The Food Almanac: Thursday, January 24, 2013

It's National Peanut Butter Day!


 

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

Days Until. . . 
Mardi Gras--19
Valentine's Day--21

Music To Eat Creole Gumbo By
This is the. . . wait. This doesn't seem possible. The seventy-second birthday of Aaron Neville? He doesn't look it. Certainly doesn't sound like it. One of the great singers to ever emerge from New Orleans, he has an instantly recognizable voice, one with such a high register that it seems unlikely coming from a burly guy like him.

Music To Drink Cheap Bubbly Wine By 
Neil Diamond was born the same day and year as Aaron Neville. He had two hits with food titles: Cherry Cherry and Cracklin' Rosie. The latter is a reference to a bubbly, fruity wine called "crackling rose," which was already fading from the scene by the time the song got around to it. The best-known version of crackling rose in these parts was Pink Ripple.

Today's Flavor
It's National Peanut Butter Day, but none of the peanut butter makers agree. (One says it's March 3.) Peanut butter is something you either love or are totally indifferent to; I'm in the latter category. I was especially leery of the use of peanut butter in desserts, until the first time I had the peanut butter pie at Feelings years ago. 

It's also rumored to be Lobster Thermidor Day. We're not going along with that, for two reasons. First, this is a notably bad time of year for Maine lobster. Although the Yankees say their lobsters are always in season, the big bugs are better in the summer and early fall. Second, the word "Thermidor" comes from the ancient Gallic name for the month we now call July. As if that weren't enough, lobster Thermidor is a dish of the past, and is almost never seen on menus anymore. The last permanent slot it held on a New Orleans menu was at Antoine's, which has not brought it back since the storm. No great loss. The sauce is a basic white sauce blended into fish stock with a bit of cheese, cream, and cayenne.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez: 
Maine lobster requires six minutes in a pot of salted (1 tsp. per quart) water at a rolling boil--for a one-pound lobster. For each additional pound, add three minutes. That's for the smallest lobster in the pot. Let the bigger ones stay the allotted time, as if they were the only ones in the pot.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Crawfish Creek winds through the beautiful wooded hills in the northeast corner of Alabama, growing larger as it flows north into Georgia, in the same valley that the I-59 follows on its way from Birmingham to Chattanooga. The most appealing restaurants are the Depot Diner and Lazy Bones BBQ, both in the rustic little town of Rising Fawn, GA.

Edible Dictionary
plantain, n.--Any of the many edible varieties of banana that do not become sweet enough to eat raw. Cooked, their starchy component makes for a good side vegetable. Plantains are most commonly found in Hispanic cooking in this country, although they are widespread around the world. In Africa, plantains are processed to make a mashed-potato-looking dish called foo-foo (although cassava root is more commonly used for that). They also make a near-flour of plantains, used for making flat cakes and dumplings. The funny thing about plantains is that, even though they're so closely related to bananas that you could say they are bananas, they offer almost none of the distinctive banana flavor.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine
Eskimo Pie was introduced on this date in 1922 by an Iowan named Christian Nelson. It's a simple enough concept: a slab of vanilla ice cream dipped in chocolate that hardens into a shell upon contact with the cold ice cream. I don't remember seeing Eskimo Pie until the 1960s. Before then, we got something similar, but on a stick, from the ice cream truck. We called it a "polar bar," although I can't remember ever having seen those words on the wrapper. And you could also get something a lot like an Eskimo Pie at the Dairy Queen, where they would dispense one of their cones from the machine, then dip it in hot fudge. If all went well (sometimes the act of holding an ice cream cone upside down had predictable results), you got the same kind of chocolate shell.

Around The Campfire
Today is the anniversary of the Boy Scouts, formed in England by Lord Baden-Powell in 1908. The Scouts were a big and immensely enjoyable part of my life for ten years, as my son grew through its ranks. We cooked and ate many a fine meal (and many a terrible one, too) on our 60 or 70 nights of camping out. Our all-time best was a twenty-pound fillet of lemonfish and an equally large whole sirloin, both grilled over an open wood fire, seasoned with Tony's.

The Scouts have something in common with New Orleans: both have the fleur de lis as their insignia.

Annals Of Beer
Today was the birthday, in 1935, of canned beer. The American Can Company had been working on the idea when Prohibition came in, and got back to work when it went out. The first brewery to get its beer into cans was the Gottfried Kreuger Brewing Company of Newark. The early cans were made of steel, and were taller and much heavier than the paper-thin aluminum balloons they use now. You needed the old "churchkey" can opener to make its distinctive triangular holes in the top, rom which you drank or poured, depending on your preference for formality.

Food And Drink Namesakes
Today in 1995, the O.J. Simpson murder trial began. My radio station carried the entire thing live. It interrupted my radio show maddeningly, sometimes several times in one show. But it brought lots of new listeners. People still tell me they started listening to the show during the trial. . . It is the birthday of Oral Roberts, 1918. . . The Apple Macintosh computer was introduced today in 1984. It's a pun, of course, on the Mcintosh (no "a") variety of apple. . . Tennis pro C. Gene Mako served up the first day of his life today in 1916. (Mako is an eminently edible species of shark.) . . . Doris Haddock, a liberal political activist who became famous for walking 3200 miles across the country in her late eighties to demand campaign reform, was born today in 1910. She died last year at a hundred.

Words To Eat By
"Do you know why kids like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Because they're good!"--Dick Brennan, Sr.

"I owe it all to little chocolate donuts."--John Belushi, Saturday Night Live original cast member and one of the Blues Brothers, born today in 1949.

Words To Drink By
"Beer has long been the prime lubricant in our social intercourse and the sacred throat-anointing fluid that accompanies the ritual of mateship. To sink a few cold ones with the blokes is both an escape and a confirmation of belonging."--Rennie Ellis, Australian writer and photographer.

 

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