The Food Almanac: Monday, May 13, 2013
In most of America, today is National Apple Pie Day. For all its fame as an icon of American eating habits, apple pie has become a rare dessert on restaurant menus. It's found most often now in chain restaurants and diners. Turning up an apple pie made in house is even more difficult. What happened? My theory is that the crazy idea of topping a slice of hot apple pie with melted cheese may have scared a lot of people off.
Apple pie isn't American, anyway. It almost certainly came from England, where pies a lot like it have been made since the fourteenth century. Apples baked in pastry is well known throughout Europe, again for a long time before we Americans got into the act.
Most of us bake or buy apple pies only around the holidays. I make today a special holiday: for reasons too complicated to go into, I know that on this date in 1967, at around 7:30 p.m., I ate a slice of apple pie with ice cream after a cheeseburger and fries at the soda fountain in a drugstore. It was pretty good.
In Cajun country, it's Corn Macquechoux Day. Macquechoux is a staple of southern Louisiana cooking. It's corn cooked with onions and butter or oil, with perhaps some tomatoes, and maybe even crawfish or shrimp. The corn gets soft as its starches caramelize and turn sweet. Macquechoux is usually served as a side dish, but with the shrimp or crawfish added it can become a light lunch or supper. It may be the only dish in which the crawfish or shrimp component can get a little overcooked and still taste good. In fact, that's a reasonable target to aim for, because what comes out of the crawfish seems to get into the corn.
Nobody is quite sure what the word "macquechoux" means, or even if it's one or two words. Different theories say it's Spanish, Cajun French, or Native American.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
Macquechoux is best a bit on the spicy side. The best way to accomplish that is not with the usual Louisiana touch of cayenne or hot sauce, but with crushed red pepper flakes, which have a mellow flavor that goes well with the corn.
Appletown is a community of modest country houses on large lots twenty-one miles northwest of Frederick, Maryland. This is a relatively recent development; the surrounding area shows many signs of large-scale farming. No doubt a substantial number of apple trees grow in the area, but not orchards. Appleton is residential; the nearest place to look for a slice of apple pie and a lunch or dinner before it is in Boonsboro, two miles west. The Mountain Side Deli looks good.
apple brown betty, n.--A layered dessert made with bread crumbs mixed with butter, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and similar spices, plus thinly-sliced apples. There's also a bit of grated lemon peel and lemon juice in most recipes. The pan holding all this is baked until the bread crumbs brown, and the resulting dessert is cut into squares and served. Other firm fruits can be used, notable peaches and pears. A brown betty is somewhere between a cobbler and a bread pudding, often served with ice cream. It's an old, country-style American dessert, probably used to make sour apples useful. John Mariani in his Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink that it was first mentioned in 1864.
Deft Dining Rule #172
Never order the last slice of pie in a roadside diner, especially not if you are offered a substantial discount off its price. Exception: it's okay if you one other slice served from the same pan.
People We'd Like To Have Dinner With
Stevie Wonder was born today in 1950. I'd tell him my favorite song of his is "For Once In My Life." What a brilliant man. What a moving performer. A great sense of humor, too.
Dining On The Cuff
On this date in 1950, Diners Club issued the first credit card, eight years before the American Express card appeared. The early Diners Club card was exclusively for use in restaurants, but it expanded its scope quickly. As late as 1984, cash and checks accounted for more white-tablecloth restaurant spending than cards. Now, cards are used so overwhelmingly that most restaurants have to get cash from the bank to tip out the waiters at the end of the night.
Famous Words Of A Gourmet
On this date in 1940, Winston Churchill offered "blood, toil, tears and sweat" to Parliament. Five years later, England exploded in a riot of joy as the European phase of World War II ended. VE Day was actually May 8, but the main celebration was on this date.
This is the feast day of Saint Erconwald, a monk of the seventh century in England. He is the patron saint against gout, the ailment of men who indulge in the best food and wine. I will say a prayer to him with regard to a current attack your humble servant is suffering.
Hamish Pepper, a crew-of-one yachter in the 1996 Olympics for New Zealand, was born today in 1971. . . Lyle Mouton, a White Sox outfielder from Lafayette, Louisiana, was born today in 1969. You know, of course, that Chateau Mouton-Rothschild is one of the first-growth Bordeaux. . . Golfer Terry Dill is 69 today. . . And, to keep this from being all athletes, Nigel Butterley was born in 1935. He was an Australian composer of classical music, especially of vocal works.
Words To Eat By
"Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness."--Jane Austen.
Words To Drink By
"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."--Ernest Hemingway.