The Food Almanac: Monday, May 27, 2013

Staff Writer
Happy Memorial Day!
Wikimedia Commons / Väsk

Today is Memorial Day, which began originally to honor soldiers who died on the Union side during the Civil War. For a long time, there was a separate Confederate Memorial Day. Although not a lot of fuss was made about that date in recent decades, its mere presence--and the origins of the holiday--made Memorial Day less of a holiday here in the South for a long time.

That has changed, however, and every year more Southerners take the day off. In the North, it has always been a holiday. Most governmental offices are closed, as are the Postal Service, banks, and the stock market. This is also the traditional date for beginning of summer vacation from school. Even if you're not in school, the lingering reflexes there make one want to start easing off a bit.

I estimate that about two-thirds of the restaurants usually open on Monday will be open today. I'd give you the list if I had the thirty or so hours necessary to check it out. (It's different every year.) Most of the French Quarter restaurants will be open, as will anything near a shopping area. Call before you go. A list of phone numbers for every restaurant in town is here.

Otherwise, relax, grill and enjoy the day!

Gourmets In Show Biz
On this date in 1911, Vincent Price was born. He was famed for all those horror movies he did, but he was also a very fine radio actor. Most notably, he played Simon Templar in the radio version of The Saint. He was also a gourmet cook, and was well enough known for that to appear in a commercial for butter. He said, "I can certainly tell the difference between margarine and real butter. Can't you?"

Celebrity Chefs Today
Today is the birthday, in 1975, of Jamie Oliver, "The Naked Chef." He has turned what started as a frivolous television cooking show into a very successful empire of restaurants, cookbooks, restaurants, and much more television. A recent survey places him as the third most successful chef in the world. He has been very active in his native England in an effort to get better, fresher food into schools.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Sweets is a named place with nothing there in the center of New York, ninety-four miles west of Albany. It's in a mix of farm fields and woods in a flat, marshy flood plain formed by the confluence of Beaver Creek and Unadilla River. It was originally a station on a now-abandoned railroad. All that's left now is a single farmhouse. Mountain rise about 400 feet on both the east and west. The nearest place to eat is Bob's Bar-B-Q, three miles south.

Deft Dining Rule #610
The first bite of a strip of bacon should register as smoky, salty, sweet, and rich on your palate. If not, it isn't very good bacon.

Today's Flavor
Today is National Pineapple Day. The pineapple so astonished the early explorers of the West Indies that they brought it back to Europe as a great treasure. It is an amazing fruit. Actually, it's a bunch of fruits all growing together so compactly that they fuse with one another. Have you ever found a pineapple seed? They do exist, but only rarely. It seems that the seeds had been bred out of the original plant long before Columbus arrived.

Its English name comes from its resemblance to a pine cone. The French word for it, ananas, comes from the original Brazilian Indian name, which means something like "excellent fruit." It is indeed an excellent fruit, especially when eaten fresh. The best fresh pineapples are flown in from Hawaii, but those are not typical. Most of what we find in stores now come from Mexico, picked underripe, making them hard and less sweet. As they hang around they get softer but not much sweeter. The way to tell if a pineapple is ripe is to smell it. If it smells good, it's ready.

You peel a pineapple by cutting off the bottom and top, and then cutting down the sides with a very sharp knife in strips about an inch or two wide. You can cut out the center if you like, but although it's fibrous it's quite edible. A unique property of pineapple is that it contains an enzyme called bromelain, which is an extremely effective meat tenderizer. This is well known to cheap steakhouses, which have been using it as a marinade on their tough beef for years. But it tastes good, too.

Thousands of recipes for pineapple exist, not all of them for sweet dishes. Among currently popular pineapple dishes, the hardest to figure is pineapple pizza. Some people love them. Hmm.

Edible Dictionary
yakitori, n.--Skewered chicken cubes, marinated and seasoned, then cooked on a hot grill. Japanese chicken kebabs, in other words. Its the most popular form of yakimono, a word which takes in most marinated, grilled meats. The term isn't as common as it once was, because the dish involved is usually called teriyaki chicken, for the style of sauce most commonly served with it. All teriyaki chicken is yakitori; not all yakitori is teriyaki chicken.

Food In World Politics
Former Secretary of State and Nixon associate Henry Kissinger was born today in 1923. In addition to being one of the most influential people in the world in the 1970s, he was a man about town, always at the best parties and in the best restaurants, accompanied by the most important people, with whom he socialized as much as dealt with. Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping once took him out for Mongolian hot pot in a restaurant. "It is not often done by Chinese leaders to invite guests to a restaurant," said Kissinger, implying that Deng took him as a friend.

Animated Barbecue
Walt Disney's cartoon Three Little Pigs was released on this date in 1933.

Food And Drink Namesakes
Tony "The Big Tuna" Accardo, a mobster whose career as an enforcer for the mob dated back to Al Capone, died at 86 on this date in 1992. . . Canadian classical composer Claude Champagne hit some Cs today in 1891, as he was being born. He was a teacher of many other composers. . . Former Pennsylvania Congressman Edward M. Beers was tapped today in 1877.

Words To Eat By
"Red onions are especially divine. I hold a slice up to the sunlight pouring in through the kitchen window, and it glows like a fine piece of antique glass. Cool watery-white with layers delicately edged with imperial purple. Strong, humble, peaceful, with that fiery nub of spring green in the center"--Mary Hayes Grieco, inspirational writer."

Words To Drink By
A cause may be inconvenient, but it's magnificent. It's like champagne or high heels, and one must be prepared to suffer for it."--Arnold Bennett, English writer, born today in 1867 and died today in 1931. He also is quoted as saying something a lot like what someone I know said after Hurricane Katrina:

5 Awesome Memorial Day Bash IdeasA Classic Memorial Day Lunch MenuMemorial Day Cocktails From Sunrise to Sunset

"Always behave as if nothing had happened, no matter what has happened."