The Food Almanac: Monday, April 15, 2013

It's Pommes de Terre Soufflees Day!

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

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

Today's Flavor
This is Pommes de Terre Soufflees Day. Soufflee potatoes were said to have been invented by accident in the 1840s by a chef named Collinet. He was in service to Louis-Philippe, the last king of France. The king was to travel on the first train from Paris to St. Germain-en-Laye, where Collinet would serve lunch prepared for him. When the train was seen approaching the station, the chef began frying potatoes--the king's favorite treat. But the train arrived without the king onboard. Louis-Philippe got cold feet about this new conveyance, and decided to follow the train on his horse-drawn coach. The train surprised everyone with its speed, and the king arrived quite a bit later. Collinet had no more potatoes to fry. All he could do was heat the oil again, and drop the original batch of potatoes back in to crisp them up. He was taken aback when they puffed up like balloons. Collinet had an apprentice by the name of Antoine Alciatore, who would later wind up in New Orleans. He founded the restaurant that bears his name, and to this day it's the most famous place to have soufflee potatoes. 

Few restaurants make soufflee potatoes, and with good reason. The second frying is done in oil so hot that fires are common. If you try to make them at home, do it outside, well away from anything that might ignite.

Collinet is also credited by some as having invented bearnaise. Bearnaise makes a great dip for soufflee potatoes. The idea was begun at Arnaud's, spread to Galatoire's and finally back to Antoine's.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Fry is a crossroads in the middle of large farms growing strawberries, corn, and potatoes--although the latter doesn't account for the name of the place. Fry is in the Willamette Valley, which runs north-south between two mountain ranges in Oregon. The scenery and the weather are fantastic. A secondary line of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway runs through Fry, which probably accounts for the main excitement in a lot of days. To get a bite to eat, you drive two miles to the I-5 interchange for lunch or dinner at the Pine Cone.

Edible Dictionary
allumette potatoes, n., pl.--Very thin fried potato sticks, a quarter inch square in cross-section. "Allumette" is French for "matchstick," but they're usually made quite a bit bigger than the standard match. What makes true allumette potatoes worthy of having their own name is that they should be fried twice: once until cooked but not browned, then (after cooling a bit) a second time to make them crisp.

Restaurant Anniversaries
Today in 1922, the Poodle Dog Restaurant in San Francisco closed, after seventy-three years in business. It was a fancy French restaurant where the powerful met, made deals, and conducted shady business. It was destroyed by the earthquake of 1906, but reopened. It could not, however, survive Prohibition. The owners found they couldn't break even without wine and liquor. Attempts were made over the years to revive it, most recently in 1984. It got great ratings, but only survived a year and a half before it priced itself out of business. . . Also on this date in San Francisco, in 1928, Alioto's Restaurant opened. It is one of the most popular seafood restaurants in Fisherman's Wharf.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine
Today in 1955, the first McDonald's franchise opened in Des Plaines, a suburb of Chicago. This was the start of Ray Kroc's empire, which set the standard for fast food restaurants ever afterward--at least as regards operating style and profitability. If only McDonald's were as good now as it was then! At that time, the beef was fresh and pattied by hand, the French fries were cut from fresh potatoes on the site, and everything was cooked on a hot grill. Now it's frozen beef and fries and burgers warmed in the microwave.

Deft Dining Rule #47:
If all you have time to eat is fast food, just skip that meal and add a little more to the good one you'll have later.

Annals Of Food Writing
This is the birthday, in 1903, of Waverley Root. He was a foreign correspondent based in Paris during the late 1940s and 1950s for the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Post, and covered all sorts of stories. But his abiding interest was in food. His books The Food Of France, The Food Of Italy,and Eating In America were ahead of their times. He was also widely published in magazine like Gourmet and Esquire.

Annals Of Spirits
Joseph Seagram was born today in 1841. He began his career in the grain business in his native Canada, where he became intrigued by the possibilities of fermenting and distilling grain into alcohol. After he bought out the partners in his company, he expanded the distilling part of the business until it became one of the world's largest. He created Seagram's VO Canadian whiskey in 1907. It remains the most popular whiskey of its kind.

Annals Of Food Research
Today in 1874 was the birthday of botanist George Shull. His research on American corn (maize) resulted in hybrids that produced much higher quality produce, and in much larger quantities from a give acreage. Others built on his discoveries to create new corn hybrids to answer many of the wishes of farmers and their customers. Sweet corn as we know it is one of the results.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
There are two kinds of people in the world. One eats corn on the cob from one end of the cob to the other, then moves down a couple of rows, and resumes eating to the end where he started, and keeps going back and forth until he's done. The other goes all the way around the cob, moves to the left or right an inch, and repeats the process until all the corn is gone. I'm not sure there are any other differences between these two groups.

Food Namesakes
Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead had their first child in today's comic strip in 1934. The child's name was Alexander, but for a long time on both the strip and the movie series, he was known as Baby Dumpling. He's a teenager now, and has been for about fifty years. . . Actress Claudia Cardinale--a real bombshell she--was born today in 1939. At Antoine's there's a popular appetizer called crawfish Cardinale that predates 1939 by quite a bit. Claudia was probably not named after crawfish cooked in a light cream sauce with some tomato sauce stirred into it. . . Yesterday in this space we told you it was Heloise Cruse's birthday. Today is the birthday, in 1951, of her daughter, usually called Heloise II. She took over her mom's column in the 1980s. . . Woody Fryman, a major league All-Star pitcher for eighteen years, took the Big Mound today in 1940. . . Chinese film director Fruit Chan was born today in 1959. . . Mississippi journalist Bobby Pepper made news for his mom today in 1963.

Words To Eat By
"I have learned from an early age to abjure the use of meat, and the time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men."--Leonardo da Vinci, born today in 1452.

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, early 20th-century historian of the American West.

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