The Food Almanac: Friday, September 13, 2013

Staff Writer
It's National Peanut Day!
Wikimedia Commons/ Aktron

Peanuts are a remarkable food, highly nourishing both the to eater and to the grower.

Food Calendar
Today is National Peanut Day. Peanuts are a remarkable food, highly nourishing both the to eater and to the grower. They've suffered a dip in reputation in recent years, because of the one percent of Americans who have allergies to them. This number has doubled in recent years, likely because of the reverse placebo effect. Now we see advisories on candy bars and other products that say "This product was manufactured in a plant that processes peanuts."

However, for most people peanuts offer nothing but pleasure. They're a better snack than a candy bar. Peanut butter is an essential product in most homes, especially those with kids. Peanut butter pie is a great dessert, if made with a light hand and some chocolate. And peanuts appear all over the menu, from Vietnamese peanut sauce for dipping spring rolls to peanut soup (a traditional dish in the Carolinas that seems ripe for exploitation here).

The best source of peanut information comes from the National Peanut Board, whose website offers hundreds of recipes, amusing trivia, and even facts about the allergy issue. And this: no trans-fats in peanuts!

Gourmet Gazetteer
Pecan Hill was a small farming community of the late 1800s that began fading just as Dallas--twenty-four miles north--began spreading. Now there's nothing left of the old farmhouses, and the vast acreages of cotton and cattle grazing are being nibbled away by large housing developments. Those have brought almost 700 citizens to the town, an all-time high. If there are any pecan trees or hills, they are not obvious. This is high but flat land. Pecan Hill is a mile and a half east of a restaurant called Labouchee, in Red Oak.

Annals Of Chocolate
Milton Hershey, who founded the chocolate manufacturing company that made his name famous, was born today in 1857. He ignored the methods used by European chocolatiers and developed his own way of making milk chocolate. The Hershey process involved slightly soured milk. That flavor is widely disdained by many makers of chocolate, but it remains the standard for chocolate in the United States. Once his company was successful, Hershey pulled away from it, donating most of it to a charitable foundation. He spent the rest of his life traveling.

Edible Dictionary
couverture chocolate, n.--Among the thousands of ways in which chocolate is confected, couverture chocolate has a high percentage of cocoa butter. It's used mostly for baking, in which a smooth melting quality is important. Couverture chocolate also contains more than the average amount of cocoa powder, too. So it's a high-quality chocolate all around. It's usually made on the sweet side, although some is semi-sweet. You can eat it as is, but since it's not made for that purpose you might find it too firm, and not melting the way chocolate candy is.

Annals Of Table Etiquette 
Miss Manners (real name Judith Martin) was born today in 1938. As she notes in her book, etiquette is more than knowing which fork to use--even though knowing which fork to use is what inspired etiquette as we know it. Louis XIV is often credited with making the first really big deal about table manners. Those who failed to practice them became outcasts.

Many rules of table etiquette have fallen from practice in this increasingly casual era. That doesn't make them any less worthwhile. Here are a few that are largely unknown, but which I think would add a great deal to dining pleasure:

1. Dessert, no matter what it is (even ice cream) should be served with a tablespoon (oval soup spoon) and a salad fork. 

2. It's perfectly acceptable to pick up lamb chops, pork chops, and similar items with bones and nibble off them. 

3. Asparagus can be picked up with the fingers and eaten, whether cold or hot. (Unless they're so saucy and limp that doing so might make a mess.)

4. Bread should be broken off the loaf at the table, not sliced. The piece you tear off should be enough to get you through the next course or so. Only butter one bite at a time, after tearing that off your piece. 

5. The butter knife--that flat-bladed thing with the notch near the end of the blade--should be used only to transport butter from the common butter dish to your own bread and butter plate. The actual buttering is done with your table knife.

Or just forget about it all, do it your way, and miss out on the additional enjoyment eating by the rules provides.

Music To Dine Elegantly By
Today is the birthday of Mel Torme, one of the all-time great singers of the Great American Songbook. His nickname was "The Velvet Fog," which defined his sound exactly. But he didn't like it, as he told me during his engagement in the Blue Room about twenty years ago. All night long he gave the smokers in the grand old ballroom grief. . . Another terrific singer was born today in 1916. Dick Haymes was Frank Sinatra's replacement twice: with Harry James's and Tommy Dorsey's bands. Big, rich baritone, but not a lot of emotion.

Music To Eat Ice Cream By
Little Richard recorded Tutti Frutti, one of his most famous hits in his wild style, on this date in 1955. All-a-rooti!

Food Namesakes
American singer and songwriter Fiona Apple was born today in 1977. . . Dutch writer Nicholas Beets was uprooted today in 1814. . . Relief pitcher Dan Quisenberry racked up his thirty-ninth save of the year, a record, today in 1983. I like a good quisenberry pie, don't you?. . . TV soap opera actor Jason Cook was born today in 1980. . . Actress Ann Dusenberry was born today in 1958. I like a good dusenberry pie, don't you?

Unforgettable Dinners
Today in 2001, fourteen people joined me at a big, oval-shaped table adjacent to the wine cellar of the Windsor Court Hotel's Grill Room. We were there for one of our Eat Club dinners, which at that time had gone on almost every Wednesday for eight years.

The attendance was limited to fifteen because the restaurant was planning an unusually ambitious repast, even by their five-star standards. (And because that's all the table would accommodate.) It was as spectacular as promised. I remember sea scallops the size of filets mignon, venison filets as the main course, and a full evening of unusual and wonderful wines. 

All who signed up for the dinner showed up. It was something of a miracle. All around town, restaurants were nearly empty, as people cocooned themselves at home in reaction to what had happened two days before. As fabulous as the food and wines were, talk about it lasted only a minute or two before falling back to Topic AAA. It would be weeks before restaurants saw anything like normal dining room populations. And months before I stopped thinking about the meaning of the attack all the time.

Words To Eat By
"Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands--and then eat just one of the pieces."--Judith Viorst.

"I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can't stop eating peanuts."--Orson Welles.

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Words To Drink By
"I never drink coffee at lunch. I find it keeps me awake for the afternoon."--Ronald Reagan.