The Food Almanac: Monday, June 3, 2013
Today in 1998, Emeril Lagasse reopened Delmonico in New Orleans. He bought the restaurant shortly after its one hundredth anniversary--and after spending $4 million on renovations. At first the new Delmonico was an elaborate, old-school, formal restaurant. Tableside preparations and flaming dishes dotted a high Creole menu. It didn't work. Chef David McCelvey reconceived the menu, toning it down a bit but keeping it mostly traditional. It became one of the best of Emeril's restaurants. Hurricane Katrina put a dent in Delmonico, both figuratively and actually. Repairing it cost more than Emeril's first restoration. Delmonico now is a steak specialist with a widely varied menu and an emphasis on small plates.
Today is the birthday, in 1958, of the stylish restaurateur Vicky Bayley. Her latest project is the revival of Mike's on the Avenue--the restaurant on Lafayette Square where she and Chef Michael Fennelly first came to local prominence in the early 1990s. After the first iteration of Mike's, she opened a string of unique establishments, including Artesia, 7 On Fulton, and the Lake House. All showed a flair for the unusual and clever. She's also the mother of three young children. But she continues to look like a model!
Summer for a lot of people is June, July, and August. For them, summer begins today. In New Orleans, summer equals sno-balls. This is National Sno-Ball Day, declared some years ago by the National Sno-Ball Museum on the corner of Tchoupizine and Magatoulas, Uptown. The NSBM has had a little trouble getting traction in the rest of the country, where what we call a sno-ball is a) called a sno-cone and b) not nearly as fine (in every sense of the word) as it is here.
The idea of shaving ice and then flavoring it with a sweet liquid is ancient. The Romans did it; it's possible that the Egyptians, who knew how to make ice, may have made something like sno-balls even earlier. Now the treat is found worldwide. However, nowhere else in the world is it more popular or taken to greater extremes than it is in New Orleans. Sno-ball stands are everywhere, and are a local cultural phenomenon of such importance that people from other places find it hard to believe. The number of variations and preferences for sno-balls is, for all practical purposes, infinite.
A sno-ball hardly needs to be explained to a New Orleanian above the age of two. But I will anyway, adding to the definition the criteria for a sno-ball of the highest quality. The best sno-balls are ground from ice kept at a temperature of zero degrees or lower, using a machine along the lines of the Ortolano Sno-Wizard. Invented in a shop on Magazine Street in the 1930s, the Sno-Wizard is a square box (aluminum now, wooden originally). Inside is a ratcheted panel that shoves a block of ice against a spinning disc fitted with blades. These blades are replaced several times a season in the best sno-ball shops, to keep the ice fine.
The ice shoots out of a chute into a waiting cup. The maker (or his assistant, in busy shops) douses it with the flavor or flavors specified by the customer. If the ice is properly fine, this will have to be done at least twice, because the flavorings can't filter all the way to the bottom. It's served with both a spoon and a straw. (A hopeful but failed innovation a couple of decades ago was the spoon-straw, its bottom end splayed out into a spatulate shape. It worked well as neither a spoon nor a straw.)
Discussions about which sno-ball stands and flavors are the best fill many hours of conversation--no small number of them on the radio. Most sno-ball stands have already been open for months; a few are open year-round now. A summer without sno-balls is like a mother without a smile.
Today is also the beginning of National Dairy Month. Also National Candy Month, National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month, National Iced Tea Month, National Papaya Month, and National Seafood Month. We'd better get to work on all that.
Deft Dining Rule #435:
Any sno-ball will taste better with one-third less syrup than the pimply kid making it will probably want to flood it with.
Grape is a small farming community in southeast Michigan, fifty-six miles southwest of Detroit. It is named for the wild grapes that grow in the area, particularly along the banks of the River Raisin, which forms the southern limits of the town. The river flows into Lake Erie, about ten miles away. Raisin is a French word for grape, and was given to the river by the earliest French explorers in this region. The nearest restaurant to Grape is Little Brown Jug, three miles away in Maybee.
nectar, n., adj.--In most of the English-speaking world, a nectar is a blend of fruit puree and water, to make something like a juice. The most common nectars are made from fruits that can't really be juiced, such as apricots, pears, and--recently--agave.
In New Orleans, however, the word nectar is means a flavor made by blending almond and vanilla, a little citric acid, and pink food coloring. It's one of the most popular flavors for ice cream sodas and sno-balls, and uniquely local. It was created at the soda fountains of the old Katz and Besthoff drugstores, and made for them by the I.L. Lyons Company. Originally, the pink color was cochineal, made from an aphid-like insect that sucked cactus plants in Mexico. Later, the cochineal was replaced by an artificial color, but the flavor remains immediately recognizable.
I hate to bring this up, but today is the beginning of hurricane season. Don't worry about it. We know what to do now. Based on no science at all, my prediction is that nothing will happen in the New Orleans area this year.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
Hurricane Katrina was terrible, but the red beans and gumbo in many homes taste much better now that a lot of nasty old pots were washed away.
The International Convention on the Use of Designations of Origin and Names for Cheeses was signed in Paris (where else?) on this date in 1951. It took awhile to take force, but its result was that Roquefort cheese has to come from Roquefort, France. As do all other place-named cheeses. I guess American cheese must come from America, but who cares?
Today in 1875, one A.P. Ashbourne patented a method of preparing raw coconut for use and storage in a home kitchen. Which is more difficult than it sounds. . . The first pop-up toaster went on sale today in 1926, manufactured by McGraw Electric Company.
Annals Of Whisky
Today in 1495, whisky was reported to exist for the first time in writing. It was in the Exchequer rolls in Scotland as having been distilled by Friar John Cor.
Edgar "Cookie" Fairchild, who wrote scores and conducted orchestras for the movies and on radio in the 1940s, was born today in 1898. . . On this date in 1967, the Beatles released what is considered by many of my generation to be the greatest album of all time, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I still have my original copy. Listening to it still brings back the consciousness I had in those days, but the last few times it's sounded very dated and clumsily produced to me. My favorite song from it remains Fixing A Hole. . . John Lemmon, British philosopher, had his first thought today in 1930. . . Canadian hockey pro Paul Coffey took his first slap shot today in 1961. . . Actor and comedian Mark Curry began the Big Joke today in 1964.
Words To Eat By
"Isn't there any other part of the matzo you can eat?"--Marilyn Monroe, born today in 1926.
Words To Drink By
"No animal ever invented anything so bad as drunkenness, or so good as drink."--Lord Chesterton.