The Food Almanac: Friday, April 26, 2013

It's National Pretzel Day!

Food Calendar
This is National Pretzel Day. Most of us first encounter pretzels in their small, hard form, the kind you get in a bag for a crunchy, salty snack. When I was a kid, the most common pretzels were sticks, sold in small rectangular boxes for a nickel. Now the traditional pretzel shape, which was supposed to represent a boy's arms when at prayer (the story has it that the original pretzels were the reward for learning one's prayers), dominates the pretzel market. Soft pretzels, long a street food in New York City and elsewhere, have become more widely available, especially in food courts in malls and airports. They're made of a bread dough that doesn't rise very much, and so has a dense texture. They're habit-forming. I have thought for a long time that pretzels are long overdue to turn up in the bread baskets of restaurants trying to offer something a little different.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
Beer begets pretzels, and vice-versa.

Food And The Law
Today in 2006, Chicago passed its infamous ban on foie gras in restaurants. The law was pushed by people who say that the process of raising ducks for foie gras--the fattened liver, brought about by overfeeding the birds-- is inhumane. This is widely disputed. Despite the law, some restaurants continued to serve foie gras, and restaurants outside the city limits of Chicago that never served the expensive delicacy before started selling a lot of it. Two years later, the ban was struck down, and the city has returned to its senses. (Especially the sense of taste.)

Essential New Orleans Figures
John James Audubon was born today in 1785 in what is now Haiti. He moved to France in his youth and began drawing birds--the art that made him famous. He came to the United States when he was eighteen, moving around the country for the rest of his life. He spent enough time in New Orleans that, after the Cotton Centennial Exposition of 1884 closed, its site was named Audubon Park. Which, appropriately enough, is the home of the Audubon Zoo. 

Audubon Park's claim to culinary fame is the Zoo To-Do, which may be the most copied charitable fundraiser in the world. It's the most remunerative non-medical fundraiser in the country. Begun in 1972, it was an original idea: chefs from the city's best restaurants came in to serve their best specialties, while wine and cocktails were being poured, music played, and patrons walked around in formal dress. It's still a sellout every year. 

Edible Dictionary
confit, French, n.--A food (usually a meat) cooked slowly in a substantial amount of fat, then preserved in it. The most common confit in our land is confit of duck, a very popular dish made by cooking pieces of duck (usually the legs) in duck fat. The concoction is then allowed to cool and set, after which it can be kept in a sealed container, even off refrigeration, for an extended time. When it's cooked, the absorbed fat sizzles and creates an unctuous richness of flavor. In France, confit d'oie--the same idea, made with goose--is a major specialty of the southwest part of the country. The word comes from the French word meaning "to preserve."

Eating In City Park
Coincidentally, this is the birthday, in 1822, of Frederick Law Olmsted. He was the father of large, natural city parks, starting with New York's Central Park. Our own City Park was developed along Olmsted's principles. An exception was made to Olmsted's design for Central Park when the Tavern on the Green was built in it. That restaurant, with sales of over $37 million a year, was the busiest independent restaurant in America until it went bust and closed in 2009.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Wing, Alabama is just north of the Florida state line, sixty-six miles north of Pensacola. It's a crossroads in a a gently rolling farming area, with a gas station and a few stores. The nearest restaurant is the well-named Countryside Kitchen, down the road five miles. If they don't have chicken wings, they're missing a good bet.

Food In Music
Mashed Potato Time, a dance record by Dee Dee Sharp, hit Number One on the pop charts today in 1962. To do the Mashed Potato, you pretend that a baked potato is on the floor, and you're mashing it with your foot. (I am not making this up. I actually did this dance on a 1960s television show for teens.)

Food and Drink Names
A play called Jelly's Last Jam opened today for 569 performances on Broadway, about Jelly Roll Morton. . . Sir Edwin Alliott Verdon Roe, the first person to build and fly an airplane in England (in 1908), was born today in 1877. . . Pete Ham, a member of the Beatles soundalike group Badfinger, was born today in 1947. . . Olympic basketball player Robert Boozer was born today in 1937.

Words To Eat By
"A food is not necessarily essential just because your child hates it."--Katherine Whitehorn.

Related Stories
How to Make Auntie Anne’s Pretzels at HomeMcDonald's to Release Pretzel Burger in Germany

Words To Drink By
“It takes only one drink to get me drunk. The trouble is, I can't remember if it's the thirteenth or the fourteenth.”--George Burns.