The Food Almanac: Friday, October 26, 2012

Grape-Nuts, Pumpkin Day, panko — get your day off to an appetizing start with food facts and trivia from Tom Fitzmorris

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

Annals of Breakfast Cereal
C.W. Post was born today in 1854. He was inspired to invent Grape-Nuts cereal by a stay in the sanatorium of Dr. John Kellogg. Kellogg and his brother Will were vegetarians and early proponents of processed cereal, and Post got that religion himself. Around Grape-Nuts he built the Post Cereal Company, which became (and still is) Kellogg's strongest competitor. Post's other interesting creation was Postum, a roasted grain beverage that was supposed to be better for you than coffee. Problem: it tasted nothing like coffee, and was not very good. Post was quite a businessman; his company evolved into General Foods Corporation.

Today's Flavor
Today is National Pumpkin Day, the day on which the most pumpkins are sold nationwide, for obvious reasons. The pumpkins that we carve into jack-'o-lanterns are no great waste of food. Most of the pumpkin we eat is made from an entirely different kind of pumpkin. Jack-'o-lantern pumpkins are certainly edible, but should be approached with the same methods you'd use for a squash (which it is). I like pureeing the meat and stuffing it with herbs into ravioli, and serving it with a cream sauce. Or making a gratin-style side dish.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Pumpkin Center, Calif., is one of 18 communities around the United States bearing that name. This one is in California's agriculturally rich Central Valley, on the southern outskirts of Bakersfield. It claims a population of 1,400, with many more pumpkins being grown in a large patch just off the main street through the area. Housing has largely covered former fields in Pumpkin Center, but heading south, the crops go on to the horizon. The town has several places to eat, with the Center Drive Inn seeming most appropriate.

Annals of Fishing
Today in 1979, the largest bluefin tuna ever caught came out of the water in Nova Scotia, weighing about 1,500 pounds. Bluefins are among the fastest swimmers in the sea. They are also among the most expensive and desirable fish in sushi bars. The meat is distinctly different from the more common yellowfin ("ahi") tuna. Bluefin tunas are so big that sometimes slices of sashimi from it have no flake structure at all, just a very fine meaty texture. It's a delicious eat. They're caught all over the place, including in the Gulf. I expect that they will become endangered in the not-too-distant future.

Deft Dining Rule #200
If you need predictability from a restaurant, find one where the chef has been there a long time. If you want novelty, find one with a history of hiring young chefs who stay a year or two and then open their own places. You can't have both.

Edible Dictionary
panko, Japanese, n. — Bread crumbs made in the Japanese style. The crumbs are larger than standard American crumbs, but only in two dimensions. Under close inspection, they look like very thin flakes. This is accomplished by baking them in such a way that the bread used doesn't develop a crust. The result of using panko instead of standard crumbs is that the dish comes out lighter. The flavor difference is debatable. The closest thing to panko in this country is cracker crumbs. Panko is classically used to coat katsu dishes — the Japanese version of pannéed. It has become enormously popular among chefs trying to keep up with the trends.

Food Namesakes
John P. Roux, former South African cabinet member, was born today in 1942 . . . Olympic diver Cinnamon Woods was born today in 1971 . . . Russian architect Konstantin Thon was born today in 1794. ("Thon" is French for "tuna".) . . . Former Alabama governor Albert P. Brewer was born today in 1928.

Words to Eat By
"My favorite word is 'pumpkin.' You can't take it seriously. But you can't ignore it, either. It takes ahold of your head and that's it. You are a pumpkin. Or you are not. I am." — Harrison Salisbury, New York Times journalist.

"What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye?
What calls back the past like the rich pumpkin pie?"
John Greenleaf Whittier.

Words to Drink By
"A sweetheart is a bottle of wine, a wife is a wine bottle." — Charles Baudelaire.

Check out other Food Almanac columns by Tom Fitzmorris.

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