Made in sizes from that of a thimble to that of a coffee mug, vol-au-vents are made of two layers of puff pastry cut into circles. The top layer has a hole cut in the center. When stacked and then baked, they become cups to contain concoctions that typically run to the rich and saucy. The name translates "fly on the wind," which suggests the ideal lightness of these puff pastry cups.

Unlike the smaller patty shells, vol-au-vents are usually made with a cap of pastry to cover the contents to keep them from cooling. The cap is always tilted off center, so the contents inside the vol-au-vent can be seen. Larousse Gastronomique says that vol-au-vents were invented and named by Marie-Antoine Careme, famous French chef and author of the nineteenth century.

In New Orleans, vol-au-vents are most often made into a dish called oyster patties--little vol-au-vents filled with oysters in thick sauce, baked a little more to make them crusty. Nine out of ten of these are terrible, usually because the the sauce is too thick. In the hands of a skillful chef, however, vol-au-vents can be fantastic. The best I ever had was a sweetbreads and mushroom dish made by Chef Denis Rety at the short-lived but brilliant Le Chateau in Gretna. The vol-au-vent was about five inches across and three inches deep, and was delicious enough to compete with the goodness of the creamy sauce and rich sweetbreads. You'd never know it was a close cousin to the gross little oyster patties forced upon you at wedding receptions.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
If you have a delicious dish whose consistency registers as glop to some diners, and if it doesn't seem right to serve over rice or pasta, bake it in a vol-au-vent. Everyone will find it very fancy.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Bacontown is a small, historic community about halfway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. It's named for Maria Bacon, a slave who in 1860 was freed along with seventy other slaves by Achsah Dorsey, a landowner who later willed thirty acres to Maria. The community has kept its African-American roots ever since, even though big-box stores and subdivisions of the town of Laurel grew up around it. It has lately been the focus of successful renewal efforts. The nearest restaurant is Pho 89, a half-mile away in Laurel.

Edible Dictionary
guanciale, [gwahn-CHAH-leh], Italian, n.--A kind of bacon made with the cheeks (jowl) of a pig, rather than the belly, as standard bacon is. Guanciale is cured with the same ingredients (salt, pepper, sugar) as belly bacon, but it's not usually smoked. It is the nature of guanciale to appear in small morsels rather than slices. Guanciale is becoming more popular in America as chefs insist on using it to make a number of classic Italian dishes in which it's considered essential. The two most famous of these are spaghetti carbonara and spaghetti all' amatriciana. If you didn't know that it was hog jowl, you'd think you were eating bacon.

Annals Of Candy
Walter E. Diemer, the inventor of bubble gum, was born today in 1905. (He also died on this date, in 1998.) Diemer was working for the Fleer Chewing Gum Company as a bookkeeper, but his interest in the product was fervent enough that he often fooled around in the test kitchen. He made a five-pound sample of pink gum that was both softer and more stretchable than standard gum base. It was tested in a store in Philadelphia, and became an immediate hit. Diemer not only created the gum but the technique for blowing gum bubbles, which he had to teach to his salesmen. He said that the most amazing thing about his gum was not its popularity but the fact that most of it is still pink, as if that were part of its essence. Fleer still makes Dubble Bubble.

Food At Sea
Today in 2004, the RMS Queen Mary 2 was christened by Queen Elizabeth II, the granddaughter of Queen Mary. At the time, it was the largest cruise ship in the world, and hailed as the peak of luxury. The Eat Club took its first voyage on the QM2 in April, 2009, New York to London. We did not dine as well as we expected, but still found the ship the most luxurious in our experience.

Music To Eat Banana Sandwiches By
Today is Elvis Presley's birthday,in 1935. About twenty years ago a line of wines bearing Elvis's name and likeness appeared. "Was this Elvis's favorite wine?" I asked the distributor. "Elvis didn't drink wine," he said. "But if he had, this is the wine he would have liked."

The Saints
This is the feast day of Saint Erhard of Regensburg, who lived in Bavaria in the 600s. He is one of many patron saints of bakers.

Politics And Food
Tonight in 1992, the first President Bush, attending a state dinner in Tokyo, became nauseous and lost his lunch in the lap of the Japanese Prime Minister. The White House explanation was that Bush had stomach flu, a euphemism for food poisoning. Make up your own sushi joke.

Food Namesakes
Soupy Sales, a deliciously wacko comedian who was on TV a lot in the 1960s--frequently with a pie flying in the direction of someone's face--was born today in 1926. .Bill Graham, the leading impresario of rock music in San Francisco in the Summer of Love (1967), began his trip today in 1931.

Words To Eat By
"All knives and forks were working away at a rate that was quite alarming; very few words were spoken; and everybody seemed to eat his utmost, in self-defense, as if a famine were expected to set in before breakfast time tomorrow morning, and it had become high time to assert the first law of nature."--Charles Dickens, referring to the way we eat in America.

Words To Drink By
"Americans may be drinking fewer alcoholic beverages, but they are certainly eating more of them than ever before. Wittingly or un."--Marian Burros, food writer for the New York Times.

