The Food Almanac: Thursday, January 30, 2014

It's National Croissant Day!
Staff Writer

Petr Kratochvil

Buttering a good croissant is like spreading rendered ham fat on a slice of bacon.

Tom Fitzmorris publishes The New Orleans Menu

Kings And Saints 

Today in 1649 England renounced the monarchy by beheading King Charles I. (And after he brought ice cream to Britain for the first time!) Parliament took over the government, which became a dictatorship under Oliver Cromwell. Nine years later, the monarchy was restored, and England has had royalty ever since. They seem to like the idea. It must be nice to be king. The food and wine would be pretty good, I imagine. You’d have many servants, who would cook and serve your food and (more important) clean up the kitchen for you. Today is the feast day of St. Adelelmus, the patron saint of domestic servants, butlers, and maids.

Today’s Flavor 

Today is National Croissant Day. Good croissants are difficult to make at home and just as hard to find in stores. Both of the little bakeries where I was getting excellent ones have perished. The exterior of a great croissant has a crust that flakes off in big curved pieces, covering a yeasty, buttery, tenderly fibrous interior. The ultimate croissant is just a little warm from having come out of the oven a half-hour ago.

Plain croissants are by far the most popular. Croissants filled with almonds and almond paste or chocolate also sell well. Some are baked with ham and cheese inside, or have sandwiches made with them. None of these strike me as improvements — although the almond version come close.

Lore surrounding the invention of the croissant doesn’t appear to be true. The story is set in different places — notably Vienna and Tours — but it’s always the same story: that the people of the city celebrated the defeat of the Muslim invaders by baking a pastry in shape of a crescent. If that were true, why did we not make cakes with hammers and sickles on them when the U.S.S.R fell?

Nobody’s really sure how long the croissant has been made. It seems to be a recent creation, inspired by the bakers of Austria. But even that isn’t certain. We can talk about it over a croissant and coffee. The best croissants in New Orleans come from Le Boulangerie, Maurice’s French Bakery, the Windsor Court Grill Room, and Hi-Do Bakery.

Deft Dining Rule #750:

Buttering a good croissant is like spreading rendered ham fat on a slice of bacon.

Edible Dictionary

terrapin stew, n. — The word “terrapin” is applied to a wide range of unrelated terrestrial turtles. Strictly speaking, it means the eastern diamondback turtle, whose meat was extremely popular for making a stew-like soup in the Northeast. Its greatest popularity was in Maryland, although the turtles are found all over that area. This popularity caused the species to decline. Even after intensive hunting of terrapins widespread came to an end in the 1930s (largely because the sherry used in the stew recipe wasn’t available), the toll taken by cars on the road continued the pressure. There aren’t many terrapins left. So this is a dish of the past, despite its one-time importance on the menus of fancy restaurants.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Always keep lard in the back of your mind when baking or frying. It’s not good for you to eat often, but it sure is good once in awhile.

Coins And Food

Today in 1946, on what would have been his sixty-fourth birthday, the dime bearing the image of Franklin D. Roosevelt was released. It recognized his involvement in the March of Dimes, as well as the tremendous reverence in which he was held at that time. Dimes have never been used as much in New Orleans as elsewhere in America. This was blamed on the nickel pay phone, which persisted for decades after the phones in other states were a dime. Even in this day, with pay phones nearly extinct, we Orleanians notice a large buildup of dimes in our pockets when we travel.

The last significant restaurant dish that could be bought with a dime here was the Krystal hamburger, still ten cents in the late 1960s. However, the all-time best bargain for a dime was the martini they used to serve with lunch at the now-gone Bacco.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Sandwich, New Hampshire is fifty-three miles north of Concord. It’s in a pretty, glacier-scraped landscape of hills and lakes, with some expensive country homes in the woods and fields. The White Mountains are to the east, Squam Lake to the west. The town was founded in 1763, and named for John Montague, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich. He’s the same man for whom the Sandwich Islands (not Hawaii) were named, and for the edible sandwich as well. The Corner House Inn is the place to eat, two miles northwest on Center Sandwich — a hamlet that really ought to have a cafe called the Sandwich Center.

Food In The Wild

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, raccoons mate today. About twenty years ago I ate my first (and probably last) raccoon stew. It wasn’t bad, actually — better than possum, much better than nutria, not quite as good as armadillo. The raccoon backstrap was rather dark but tender enough. I think some black peppercorns and marjoram would have helped.

Annals Of Food Legislation

The world’s first pure-food law, and perhaps the first law ever to protect the rights of consumers, was the Reinheitsgebot. It was decreed by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria on this date in 1516. Among other things, it required that beer be made of only three ingredients: malted barley, hops, and water. (Later, yeast — which naturally occurs on grain — was also allowed.) Many microbrewers, including the Crescent City Brewhouse here, still follow that law.

Food And Drink Namesakes

Former Congressman from New York, Floyd Flake was born today (appropriately, this being Croissant Day) in 1945... F. Vernon Boozer, a Maryland politician, first toasted life today in 1936.

Words To Eat By

“I always wanted to write a book that ended with the word ‘mayonnaise.’” — Richard Brautigan, author of the novel Trout Fishing In America, born today in 1935.

“You may feel that you have eaten too much. But this pastry is like feathers. It is like snow. It is in fact good for you, a digestive!” — M. F. K. Fisher, speaking of a puff pastry.

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