The Food Almanac: Friday, January 11, 2013

Happy National Rhubarb Day!
Wikimedia Commons/ 4028mdk09



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

Days Until. . . 
Mardi Gras--31
Valentine's Day--33

Origins Of Creole Cuisine
On this date in 1803, James Monroe and Robert R. Livingston boarded a ship bound for France, where they hoped to buy the Isle of Orleans. That's the land bordered by the Mississippi River, Bayou Manchac, Amite River, Pass Manchac, Lake Maurepas, Lake Pontchartrain, and the Gulf of Mexico. They hit the jackpot. Napoleon told them he'd like to sell all of Louisiana, from Canada on down, for the United States. 

I wonder what New Orleans would be like now if the Louisiana Purchase had not happened. My favorite scenario is that Louisiana would have become an independent nation, with New Orleans as its capital. Its territory would include the main stream of North American commerce, the breadbasket Midwest, and many other riches. There would have been no Civil War, allowing the culture and economy of New Orleans to blossom instead of being stamped out by Reconstruction. We'd have our French, Spanish, and African heritage and food, but with money and power. Imagine!

Today's Flavor
This is National Warm Milk Day and National Hot Toddy Day. Hot beverages for the morning and the evening. Along different lines entirely is National Rhubarb Day. On this date in 1770, Benjamin Franklin sent some rhubarb to a friend in Pennsylvania, beginning a footnote to American agriculture that still exists. Nobody admits to liking rhubarb a great deal, although it cane me made into interesting things. I've had great rhubarb pie (in the diner of a train), and for many years Paul Thomas Winery in Washington State made a wonderful wine from rhubarb. The vegetable has big leaves (borderline poisonous) and a long, red, edible stalk; after trimming, it looks like red celery.

Deft Dining Rule #154:
Eat unusual vegetables with great relish. It will persuade those around you that you're a real gourmet.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Catfish, Pennsylvania is in the western part of the state, sixty-six miles north of Pittsburgh. It's an uninhabited crossroads in the woods, right on the east bank of the Allegheny River. Catfish indeed are routinely caught in this and other Pennsylvania rivers, so the name is apt. An old grist mill is up the road a little. The nearest place of interest to grab a bite (and let's hope some fried catfish) is the Campfire Cafe, three miles away.

Annals Of Culinary Education 
Ezra Cornell, who made his fortune with the telegraph and the Western Union Company that he co-founded, was born today in 1807. He endowed Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, one of the leading colleges for careers in the hotel and restaurant industries. Albert Aschaffenberg. who led his family's Pontchartrain Hotel here in New Orleans, was one of many of our local Cornell lights.

Wine Inspirations
Today in 49 BCE Julius Caesar audaciously crossed the Rubicon. "Alea jacta est," he said. ("The die is thrown.") And so the war over who would rule Rome began. I guess it's that spirit in which Francis Ford Coppola created Rubicon, his top red wine at Neibaum-Coppola Winery in Napa. The flagship restaurant of San Francisco celebrity chef Drew Neiporent also bears the name.

Edible Dictionary
schnitzel, German, n.--A schnitzel is a piece of meat pounded thin, then cooked. Usually it's coated with flour and beaten eggs, and then shallow-fried in a half-inch or less of hot oil, along the same lines pannee meat, but with a lighter breading and less seasoning. Although schnitzels are identified as German, the idea probably began in Alpine Italy, from which it spread northward to Austria, then to Germany. The original schnitzels were made not with veal, but pork. The most famous of the schnitzels is Wiener schnitzel--or, as some restaurants have it, Vienna schnitzel, in honor of the place from which it came. It's simple, with a scattering of capers and a spritz of lemon juice. One I always liked was Holsteiner schnitzel--the same idea, but with a fried egg on top.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
Next time you clarify butter, save the foam that you skim off the top and the solids left in the pan after you pour the clarified butter out. Mix this with garlic and parsley and use it for garlic bread.

Annals Of Food Safety
Sir James Paget, a British surgeon and physiologist, was born today in 1814. He discovered that trichinosis--a bad muscle disease--was caused by the small roundworm parasites that most often get into the body from undercooked pork. That caused everybody to grossly overcook pork for over a century. We now know that the trichina worms are killed by a temperature of 139 degrees for nine minutes, which leaves pork medium rare. And that commercial pork hasn't had the problem to begin with in decades.

Cheese In War And Peace
In the middle of World War I, a beleaguered France took drastic measures today in 1917 and placed price restrictions on Gruyere cheese. The population shook its collective fist.

Food Namesakes
Don Cherry, who had a big hit with the sentimental song Band Of Gold, was born today in 1924. . .Francesco Parmigianino, a Renaissance painter, was born today in 1503. . . The movie Orange County premiered today in 2002, a comedy. . . Gold pro Ben Crenshawstepped up to The Big Tee today in 1952. (A Crenshaw melon is a variant of a cantaloupe.)

Words To Eat By
"I want a dish to taste good, rather than to have been seethed in pig's milk and served wrapped in a rhubarb leaf with grated thistle root."--Kingsley Amis, British novelist.

"Reagan promised everyone a seven-course dinner. Ours turned out to be a possum and a six-pack."--Jim Hightower, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner and populist columnist, born today in 1943.


Words To Drink By
"How pleasant is the day when we give up striving to be young—or slender."--William James,American philosopher, born today in 1842.