The Food Almanac: Monday, December 31, 2012

It's New Year's Eve!
Wikimedia Commons/FXR


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

The Sixth Day of Christmas
We are warned of the gifting by good friends of six geese a-laying, a six-pack of Dixie, a hammered aluminum nutcracker, little silver bells, or (according to our own lyrics for the song) six char-broiled oysters. We like the oysters as the appetizer tonight, and are interested in those geese for a big feast tomorrow. But the eggs? Geese don't lay eggs this time of year, no matter what the song says. However, here's a place where you can buy them when the big birds get on with it in springtime. Two goose eggs from free-range heritage geese,$58.

Today's Flavor
Tonight is International Champagne Night. Of course. Champagne is a wine that started out disadvantaged. It comes from the northernmost of the major wine-growing areas of France, where the soil is chalky and infertile. The grapes make acidic wines, distinctly inferior to those of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Alsace.

But the winemakers happened upon a trick. Somewhere in somebody's cave, some bottles bearing wine of dubious purity underwent a second fermentation. That not only created the bubbles that are the hallmark of Champagne, but also softened up the acidity enough to make the effervescent wine delicious. The rest is history.

Champagne is now probably the most profitable winemaking district in the world on a per-acre basis. By international agreement, the name "Champagne" refers only to the wines from that region.

Perhaps the greatest miracle of Champagne is that it goes with almost every food, even hard-to-match stuff like Chinese and Mexican cookery.

Deft Dining Rule #98:
The most expensive bottle of Champagne you have in your possession must be uncorked tonight and poured into at most six crystal glasses. They will make the loveliest sound when they touch at midnight.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
Don't point that Champagne bottle at me until you've pulled the cork out!

Edible Dictionary
brut, [rhymes with "foot"], French, adj.--A category of Champagne that is without detectable sweetness. The root of the word connotes sharpness or even roughness, and in other usages implies manliness. It's used in Champagne because the more commonly-used word for lack of sweetness--dry--actually is applied to sweet Champagnes. Even "extra dry" Champagne is rather sweet. As they would be expected to do, the makers of Champagne now distinguish among degrees of brutness. The brutest of all is "brut zero" or "brut nature," which means that no sweet grape juice at all has been added to the wine. These are uncommon; almost all Champagnes, even those marked simply "brut," get a little bit of sweetening before the cork goes in. The trend in Champagne taste has been towards less and less sweetness; a hundred years ago, the sweet versions were preferred. But this is a brut time we're living in.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Champagne is the name of an old time point on the former Southern Pacific main rail line just east of Ontario, a suburb of Los Angeles. A hundred years ago it was just another flat spot in the mountainous desert through which the Sunset Limited and other trains from New Orleans passed en route to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Now it's surrounded by Ontario International Airport and an enormous array of shipping facilities. Within couple of miles are at least fifty fast-food places, but no restaurants where you can expect to pop open a bottle of the namesake bubbly wine. Not even on New Year's Eve.

Food Through History
Tonight in 1999, paranoia reigned as all the computers in the world turned over their dates to 2000. Chefs throughout America got ready to shut down ovens should they drop uncontrollably from 400 degrees to 004 degrees, and freezers if they should do the opposite. Nothing untoward happened. Rumors spread, however, that a speck of spinach appeared in the Rockefeller sauce at Antoine's, somebody at Commander's received 300 shrimp remoulade instead of the customary three, and a bottle of Salon Champagne 1978 showed up on the restaurant's computer-generated check as nine cents instead of $900. The absence of computer geeks in restaurants (they were all at their machines, ready to stem a disaster) had no noticeable effect on restaurants at all.

Drinking Through History
Today in 1938, the first device able to detect intoxication was implemented in Indianapolis. Called the drunkometer, its targets were drivers, as you might imagine. But think about it: it was not six years after the repeal of prohibition, and already DWI was becoming a problem. The thing was invented by Dr. Rolla N. Harger.

Food And Medicine
Today is the birthday, in 1816, of Sir William Withey Gull, a British doctor who first gave a name to the condition wherein a patient develops an aversion to eating. He called it anorexia nervosa. May it never affect anyone you like to dine with.

Food On Stage
A musical play called Bubbling Brown Sugar closed on Broadway today in 1977 after over 700 performances. If they ever produce it here in New Orleans, they ought to rename it Praline.

Music To Drink Egg Nog By
This is the birthday, in 1905, of the composer Jule Styne. Among the hundreds of entries in the Great American Songbook that he wrote is the Yuletide classic, "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow."

Food Namesakes
Yankee pitcher Catfish Hunter signed a contract today in 1974 for $3.75 million. . . Actor and bohemian Taylor Mead was born today in 1924. He played the title role in Andy Warhol's Tarzan movie.

Words To Eat By
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring happy bells across the snow;
The year is going, let him go.
--Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Words To Drink By
"Burgundy makes you think of silly things, Bordeaux makes you talk of them, and Champagne makes you do them."--Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.

"Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right."--Mark Twain.