The Food Almanac: Friday, May 24, 2013

It's National Escargots Day!
Marianne Casamance

Food Calendar
Today is National Escargots Day. Snails were the foie gras of their day, the emblem of a gourmet restaurant. If it served them, it was one; if not, it wasn't. Escargots went out of vogue in the 1980s, mainly because fresh snails are almost unavailable and chefs swore to use only fresh product. Even in the heyday of escargots, they were always from a can. Now that they're making a comeback, they'restill strictly a canned item.

Although you can still buy Burgundy snails that really did grow in French vineyards, most snails we eat are petit gris snails that began their long journey in Turkey or Indonesia. Although some snails are raised in this country (mostly in California, where I was once served snails "with the basil on which they lived their entire lives,") live helix snails are illegal to possess in many places, including Louisiana. That was surprising news to the late Chef Jamie Shannon, who at Commander's Palace once brought them to my table still crawling around on a plate. (He then cooked them.) 

The classic way of serving snails is in a baking dish (or the shells, if they can be found) with butter, garlic, and parsley. That accounts for much of the popularity of escargots: we like dipping bread in garlic butter. The comedian Orson Bean told Johnny Carson one night, "I hate snails, but I love the butter they serve them in. So I say, 'Bring me an order of escargots, but hold the slugs.'"

Gourmet Gazetteer
Apple Springs is a crossroads in the rolling countryside of east central Texas, 119 miles north of Houston. Most of the action involves cattle ranching now, but the first big business in the area was pine lumber. After World War I, Apple Springs became a center for bootleg whiskey, the quality of which is still remembered. The town was founded in the expansion and migration following the Civil War. Apple Springs was home to as many as 300 people in the 1960s, but the pull of the big cities has cut that by half now. The only restaurant in town is a Subway.

Deft Dining Rule #175
You may never need this skill, but if you're a real gourmet you should know how to use snail clamps (they hold the shell while you dig into it) and a snail fork (it has two long tines for extracting the snail from its shell).

Edible Dictionary
scamorza, Italian, n.--A variation of fresh-milk mozzarella, with the same kind of sour-milk background flavor. It has an odd shape, like that of a snowman. It gets that way by having a string tied around it a bit off center. It's hung up to cure for a few days. Because of its resemblance to a hanged man, this process is called "strangling" the cheese. The most distinctive scamorza is smoked after being strangled. If you own a pizza parlor, you could step ahead of your competitors by being the first to use scamorza.

Great Moments In Wine
This is the day in 1976 when a wine tasting in Paris turned the wine world upside down. In a blind tasting by a panel of traditional wine authorities, California wines went up against the best wines of Bordeaux. A Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena and a Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag's Leap Wine Cellars came in first. The experts praised both Napa wines being as obviously French. It was the beginning of a process that continues picking up speed, as the winemaking styles of California set the standards of taste for the rest of the world. A great account of the tasting can be read in George Taber's book, Judgment of Paris.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez: 
The problem with wine tastings is that wine is better with food than with other wines.

Dining Landmarks 
The Brooklyn Bridge opened today in 1883. Only pedestrians and horse-drawn carts used it. On one of my most memorable trips to New York--for the first anniversary of 9/11--I dined in the River Cafe, on a barge almost underneath the Brooklyn Bridge. Locals consider it touristy. But a bunch of New Yorkers with me were impressed mightily by both the food and the scene. They were surprised. Why? Because they'd never been there before. New Yorkers never, ever buck trends.

Annals Of One-Hour Meals
Today in 1938, Carl McGee of Oklahoma City patented the parking meter. Thanks, Carl. We're stuck with them forever now. Many dining decisions are made according to the availability of parking meters. If I'm looking for dinner and see an open metered space in front of a good place, I eat there. I always carry a film container full of quarters and dollar coins for that purpose. But now we get to watch our credit cards not work in those new parking machines. Someday, I hope to meet someone who has made one of things work by phone, as signs say they will.

Food In The Movies 
The Cocoanuts, the first Marx Brothers film, was released today in 1929.

Food Namesakes 
Peaches and Herb had a Number One hit on this date in 1979,Reunited. . . Rob Baker, the drummer for the major Canadian rock group Red Rider, is 55 today. . .H. B. Reese, the man for whom the famous peanut-butter-filled chocolate cups were named (because he invented them), was born today in 1879.

Words To Eat By
"I don't like to eat snails. I prefer fast food."--Strange de Jim, San Francisco quipmeister.

Words To Drink By
"I'll stick with gin. Champagne is just ginger ale that knows somebody."--Hawkeye, in the television show M*A*S*H.