The Food Almanac: April 23, 2013

It's Picnic Week!

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

Food Calendar 
This is National Picnic Week. It's a wonderful day for a picnic in South Louisiana, the only place in the world where a picnic might well include boiled crawfish. Perhaps even boiled there in the park, now that everybody seems to have one of those gas-fired rigs. The word "picnic" comes from the French expression "pique nique," which roughly translates as "picking at little things." That's what you do, of course. The funny thing about picnics is that you wind up eating more than you would at a formal dinner, especially if ribs or burgers are in the offing. That potato salad will come and get you, too.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Tea, South Dakota 57064 is near Sioux Falls, in the southeast corner of the state. It's at the corner of 469th Avenue and 272nd Street. (No joke.) This is table-flat, grain-growing prairie, with roads in a perfect grid of right angles. It's a real town, though, with 1762 residents in the last census. Your dining choices in town are the Tea Steak House and the Pizza Ranch. If you want to celebrate the birthday of Subway today in Tea, you'll find one there.

Edible Dictionary
vol-au-vent, [vole-oh-VAHNT], French, n.--The expression translates "fly on the wind," which suggests the ideal lightness of these puff pastry cups. Unlike the smaller patty shells, vol-au-vents are usually made with a cap of pastry to cover the contents to keep them from cooling. The cap is always tilted off center, so the contents inside the vol-au-vent can be seen. Larousse Gastronomique says that vol-au-vents were invented and named by Marie-Antoine Careme, famous French chef and author of the nineteenth century.

The Saints 
Today is the feast day of St. George, a Roman soldier of the late Third Century. His legend is that he slew a sheep-eating dragon, a feat significant enough that he became the patron saint of England. Because of that, a grand bronze statue of him stands in the courtyard of the Windsor Court Hotel, which has always hewn to British themes. You can see the statue easily from the windows of the Grill Room.

Food In The Theatre 
Another of the most revered figures in British history was not only born on this date (in 1564) but died too (1616). William Shakespeare was not a culinarian, but his influence was so wide that thousands of restaurants and dishes have been named for characters he made famous in his plays. As the most quotable author in the history of the English language, he also gave us more than a few lines for our Words To Eat By department. A few of them therewith.

Annals Of Soft Drinks 
New Coke, one of the most embarrassing flops in the history of beverage marketing, premiered today in 1985. Cola-Cola claimed that everyone who tasted the new formula preferred it to the old. Maybe so, but they didn't like the idea of having the classic flavor denied them--which it was for awhile. Coca-Cola ultimately had to backpedal, but this is less well known: New Coke is the flavor you get in most of the rest of the world. And the taste of Diet Coke is really that of New Coke. So it lives on.

Speaking of soft drinks, today is the birthday (in 1928) of Shirley Temple, child actress and later U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Her name lives on as the call for a non-alcoholic drink for kids, consisting of 7-Up with a dash of cherry juice. It's a training cocktail--a weird idea, I always thought.

Eating Around The World 
In Bermuda today, it's Peppercorn Day. That's when the rent for the old State House in St. George is collected: one peppercorn. . . Today 1992, the first McDonald's opened in Beijing.

Deft Dining Rule #171:
The temptation to eat at McDonald's when you're traveling in a foreign country, "just to see what it's like," is a terrible idea.

Food In War 
Today in 1864, the Battle of Cane River took place near Natchitoches. Not intended to recall that bloody match, but coming to mind anyway, is the delicious Cane River Country shrimp and grits at the Upperline. Proving once again that everything reminds us of food.

Music To Eat Roast Beef By 
Mashed Potato Time, a dance record sung by Dee Dee Sharp, reached Number Two on the pop charts today in 1962, the peak of its popularity. When doing the dance, you put the front half of your foot on the floor in front of you and rotated it, as if you were smashing something.

Food Namesakes 
Actor and Olympic swimmer Buster Crabbe died today in 1983. . . Former Washington, DC mayor Marion Berry got out of jail today in 1992. . . Brent Muscat, who played in a band called Faster Pussycat, was born today in 1967. (Muscat is a grape variety used mostly for sweet wines.). . . Today in 1961, the Broadway musical Tenderloin closed after 216 performances.

Words To Eat By 
All these are from the pen of William Shakespeare, born today in 1564:

"'Tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers."--Romeo and Juliet.

"Let the sky rain potatoes."--The Merry Wives of Windsor.

"Give them great meals of beef and iron and steel, they will eat like wolves and fight like devils."--Henry V.

"Mine eyes smell onions: I shall weep anon."--All's Well That Ends Well.

"And do as adversaries do in law, strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends."--The Taming of the Shrew. 

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"The last taste of sweets is sweetest last."--Richard II.