The Food Almanac: Friday, June 28, 2013

Today's Flavor
Today is National Tapioca Day. Tapioca is a refinement of cassava root, an American plant now raised worldwide, especially in Africa. (It's known as yuca in Central America.) The most common use of tapioca in New Orleans these days in in bubble tea, the refreshing, smoothie-like drinks served by Vietnamese restaurants. Some are made with tea, but most aren't. The "bubbles" are gelatinous black pearls of tapioca (sometimes there are other colors, but black is typical), suspended in the mixture. The name is a derivation of boba, a reference to nipples; the tapioca pearls are supposed to suggest this in their mouthfeel. In order to suck up the tapioca pearls, bubble teas are served with extra-large straws, which also makes you drink faster. Whatever the origin or explanation, they are certainly delightful, especially on a hot day.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Tapioca Creek is about twenty miles from the westernmost tip of mainland Alaska. It's on the peninsula that reaches into the Bering Strait toward a matching peninsula on the Russian side of the strait. The first humans to enter the New World passed this way when a land bridge existed from Asia into North America. Tapioca Creek is in a hilly wilderness, just a mile on the Arctic Ocean side of the Continental Divide. Potato Mountain is about three miles west. No restaurants anywhere near, of course, but the source of Tapioca Creek is only 300 yards from a landing strip, so you can fly to Nome and eat some salmon.

Edible Dictionary
chipotle, chilpotle, Nahuan (Native Mexican), n., adj.–The name in the Central Mexican native tongue means, literally, "smoked chile pepper." That's almost all you need know about this increasingly popular ingredient. So popular, in fact, that a major fast-food restaurant has taken the name as its own. The only other important specificity is that jalapeno peppers are usually used to make chipotles. Most jalapenos are the harvested in the familiar green stage, but some of them are picked when brilliant red and ripe for making chipotles. They're smoked heavily over smoldering wood, getting brown and more intensely flavored (because they dry out a good bit).

Gourmets Through History 
On this date in 1491, King Henry VIII was born. Although he is best known for other deeds, you can't help but note that he was quite a gourmet. He was an extraordinarily handsome and athletic young man, but then he found the pleasures of the table. On his birthday in 1533, he was reported as having said to himself, "Today, I'm going to do something nice for me."

Annals Of Well-Fed Women 
Speaking of well-fed people: Today is the birthday, in 1577, of Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. He painted many subjects, but is best known for his nudes of women who were, to use the common expression, "pleasingly plump." Or, to use the adjective inspired by the paintings themselves, "Rubenesque." One would expect the paintings to depict bowls of fruit and other edibles nearby, but they don't.

Music To Dine Romantically By
Today is the birthday, in 1902, of Richard Rodgers. His fame was for his work with Oscar Hammerstein on the great musicals Oklahoma!, The King and I, etc. But the songs he wrote with the lyrics of Lorenz Hart are, to me, even better. With any collaborator, Rodgers was the greatest of all composers of the Great American Songbook, in my opinion. When a restaurant has a cabaret-style singer, he or she is almost certain to perform at least one Richard Rodgers song. One of my dreams is to record a CD of his works. I might sell a dozen copies!

Food Namesakes
Oran "Juice" Jones, an R&B composer and singer, was born today in 1959. . . Frank Mayo, an actor in silent movies (Burning Gold was one) was born today in 1889. . . Ty Cobb played in his 3000th baseball game today in 1928, in a game that saw Babe Ruth hit two homers. . . Frank "Home Run" Baker died today in 1963. He had a rare double food name.

Words To Eat By
"A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one's accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which the food comes."–Wendell Berry, American poet and conservationist.

Words To Drink By
"Wine is sunlight held together by water."–Galileo.