The Food Almanac: Friday, June 14, 2013

It's National Strawberry Shortcake Day
Wikimedia Commons/ Tomomarusan

Today's Flavor
Today is National Strawberry Shortcake Day. You can now buy strawberries all year round, and we're seeing strawberry shortcake a lot more, too. We love it at our house, because it tastes good and its preparation involves three things we're always either buying or making: strawberries, whipped cream, and shortcakes. A true shortcake is not that Twinkie-like cake that came to be used for this dessert decades ago, but more like a biscuit. We bake them exactly as we do the biscuits we make for breakfast, except that we use half-and-half instead of buttermilk and about three tablespoons of sugar per cup of flour.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Strawberry Point is a string of mountains that rises about 100 feet out of the waters of Richardson Bay, an arm of San Francisco Bay. If you drive across the Golden Gate Bridge en rout to the Napa and Sonoma wine country, you will see this peninsula on your right from US 101. Very beautiful countryside, even though most of it has been developed to the maximum possible. The best way to play the dining game here is to head over to nearby Sausalito, or take a ferry to downtown San Francisco.

Roots Of Bourbon
Today in 1789 was the first recorded making of whiskey from fermented corn mash, in Bourbon Country, Kentucky. That was the birth of what we now call just bourbon, the most famous distilled spirit in America. It is held in high regard overseas and in Latin America, with a reputation somewhat like the one we accord to Cognac in America. In recent years, the Bourbon distillers reversed a long slide in their fortunes by creating new small-batch bourbons of much higher quality. My favorites are Van Winkle, Baker's and Knob Hill.

Edible Dictionary
shortcake, n.--A slightly sweet bread made with sugar, flour, baking powder, milk or cream, and shortening. The last ingredient is the distinctive one. Vegetable shortening (most commonly; the same effect can be had with lard or butter) is mixed into the flour until the flour it becomes "short"--stuck together in tiny crumbs by the shortening. After being baked, the result is a soft but bready interior with a soft, thin crust. "Shortening bread" is the same idea, but without the sugar. Buttermilk biscuits are a kind of shortening bread. "Shortbread," on the other hand, is something different--a hard cookie with a lot of butter or shortening.

Deft Dining Rule #240:
The more peculiar-looking the mushrooms in a Chinese dish, the better the dish will taste.

Annals Of French Cuisine
Napoleon won what he considered his greatest victory on this date in 1800 at Marengo in northern Italy, near Turin. He was fighting the Austrians. The battle is commemorated in a dish called chicken Marengo. It was what Napoleon's cooks served him after the battle, the ingredients foraged from the area. The original recipe's sauce was made with crawfish. Most recipes now leave that out, unless they're made in Louisiana.

Physiology Of Eating
Dr. Henry Heimlich proposed what became known as the Heimlich maneuver today in 1974. While it doesn't always work, and sometimes results in a fractured rib or two for the victim, it has saved thousands of choking victims who might otherwise have died or been permanently injured. Many of these were in restaurants, with the person doing the maneuver being just another customer. If you don't know how to do it, you should learn. Here's how, from Dr. Heimlich himself.

Food Namesakes
John Bartlett, who compiled the book of quotations that became so famous that his name is forever associated with such a book, was born today in 1820. He had no connection with the pears. . . Bill Baker, a Congressman from California, was born today in 1941 65 today. . . John Scott Trotter, who was the band leader on George Gobel's early television show, was born today in 1908. (A trotter is a pig's foot, in case you never heard the term.) . . . Gil Lamb, a movie actor in the 1940s, was born today in 1906.

Words To Eat By
"Talking of Pleasure, this moment I was writing with one hand, and with the other holding to my Mouth a Nectarine -- how good how fine. It went down all pulpy, slushy, oozy, all its delicious embonpoint melted down my throat like a large, beatified Strawberry."--John Keats.

Words To Drink By
"I know folks all have a tizzy about it, but I like a little bourbon of an evening. It helps me sleep. I don't much care what they say about it."--Lillian Carter, mother of President Jimmy Carter.