The Food Almanac: Monday, April 8, 2013

It's Pan-American Empanada Day!


Currency And Food
The dollar sign ($) was invented today in 1778 by Oliver Pollock, the most generous monetary contributor to the American Revolutionary War. At the time, neither he nor his hometown of New Orleans were part of the new nation. He lived next door to what is now the Royal Orleans parking garage on Chartres Street; a marker there tells his history. His dollar sign is a stylized version of a U over an S. You could buy a meal in a restaurant without having to use a whole $ until about 1974.

Today's Flavor
Today is Pan-American Empanada Day. An empanada is a half-moon-shaped turnover, usually stuffed with some kind of meat. It's found in both Spanish and Latin American cuisines. "Empanada" literally means "enclosed in bread." The bread in this case is a flour tortilla, or (sometimes) pie dough. Ground beef, pork, and sausage are typical empanada fillings. Both Natchitoches-style meat pies and Hubig's pies qualify as empanadas. The best empanada in New Orleans is the empanadas de atun at RioMar; it's filled with tuna.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Corncob Island, Georgia 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, eighteen 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.

Food Inventions
Today in 1879 was the first day milk was sold in bottles. Echo Farms Dairy of New York was the marketer. Before then, you bought milk by the pail if you didn't have your own cows to milk. Bottled milk was the rule until about 1960, when a shift from home deliveries to supermarkets made the cardboard carton popular. Now, the bottle--made of plastic--is taking over again. When we started school in 1956, they served us milk in little bottles with a thick cardboard stopper. When you pulled open its tab, a hole was revealed for inserting your straw.

Edible Dictionary
jumble, n.--A cookie made by mixing a variety of nuts in a butter cookie dough, usually flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, or cloves. The cookie (or maybe just the name, which John Mariani in his Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink says is sometimes spelled "jumbal") is one of the first of incontestable American origin. Recipes for it go back to 1827. They can be made with a cookie cutter, or as drop cookies.

Deft Dining Rule #709:
The presence in a restaurant of any form of cornbread baked fresh in house is a strong indicator that the cooking will be excellent. This is true even when the cornbread itself is just okay.

Annals Of Imitation Foods
Today in In 1873, the first American patent for making margarine was granted to Alfred Paraf of New York. Now margarine, too, is exiting the scene, as we discover horrible things about its effects on your health.

Deft Dining Rule #710:
The presence of margarine on a restaurant's tables is a very strong indicator of very poor food. But if they cook with it, it's okay. (Especially if either the restaurant or the cook is over fifty years old.)

Food Namesakes
Catfish Hunter, who pitched more than 20 wins in five consecutive seasons for the A's and the Yankees, was born today in 1946. . . Actor Alfie Bass took the Big Stage today in 1921. He played supporting roles in many movies. . . Kofi Annan brewed up today in 1938, and later became Secretary-General of the United Nations. . . Elizabeth Bacon, the wife of General George Custer, made her first stand today in 1842.

Words To Eat By
"It scored right away with me by being the smooth, fine-grained sort, not the coarse, flaky, dry-on-the-outside rubbish full of chunks of gut and gristle to testify to its authenticity."--Kingsley Amis, describing a pate.

Related Stories
Science Explains Butter vs. Margarine Debate

Words To Drink By
"My makeup wasn't smeared, I wasn't disheveled, I behaved politely, and I never finished off a bottle. So how could I be an alcoholic?"--Betty Ford, born today in 1908.