The Food Almanac: May 23, 2011

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

Food Patents
The Patent Act of 1930 made it possible for plants to be patented. This gave the seed companies a tremendous boost, largely at the expense of the individual farmer and the consumer. If a seed company developed a new corn hybrid, for example, it could now forbid farmers from just replanting the corn using the kernels from last year's crop. Although this was seen as a boon to the creation of new, much more productive hybrids, it also had the unintended effect of narrowing the gene pool for corn. The jury is still out on this one, but it's highly questionable whether in the long run this will prove to have been a good thing for anyone but the three gigantic companies that control corn.

Eating Calendar
It is Corn and Crab Soup Day. That combination has been around in Chinese restaurants for who knows how long, in the usual thin style common to most Asian soups. But that's not the soup the name conjures up around New Orleans. A rich, spicy potage came to light during Paul Prudhomme's tour of duty as chef at Commander's Palace, in the late 1970s. That soup had the two namesake ingredients in a matrix of reduced heavy cream and crab stock, with a good shake of cayenne pepper to make it convincing.

What makes a corn and crab soup great is the size of the crab lumps, the richness of the broth, and the freshness of the corn. The best versions involve corn cut freshly off the cob, with the corn milk collected and added to the broth. Sometimes a stock is even made from the corn cobs, and that's good, too. It's really simple to make — if you have any instincts at all, you already know how to make it from just what I've already told you here.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Corncob Island, Ga., rises above the water level on the northeast edge of Okefenokee Swamp. It's about a mile by flatboat or dirt trail from US 1, 18 miles southeast of Waycross. This is a place where the Pogo comic strip characters might have visited. It's uninhabited except by animals and (probably) hunters. The nearest restaurants are in Hoboken, nine miles away: Blueberry Hill and The Country Boy.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
Crabs don't eat corn
And corn's not for crabs
But when the cob's shorn
And lump's up for grabs
Put cream in the pot
And simmer it down
Add cayenne — not a lot
Then just go to town.

Edible Dictionary
huitlacoche, n., Spanish — The Mexican name for corn smut, a fungus that grows into a soft, gray mass around growing corncobs. To add one more distasteful note, the word means "raven poop." Despite all that, huitlacoche is considered a delicacy in Mexico, and has been called "Mexican truffles." It tastes and feels like mushrooms because it is mushrooms — tiny ones. Chefs who try to stay on the cutting edge, particularly if their menus have a hispanic tone, work huitlacoche into their dishes, and brag about it. All huitlacoche dinners have been staged. This is not mere silliness, because the stuff actually does taste good. On the other hand, its exotic backstory certainly provides most of the appeal for gourmets.

Music to Chew Gum By
One of the worst songs ever to top the music charts did so on this day in 1968. It was the outer limits of bubblegum music: Yummy Yummy Yummy by the Ohio Express.

Food Namesakes
Seabiscuit, the famous racehorse, was born today in 1933. Early baseball pro Zack Wheat was born today in 1888.

Words to Eat By
"I wish I had time for just one more bowl of chili." — Kit Carson, a cowboy who, according to legend, spoke these words with his dying breath on this date in 1868.

Words to Drink By
There's alcohol in plant and tree.
It must be Nature's plan
That there should be in fair degree
Some alcohol in Man. — A. P. Herbert, British humorist.

Check out other Food Almanac columns by Tom Fitzmorris.