The Food Almanac: Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Staff Writer
It's National Crabmeat Au Gratin Day!

Tony Weeg

Food Calendar
Celebrate National Crabmeat Au Gratin Day. The crabmeat is big and fat right now, and that means this is the time of year to eat this rich casserole of crabmeat, cream, a small amount of cheese, garlic (if you're lucky), cayenne, and a sprinkling of bread crumbs over the top, baked till bubbly.

We see more crabmeat au gratin these days, mainly because of the availability of cheaper pasteurized crabmeat. Used to be that you could get the essential jumbo lump crabmeat only this time of year; now it comes in from all over. It's sad that even some of the most expensive restaurants in town have taken to using canned crabmeat from Southeast Asia here. So it's a mixed blessing: we get less flavorful crabmeat, but we can get crabmeat au gratin all the time.

But in crabmeat au gratin it makes less of a difference, I'd say, than in a cold crabmeat appetizer. The sauce is so rich that the fine points of the crabmeat's flavor are, if not lost, at least hidden. The best versions are at the Bon Ton, Galatoire's, Antoine's, and Vincent's. It doesn't have to be expensive: at Fury's, they give you a tub of white (not lump) crabmeat whose only flaw is that there's too much cheese (ask them to leave off the two slices they melt on top).

Edible Dictionary
elephant garlic, n.--More closely related to the common leek than to what we think of as garlic, this bulb resembles a grossly oversized head of common garlic. Its flavor is somewhat garlicky, too, although it's a much milder flavor than that of standard garlic. The bulbs are also a little on the milky side. On the other hand, it can be used raw without imparting the overwhelming flavor that true garlic does. Elephant garlic enjoyed a wave of popularity in the 1990s, but that seems to be fading now.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Poorboy Landing, Texas is in the northeast corner of the state, thirty-five miles from Texarkana. It's a real landing, on the southern shore of Wright Patman Lake, a reservoir backed up on the Sulphur River, a tributary of the Red. The landing is in the woods at the end of a paved road, where canoers unload their boats and head out. If you neglected to pack a lunch, you will have to drive ten miles to the nearest interesting restaurant: Chuck's Plates in Atlanta, Texas.

Annals Of Silverware 
On this day in 1962, three prisoners on Alcatraz dug to freedom using soup spoons. We guess they didn't like the soup du jour. One may have said, "This is an outrage. I've had soup du jour all over the world, and it tastes nothing like this!"

Gourmets Through History
Lillian Russell married for the fourth time today in 1912. In her day, Russell was the heartthrob of most American males, including her long-time squire, playboy Diamond Jim Brady. She was a noteworthy gourmet, and could keep up with Brady or any other man at the table in her in her consumption of food and drink. As in four dozen oysters as an appetizer. She had the figure to prove her eating acumen. At that time in America, fleshy women were much admired.

Food And The Law
Today in 2004 in federal court, a Department of Agriculture rule to the effect that frozen, batter-coated French fries are fresh vegetables was upheld as valid. The judge said, in essence, that the term "fresh vegetables" had no real meaning. That's how ketchup once flew in as a vegetable. Many, many restaurants claim to use fresh vegetables when in fact they used canned or frozen--again, I suppose because of this absurd reading of the English language. Seems obvious to us that fresh means fresh. As in unprocessed, uncooked, unfrozen. Right? I say we should raise this standard. And raise hell, too.

Annals Of Candy 
Today in 1928, the trademark "Good and Plenty" was registered for the colorful, sugar-coated, soft licorice candy. It is the oldest branded candy in the United States, having first been marketed in 1893. And remember: licorice is the liver of candies.

Deft Dining Rule #107: 
One of the first steps to becoming a gourmet is deciding whether you want good or plenty.

Food Namesakes
Vanessa Baker, a diver in the 1996 Olympics for Australia, was born today in 1974. . . In the same games was the unrelated Philippa June Baker, born today in 1963. She was a rower from New Zealand. . . Today in 1837, British inventors William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone patented a telegraph, a few years before Samuel Morse did. Morse's method, however, became dominant. . . Bun Carlos, the drummer with the band Cheap Trick, got the beat today in 1951. . . David Rockefeller was born today in 1915. The famous oyster dish was named for his grandfather, because he had a lot of money and the sauce was green.

Words To Eat By
"I do not like broccoli and I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli. Now look, this is the last statement I'm going to have on broccoli. There are truckloads of broccoli at this very minute descending on Washington. My family is divided. For the broccoli vote out there: Barbara loves broccoli. She has tried to make me eat it. She eats it all the time herself. So she can go out and meet the caravan of broccoli that's coming in."--George H.W. Bush, born today in 1924.

Words To Drink By
"When alchemists first learned how to distill spirits, they called it aqua vitae, the water of life, and far from considering it the work of the devil, they thought the discovery was divinely inspired."--Gene Logsdon, American essayist.