The Food Almanac: Friday, March 29, 2013

It's Good Friday!

Lemon Chiffon Cake

It is Good Friday, recalling the most infamous execution of all time. And the day, most likely, on which the most seafood is eaten in America.

Today's Flavor
This is Wild Rice Week. Wild rice is indeed wild, but it's not really rice. Although it is now being cultivated, the plant is exactly as the Native Americans found it for centuries in the bogs in Minnesota. The long distance of its relation to true rice is obvious when you eat it. It has a nutty flavor more like that of oats or barley than rice. But, really, it has a taste all its own. It's most often served with game, and for decades any restaurant that served duck served wild rice with it. More often than not, wild rice in a restaurant is combined with regular rice, for the usual reason: wild rice is very expensive. It cooks quickly--just twenty minutes or so in a steamer.

Today is alleged by some sources to be National Lemon Chiffon Cake Day. Chiffon cakes are an American invention, and get their spongy, light consistency by incorporating beaten egg whites into the batter. Yawn.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Beans Corner, Maine is about thirty-file miles northwest of the state capital, Augusta. It's a pure farming area, although trees grow over many acres of formerly tilled land. If you'd like to eat some beans, you'll be frustrated by the number of fast food and Chinese restaurants you'll have to pass before coming to Soup For You, six miles away in Farmington.

Science In Food
Biologist Charles Elton was born today in 1900. He was the first to use the term food chain, describing the deep interdependent relationships among plants and animals in nature, and how critical those relationships are to all living things. He thought of it as an energy flow, with plants taking up energy from the sun to produce food for herbivores which are then food for carnivores (to oversimplify the food chain a great deal).

Edible Dictionary
cream of tartar, n.--Potassium bitartrate, a natural byproduct of winemaking, cream of tartar is a mildly acidic powder whose uses are surprisingly varied. It is most frequently encoutered--although you might not be aware of its presence--mixed with other powders. It's found in some kinds of baking powder, to fire off the gas-producing effect of baking soda. It's in Sweet 'n' Low, to counteract the bitterness of saccharin. In its solo performances, cream of tartar added to egg whites makes them easier to turn into a thick foam for meringue. A paste of water and cream of tartar can polish metals. You may have encountered cream of tartar on the hoof. If you've ever seen what looks like glass chips in the bottom of a bottle of wine, or crystals on the underside of a cork, you've seen unpowdered cream of tartar. It's an element of the grape juice itself that sometimes precipitates, especially if the wine is kept chilled for a long time.

Deft Dining Rule #233:
Dishes with colorful names are divided into two categories: the delicious and the terrible. There is no in-between. The very fact that it has an unusual name means the dish makes a big flavor statement.

Food At War
On this day in 1943--right in the middle of World War II--meat, cheese, and butter began to be rationed in the United States. The weekly ration for meat per person was 28 ounces. That was more of a hardship then than it would be now, because the American diet then was more meat-based. A large percentage of the American public now eats far less than 28 ounces of meat a week, by choice. Seafood eaters fared well during rationing. Fish and shellfish never were rationed, even though they were in shorter supply.

Roots Of Creole Cooking
Adrien de Pauger landed at what would become New Orleans on this date in 1721. He laid out the original street plan of the French Quarter. For his efforts he has a street named after him in the Marigny. A curiosity of a rough layout of his drawing is a note pointing to the block of Royal between Conti and St. Louis Streets. It says, "Good but expensive breakfast joint here."

Annals Of Soft Drinks
Today in 1886 druggist John S. Pemberton began advertising a new brain tonic and intellectual beverage (as he called it), made from kola nuts and containing a cocaine precursor. He named it Coca-Cola. He did not make much money with it, because before the stuff hit really big, Pemberton sold the formula to Asa Candler, who was the marketing genius.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
If you add Coca-Cola or anything like it to a recipe, you may be doing so just so you can say, "Oh, yes, I make my ham glaze with root beer."

Music To Eat With Your Man By
Today in 1918, actress and blues singer Pearl Bailey was born. "I don't like to say that my kitchen is a religious place," she said, "but I would say that if I were a voodoo priestess, I would conduct my rituals there." Pearly Mae was a frequent performer at the Blue Room of the old Fairmont Hotel here. In her honor the hotel named its twenty-four-hour restaurant after her. The restaurant outlived its namesake by a few years, but ultimately closed. After the Waldorf-Astoria arm of Hilton took over the old Fairmont and re-renamed it The Roosevelt, the space where Bailey's once was was turned over to Chef John Besh, who installed his new Italian restaurant Domenica there.

Words To Eat By
"Food history is as important as a baroque church. Governments should recognize cultural heritage and protect traditional foods. A cheese is as worthy of preserving as a sixteenth-century building."--Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food Movement.

Words To Drink By
"Popularity, I have always thought, may aptly be compared to a coquette—the more you woo her, the more apt is she to elude your embrace."--John Tyler, tenth U.S. President, born today in 1790.