The Food Almanac: Monday, April 7, 2014

It's National Coffee Cake Day!
Staff Writer

Wikimedia Commons/ ChelseaWa

The basic coffee cake is a sweet, crumbly, thick cake of flour, eggs, sugar, and butter, topped with a streusel of sugar, nuts, and cinnamon.

Drink And The Law

Today in 1933, Utah ratified the Twenty-First Amendment, thereby putting the final nail into the coffin of Prohibition. President Franklin Roosevelt signed legislation allowing 3.2 percent alcohol beer immediately. And there was rejoicing in the land–except in Oklahoma, where Prohibition continued until, coincidentally, this same day in 1959.

The Physiology Of Eating

The man who created the word ptomaine (from the Greek ptomas, meaning “corpse”) was born today in 1817. Francesco Selmi thought that the nitrogenous compounds in spoiled food were responsible for food poisoning. That’s not exactly true; those ammonia-like aromas are a symptom, not a cause. The expression “ptomaine poisoning” is no longer used in the medical world for food poisoning, although many laymen still call it that.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

It is much less likely than you think that your bout of food poisoning came from a restaurant.

Today’s Flavor

It’s National Coffee Cake Day. I once overheard someone in a bakery say that he didn’t like coffee cake because he didn’t like the taste of coffee. Of course, there’s no coffee in coffee cake–unless you spill your mug into it. The basic coffee cake is a sweet, crumbly, thick cake of flour, eggs, sugar, and butter, topped with a streusel of sugar, nuts, and cinnamon. It’s often baked in a tube pan, leaving a hole in the center. Coffee cakes often include other ingredients; apples and blueberries are common. They’re best eaten right after they finish cooling. With a cup of coffee, naturally.  

Gourmet Gazetteer

Hot Coffee, Mississippi is literally a wide spot in MS 532, some 20 miles west of Laurel. The place got its name from an old grocery store where farmers on their way to market stopped for hot coffee and cakes. The name has become a matter of fun for the people in those rolling farmlands. A sign that says “Entering Hot Coffee” is followed a few yards later by one that says “Entering Downtown Hot Coffee.” After a few yards more, you’re advised that you’re “Leaving Downtown Hot Coffee” and then “Leaving Hot Coffee.” All that in about a quarter mile.

Edible Dictionary

Morning glory muffin, n.–Light, crumbly, mildly sweet muffins made with an assortment of fruits and vegetables. Raisins, apples, coconut, dried pineapple, dried apricots, pecans and walnuts are typical ingredients. Cinnamon and nutmeg are also part of the recipe, too. Morning Glory muffins were invented by Chef Pam McInstry for her restaurant in Nantucket, in the 197os. They’re widely sold almost anywhere breakfast muffins show up.

Deft Dining Rule #169:

If the little espresso cup is more than half-full with a single shot, it isn’t really an espresso.

Annals Of Processed Food

It’s the birthday in 1860 of William K. Kellogg, the founder of the cereal company that bears his name and the creator of modern processed cereal. He developed the original corn flakes with his brother John. It was not an entirely new idea. The Aztecs also made and liked processed corn products that were almost identical to modern cereal. The two Kellogg brothers were health nuts–vegetarians for starters, but with a lot of much less valid ideas.

The Saints

Today is the feast day of St. John Baptist de la Salle. Born in 1651 in Reims, France to a wealthy family, he became a priest, and took on a mission to improve education among the poor. To that purpose, he founded a Catholic religious order, the Christian Brothers. The brothers still operate schools around the world. Both my son and I are beneficiaries of Christian Brothers education (he at Christian Brothers School in City Park, I at Archbishop Rummel High School). The Christian Brothers also became well-known in this country for their winery, built in 1882, in the impressive, castle-like Greystone just north of St. Helena in Napa. They sold the winery in 1989; Greystone is now the home of the Napa campus of the Culinary Institute of America. So the legacy of teaching goes on. Christian Brothers Brandy is still around, too.

People We’d Like To Have Dinner With

This is the birthday, in 1939, of film director and winemaker Francis Ford Coppola. More than a few restaurant and food scenes appear inThe Godfather and its two sequels, the movies for which he’s most famous. Coppola’s career as a vintner is equally impressive. He bought the old Inglenook estate in Napa, including the Victorian house of the Gustave Neibaum family, who founded the winery in the 1880s. Coppola recently renamed the estate Rubicon, a reference to the marvelous meritage-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and its usual partners that he makes there. Maybe he’ll bring a few vintages. (Actually, I’ve had lunch with Coppola already, at his home in Napa. He grilled some great pizzas.)

Fine Dining On Television

Andrew Sachs, the actor who played Manuel, the incomprehensibly incompetent waiter on the British TV comedy Fawlty Towers, was born today in 1930. He might have been able to get by were his boss Basil Fawlty (played by John Cleese) not such a ninny himself.

Food Namesakes

Peanuts Hucko, a clarinetist on the Lawrence Welk orchestra, was born today in 1918. . . Yvonne Lime, an actress on television (Dobie Gillis, Happy, and Father Knows Best) was born in 1938. . . John Oates, of the rock duo Hall and Oates, was born today in 1949. . . Pro baseball pitcher Ricky Bones was born today in 1969.

Words To Eat By

“How can you eat anything with eyes?”–W. K. Kellogg, cereal magnate, born today in 1860.

Words To Drink By

“A drinking man’s someone who wants to forget he isn’t still young and believing.”–Tennessee Williams.

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