The Food Almanac: March 21, 2011
The Full Oyster Moon occurred over the weekend. Here in Louisiana, oysters are at their meatiest, biggest, and best this time of year, although with rainy winters like this year's they may not be as salty as some might like. In the Northeast, the Native Americans called this the "Worm Moon" and the "Sap Moon."
Today is National French Bread Day. The picture of a person walking down a street with a long, narrow loaf of bread tucked under his arm could no better locate the scene in France if it had the Eiffel Tower in the background. The shape of a baguette isn't its only distinguishing characteristic. Its light (in color and texture) crust, the many large, cavern-like gaps in the crumb, and yeastiness are all hallmarks. French bread is simple in its components — not much more than flour, yeast, and water. But making it requires an adherence to the time-tested procedure that borders on religious. The two primary keys are a very active yeast and an oven with sprays of water mist. The end result is the perfect companion to cheese, pâtés, or a French dinner. Regional variations on French bread are everywhere. In my hometown of New Orleans, we make a bigger (in both circumference and length) French bread, with a much lighter crust and crumb. This is not only the standard bread of the table, but the bedrock of the po'boy sandwich. And then there is standard supermarket French bread, usually made with frozen dough. It's hardly worthy of the name, with its soft crust and fine, buttery interior. Get the real thing.
Deft Dining Rule #230
A well-made loaf of French bread will leave a thousand crumbs strewn across the table.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
The greatest improvement you can make in your bread baking is to spray water into the oven every ten minutes or so. (Clean water, new sprayer.)
Bread Tray Hill is a community of about fifty people, fifty-six miles southeast of Montgomery, Alabama. It's an intersection of two rural highways through a mostly wooded area. The namesake hill is bald at its 500-foot top, and from the south does look like its name. This is a farming and orchard area. The nearest restaurants are seven miles north in Union Springs. Among them is the inviting Pigg's.
Forrest Mars, Sr. was born today in 1904. An infamously humorless businessman, he took over his family's candy business and turned it into the biggest maker of candy bars in the world. Mars, Inc. is the maker of M&M's, Milky Way, and (this will surprise you) Uncle Ben's Rice. Mars, and Hershey's have one of the great rivalries, with espionage and everything. The story is told in Joel Glenn Brenner's terrific book, "The Emperors of Chocolate."
levain, [leh-VANH]--n., French: A leavening agent for bread dough, made by the action of living, multiplying yeasts on a small amount of flour and water. It creates what's also known as a mother, sponge, or sourdough starter. This is added to a batch of dough. Some of the dough is then returned to the levain to feed it. By doing this, a levain can be kept alive for many years. The advantage of using it instead of commercial yeast is the much more interesting flavor in the resulting bread. Levains are popular in rustic French bakeries and among enthusiastic amateur bakers. It's widely believed that the best levain comes from yeasts just captured from the air by a mixture of flour and water left out in an open window.
Annals of Winemaking
Today is the birthday, in 1910, of Julio Gallo, who with his brother Ernest began the Gallo wine business. It would become the world's largest family-owned winery. Julio was in charge of production, while Ernest was the salesman. Julio died in 1993 in a car accident.
Actor James Coco was born today in 1930. Football player Junior Coffey hit the big scrimmage today in 1942. Robert Sweet, drummer for the Christian hard-rock band Stryper, felt his first beats today in 1960.
Words To Eat By
"A philosopher is a person who doesn't care which side his bread is buttered on; he knows he eats both sides anyway." — Dr. Joyce Brothers.
Words To Drink By
"I don't think I've drunk one since I've left the Bond movies. Every bar you go in...'Oh, yours will be a martini, shaken, not stirred!' You get sick and tired of that." — Timothy Dalton, who portrayed James Bond twice, was born today in 1946.