The Food Almanac: Monday, December 17, 2012

Days Until. . . 
New Year's Eve–14

Lucky Dogs In Literature
Today is the birthday, in 1937, of John Kennedy Toole, the author of the novel Confederacy of Dunces.The story of a character (in every sense of the word) named Ignatius J. Reilly takes place in New Orleans in the 1960s. Ignatius (for whom a Magazine Street sandwich shop is named) pursues a very odd agenda while downing Lucky Dogs and washing them down with Dr Nut–a real local soft drink from those times. Toole committed suicide in 1969, after having no luck in getting the book published. It has since become a local classic, and plans to make it a movie have been advanced but never completed. My radio colleague John "Spud" McConnell portrayed Ignatius often enough that a statue of him in character stands in front of the old D.H. Holmes location, where the book begins.

Today's Flavor
Today is National Maple Syrup Day. Maple syrup of the best quality is such a flavor revelation that it's a wonder why more of a cult hasn't grown up around it. It certainly has its fans, but most people have never tasted a real maple syrup, let alone a good one. The best maple syrup is the lightest in color, and comes not from Vermont but Canada. That country makes at least three-fourths of the maple syrup sold worldwide, and the maple syrup you find on your supermarket's shelf is probably from there. 

Maple syrup is made by collecting the sap that runs up from the roots of a maple tree in the spring to begin the growth of the year's crop of leaves. It's about ninety-five percent water, which must be either boiled away or removed by reverse osmosis. As is true of most reduction processes, the faster the stuff is boiled the more the flavors suffer. If you're ever in Canada, ignore the high price of light maple syrup and buy it. Like a good wine, a lot of work goes into making the best maple syrup, and a marvelous flavor comes out.

Deft Dining Rule #992:
Filling each square of a waffle with syrup seems to be the right measure of syrup, but that's far too much, especially if it's good maple syrup being used.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Syrup Creek flows through 4000-foot mountains in northeastern Oregon, 280 miles east of Portland. It begins at Syrup Spring and travels six miles east to flow into McCoy Creek. Its water travels through intermediate streams to the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. The land through which Syrup Creek flows is wilderness. You'll have to hike twenty-four miles to get a bite to eat, at the interesting Ukiah Thicket Cafe & Bar in Ukiah.

Edible Dictionary
falernum, n.–A flavored syrup used primarily in making cocktails. The flavors are distinctive, combining ginger and cloves with vanilla, almond, and other mellow tastes. It's most closely associated with tropical island drinks, but with the revival of interest in cocktails during the first decade of the 2000s, it's become more widely used in bars across America. Its name has an interesting history. The syrup was named for a sweet wine produced in southern Italy in ancient Roman times. The best source of the grapes for this wine were grown on the slopes of Mount Falernus. How it came to be applied to the modern falernum is not known.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
The trick of beating egg whites and cream separately, then incorporating other flavorings and small bits into the mixture, almost never fails to produce a striking dessert.

Food Patents
Today in 1974, the one millionth U.S. patent was awarded to the Cumberland Packing Company, the creator of Sweet 'n' Low. The patent was for the product's logo, a treble clef invoking the musical connotation of the stuff's name. It was only a coincidence that it was number one million, but Cumberland points to it with pride.

Annals Of Flying And Food
Today in 1903, the Wright Brothers made their first flight at Kitty Hawk, proving their design for the first airplane. The flight was twelve seconds long, which didn't allow enough time for the snack and beverage service.

Music To Eat Gumbo By 
This is the birthday (1937) of Art Neville, the elder statesman of the Neville Brothers and the Meters. We first heard Art's voice in 1954 on the Hawkettes' perennial Carnival hit, Mardi Gras Mambo.

Food Namesakes
Émile Roux, a French bacteriologist who was such an early participant in that field that he worked with Louis Pasteur, was born today in 1853. . . Kofi Annanwas named Secretary General of the United Nations today in 1996. . .Paul Butterfield, who leads the blues band that bears his name, was born today in 1942. . . Jim Bonfanti, lead singer for the 1970s rock group The Raspberries, was born today in 1948.

Words To Eat By
"A waffle is like a pancake with a syrup trap."–Mitch Hedberg,American stand-up comedian.

Words To Drink By
"Drink wine every day, at lunch and dinner, and the rest will take care of itself."–Waverly Root, American food writer of the mid-1900s.