The Food Almanac: August 16, 2012
Bratwurst, chitterlings, Columbus — get your day off to an appetizing start with food facts and trivia from Tom Fitzmorris
National Bratwurst Day today. We don't do brats much around New Orleans, although the coarser, more authentic kind is becoming popular due to the homogenized buying practices of national chain grocery stores. What they call a brat in Chicago and Milwaukee looks like a fat albino hot dog. Like many favorites from other places, that's never caught on here, although some restaurants have tried.
chitterlings, chitlins, n. — The cooked small intestine of a pig, often (but not always) stuffed with any of a wide variety of stuffings. Even among those who say they use every part of the pig except the squeal, chitterlings are low down on the desirability list. Chitterlings are as widespread throughout the world as poverty and hunger are — which is to say everywhere. Many people who have risen above that level still celebrate chitterlings as a reminder of where their forebears came from. The big problem with using chitterlings as food is that they must be very aggressively cleaned, lest the taste and smell of what's inside that organ in its living state rise to perceptability. As Bill Cosby says, "Chitlins is spelled with the wrong first letter."
Chitterling Creek runs six miles through Claude D Kelley State Park in southwest Alabama, 64 miles northeast of Mobile. It's surrounded by rolling woodlands, and cuts a 100-foot-deep valley through the area. Near its confluence with the Little River (in turn a tributary of the Mobile River), it forms a lake behind a dam. The nearest restaurant is the Cotton Patch Cafe, three miles north of the spot where AL 21 crosses the creek.
The Beginnings of a Great Cocktail
Today in 1498, on his third voyage, Christopher Columbus landed on the beach of the island of Margarita, off the coast of what is now Venezuela. He was met on the beach by Jimmy Buffett, who, in 1948... oh, wait. I transposed two numbers and now… well, never mind.
However, it's also National Rum Day. Until the storm, New Orleans had the only rum distillery in the United States, making N.O. Rum. Logically enough, this is also Baba au Rhum Day. Rum baba — a cake soaked with rum mixed with syrup — was once a popular dessert in New Orleans restaurants. The old Chris Steak House made an especially good one. But I don't think any restaurant serves it anymore.
The Gourmet of the Opera
Gioacchino Rossini was one of the great composers of opera, a dedicated gourmet, and the man for whom the foie-gras-topped dish filet de boeuf Rossini is named. He didn't just like it: he created it. Today in 1846, he got married. He never composed another opera. "Why do you waste all that time writing all that stuff for big women to howl?" his wife probably told him.
Annals of Oyster-Eating
Grand Central Station began construction in New York City today in 1904. It's the last of the Apple's great train stations, and also the home of the fabulous old Oyster Bar and Restaurant (that's it's official name). In a unique space with its arching tile ceilings, they serve not only great oysters from all over the world, but a lengthy list of daily fish specials. The oyster bar was a New York creation that we adopted, as much as we think of the institution as our own.
Today is the birthday of Fess Parker, who was a hero to many guys my age who were little boys in the 1950s, when he played Davy Crockett. After his acting career ended, he did well in many other ventures, including the excellent winery that bears his name in Southern California. The label features a small coonskin cap in gold. It was one of the biggest thrills of my radio career to have him as a guest on my show about ten years ago. I was sorry to hear that he passed away early this year at 86. He'll always be the king of the wild frontier to me.
Today is the feast day of St. Roch, a well-known name in New Orleans food history. The St. Roch Market, on the street with the same name at the corner of St. Claude, was one of the last neighborhood public markets. Like all the rest was made obsolete by the advent of supermarkets. In recent decades, it was the home of a seafood restaurant, which later opened branches in New Orleans East and Covington. Roch (pronounced "rock") was a French nobleman, alleged to have been born with a birthmark in the shape of a cross. He lived in the 1300s, when plague was running rampant. He caught it himself, and while waiting to die in the woods outside Montpelier, he was kept alive by a dog who brought him food every day. He is much revered in Italy, where he's called St. Rocco.
Singer Eydie Gorme was born today in 1932... Bill Spooner, who was a member of the rock group The Tubes, was born today in 1949... Ebenezer Sage, a Congressman from New York in the early 1800s, was born today in 1765.
Words to Drink By
"Let us candidly admit that there are shameful blemishes on the American past, of which the worst by far is rum. Nevertheless, we have improved man's lot and enriched his civilization with rye, bourbon and the Martini cocktail. In all history has any other nation done so much?" — Bernard De Voto, American novelist.
"Beer is not a good cocktail party drink, especially in a home where you don't know where the bathroom is." — Billy Carter.
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