Lizard for Dinner.

The Australian monitor lizard - more commonly called the goanna – has an important place in Aboriginal culture and medicine and in Australian folklore. It also, apparently, makes good eating. The tail is said to be the best part, and - not surprisingly- is said to taste like chicken, or like fish, or ‘sweeter and more juicy than rabbit.’

The simplest bush recipe for cooking goanna was to roast it in the ashes, so that that when the ashes were brushed off, the skin came with it, and the flesh was then ready to eat. By the time of the Perth newspaper’s bush recipes competition in 1938 (mentioned yesterday), there was less of the bush and more of the French kitchen about goanna tail recipes, as the following competition entries show:

Goanna Tail.
Scald and skin the tail of a goanna. Cut into three-inch slices. Dip in egg and bread crumbs, and fry quickly to a golden brown. Olive oil is the best to fry in, but some do not like the flavour of olives.

Goanna Tail with Parsley Sauce.
Skin tail and cut into small pieces. Place in a saucepan, and just cover with water. Cook till tender. Make parsley sauce as follows:-Boil one pint of water, throw into it one tablespoon finely minced parsley and half a teaspoonful of salt. Then add two ounces flour, mixed to smooth paste in a gill of water. Stir over fire until it thickens. Break into it one or two ounces of butter. Put cooked tail into this, and serve hot.

Quotation for the Day.
You can never have enough garlic. With enough garlic, you can eat The New York Times.
Morley Safer.

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From Booklist


There are plenty of recent titles on the history of food, but this one has a twist&mdashit is in calendar format. Each day of the year features food trivia related to the date, and a smattering of historical recipes are found throughout the text as well. Noted food-writer Clarkson begins, naturally, with New Year&rsquos Day and a discussion of the many traditions and rituals found across the world. She delves into history, detailing a menu of what was served for dinner in a British monastery in 1493 to mark the day noting that the Bass Pale Ale logo was the first trademark to be registered in 1875, after an employee spent the night outside the registrar&rsquos office and revealing that January 1, 1937, was the day that SPAM got it&rsquos name, courtesy of a contest at the Hormel Mansion&rsquos New Year&rsquos Day party. Facts for every day of the year are given in this enjoyable and easy-to-digest manner. Recipes include the first-known published recipe for brownies (published January 7, 1896, and containing no chocolate!). Other examples of the information within include a discussion of the dispute over why New York City is called 'the Big Apple' (New York State officially adopted the apple as the state fruit on July 26, 1976) a recollection of what Lewis and Clark ate on September 1805 what patients ate at London&rsquos Foundling Hospital on November 17, 1747 (the food served there depended on whether or not it was 'pork season' or 'other season') and a recipe for baked crow, from September 8, 1936. . . . Casual readers and foodies will delight in the myriad of facts and figures found in this almanac. This entertaining and interesting read is recommended[.] ― Booklist

Adding to the growing body of work on the subject, this resource covers over 2,000 years of culinary history and culture in a calendar format. The work spans a range of topics such as food legislation, inventions, and scientific discoveries, as well as recipes and food traditions from all over the world in all environs and social settings. For instance, looking at March 13, the reader learns that Henry Jones received a patent for self-rising flour in 1845 and Juliet Corson opened the New York Cooking School in 1877. The strength of this reference is definitely the variety of topics discussed and the use of primary resources throughout. . . .The book also includes a list of more than 200 recipes . . . The brief further-reading list contains seven books and eight websites. VERDICT Overall, this is a well-researched collection of food facts and events organized by date[.] ― Library Journal

The books are well written and make very interesting reading. . . .The author is well qualified and has written several books on food. The paper and font size are adequate and the binding is extremely attractive. Since we all love to eat, this combination set should be in all major libraries. ― American Reference Books Annual

This enormous work of love and scholarship is a source of serendipitous pleasure. Wherever you happen to open it, random reading about the joys and history of food will be rewarded. So much to know and love in this work, showing that the act of eating is not the only pleasure food has to offer. -- Merry White, professor, Department of Anthropology, Boston University

Delightful. And nothing could drive home more clearly the ingenuity and effort that has gone into the making of food than the juxtapositions on each and every day of the Almanac. -- Rachel Laudan, author of Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History

Janet Clarkson&rsquos Food History Almanac is pure pleasure for history buffs and food enthusiasts alike. This collection of fascinating facts, anecdotes and recipes vividly illuminates the tastes, textures, aromas, sounds and sights of our collective human history. -- Amy Bentley, associate professor, Nutrition, Food Studies, Public Health, New York University

Packed with historic menus and entertaining anecdotes, The Food History Almanac offers a year-long feast of gastronomic miscellanea that will delight culinary historians and foodies alike. -- Rachel E. Black, PhD, Assistant Professor & Academic Coordinator, Gastronomy Program, Boston University

This is a veritable feast for the food obsessed. A trove of little known but fascinating references gathered with meticulous care. The effort to amass this information was Herculean. I want to curl up with this book and read it cover to cover right now, and then start at the beginning again. -- Ken Albala, University of the Pacific

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