The Food Almanac: Tuesday, January 15, 2013

It's National Curry Day!

 

 

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

Days Until. . . 
Mardi Gras--28
Valentine's Day--30

Annals Of Food Disasters
Today in 1919, an enormous tank of molasses broke open and flooded downtown Boston with over two million gallons of the sticky stuff. It proved that molasses in January is not all that slow. It moved at over thirty miles per hour, and before it stopped it had destroyed several homes and other buildings. Twenty-one people drowned in the molasses. People would not make gingerbread or pancakes for years afterward, I'll bet.

Food Inventions
Today in 1889 Daniel Johnson patented a revolving table for dining rooms on ships. People sitting at such a table could turn it to have the food they were interested in come to them, rather than requiring a waiter do it. This concept can be seen in action in a number of restaurants in Mississippi, notably the Dinner Bell in McComb.

The Physiology Of Taste
William Prout was born today in 1785. His work focused on the chemistry of food and the digestive system. He discovered that the stomach does its work with hydrochloric acid. He was also the man who noted that most foods can be classified as either carbohydrates, proteins, or fats. He'd be proud of those nutritional labels on food packages--the ones we're beginning to consider more important than matters like taste and whether we really need to eat that stuff in the first place.

Food Inventions
Today in 1889 Daniel Johnson patented a revolving table for dining rooms on ships. People sitting at such a table could turn it to have the food they were interested in come to them, rather than requiring a waiter do it. This concept can be seen in action in a number of restaurants in Mississippi, notably the Dinner Bell in McComb.

Today's Flavor
It's National Curry Day. In America, curry is one of the most misunderstood of food concepts. A curry does not necessarily (and probably doesn't) have the flavor of curry powder, with its powerful flavors of cumin and turmeric. The word "curry" originated in the Tamil language, as the name for a dish cooked with a spiced sauce. That admits of an enormous variety of dishes, with such a wide spread of flavors that the word "curry" becomes as generic as "stew" or "soup." A good Indian restaurant will have dozens of dishes that they'd call curries, each with its own distinctive ingredients and flavor. 

Certain ingredients do turn up in many curries. But the actual spice blend for each curry dish is unique. Some of the most common components are coriander, cardamom, black pepper, cumin, turmeric, mustard, cinnamon, and fenugreek. Cayenne and other red peppers are now also common curry ingredients. Finally, there's curry leaf, a member of the same family of trees that includes the citrus fruits. All of these are roasted and ground to the same consistency so they blend well.

Curries are found in many Asian cuisines. Thai curries have their own wide variety of tastes, none of which have much in common with Indian curries. The curries you find in Chinese restaurants have another range of distinctive differences. There are even American curries. These, interestingly, are the ones most likely to use curry powder. 

Those who love curry know that it's habit-forming. This is not merely because we like the flavor. There's scientific evidence that the spices in curry are literally addictive. It's a very benign addiction, however. The spices in curry all seem to be good for you. They certainly taste good.

Edible Dictionary
fenugreek, n.--The herb and spice from a low-growing plant native to the Middle East and India. Although the leaves are used in some dishes, the seeds find their way into many more kitchens. Ground fenugreek seeds are an important component in the spice mixtures for Indian curry. The flavor of fenugreek blends well with sweet tastes. It's used in making tea and to add a little spice to some sweet cakes. It provides the imitation maple flavor in inexpensive syrups. In the Middle East, Africa, and India, it turns up in many other recipes. Although you can buy it from the spice rack, fenugreek is not as well known as most other spices.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
The best tool for grinding spices is a coffee mill. Buy a separate one from the one you use to grind coffee beans. The flavor of cardamom and peppercorns will not ruin each other, but neither of them is acceptable in coffee.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Molasses Creek flows west across three miles in the Coastal Range in northwest California. It begins at Beaver Ridge, takes in a tributary from the Hundred Acre Field, and passes the Studhorse Prairie before dropping it flow into Redwood Creek. It lives up to its name most of the time, its waters moving sluggishly along. It can become a torrent in major rainfalls, turning as dark as its namesake. It's an isolated feature in wild, wooded country. The nearest restaurant is Stardough's Cafe in Blue Lake, eleven miles toward the Pacific Ocean.

Deft Dining Rule #62:
No dish tastes the same in two different restaurants. If a restaurant closes, you will have to get unused to the way it cooks its food, and learn to like the best of what's served elsewhere.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine
Today in 1990, Campbell's produced the twenty billionth can of tomato soup, its original product. Canned tomato soup is more useful as an additive than on its own. For example, when added to beef broth along with crushed canned tomatoes, it makes a better soup than just the whole tomatoes alone.

Eating Across America
Today in 1777, Vermont declared its independence not only from its British colonizers, but also from New York, which had controlled it under the name of New Connecticut. Vermont's most famous food product is its maple syrup, but its major specialty is dairy products, notably Vermont Cheddar cheese.

Food Namesakes
Captain Beefheart (real name: Don Glen Vliet), one of the farthest-out of the far-out rock and blues musicians of the late 1960s and 1970s, was born today in 1941. . . Early baseball pro Grover Lowdermilk stepped onto the Big Diamond today in 1885.

Words To Eat By
"Playwrights are like men who have been dining for a month in an Indian restaurant. After eating curry night after night, they deny the existence of asparagus."--Peter Ustinov.

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