The Food Almanac: Monday, May 6, 2013

It's Crepes Suzette Day!
Crepes Suzette
Wikimedia Commons/ Antilived

Crepes Suzette

Today's Flavor 
Crepes Suzette Day honors a famous French dessert that has largely passed into disuse. Only very traditional restaurants still flame butter, sugar, orange juice and orange liqueur at the table for these. (Flaming desserts of all kinds have become rare.) The crepes soak up the sauce before being folded into quarters and served. It's a simple but good dessert, famous more for the show than the result. They were allegedly created by Chef Henri Charpentier, the chef for John D. Rockefeller. The most credible story is that he flamed the sauce by mistake, but liked the result. "Suzette" is supposed to have been the name of the girlfriend of a prince for whom Charpentier first made the dessert. You can probably get it made in any restaurant that has crepes. Or you can do them yourself.

The Royal Life. . . 
On this date in 1682, King Louis XIV of France--the Sun King--moved his household and court from Paris to his distinctive new estate at Versailles. The move had an impact on style that can still be seen today. Restaurants named Versailles, Louis XIV, or The Sun King are found all over Europe and even America. And the Mansard roof--originally created for the palace at Versailles--appears on both stately buildings and fast food outlets. (Notably Popeyes.) The king ate well, too, and established a style for grand feasts that only now is petering out.

. . . And The Revolution 
A hundred years later, France was on the verge of its revolution. One of its more radical leaders in those years was Maximilien Robespierre, born today this date in 1758. During the Reign of Terror, he fell from favor and was ultimately guillotined. As a result of that, he has a dish named after him at Antoine's. Antoine Alciatore witnessed the execution when he was a very young man. Years later, after he opened his restaurant in New Orleans in 1840, he was preparing a whole tenderloin of beef for a dinner. When he sliced through the roast, its rare interior and round shape reminded him of the severed neck of Robespierre. So he named the dish after the man. It's a gory story, but we have it from Antoine's own hand that it is true.

Annals Of Nightlife 
It's the birthday of Toots Shor,who ran a popular restaurant and celebrity hangout in New York City in the 1930s and 1940s. His place was especially favored by baseball stars, and Toots was tight with Frank Sinatra, too. 

Orson Welles probably hung out at Toots Shor's. He was born today in 1915. A genius of radio drama, director of Citizen Kane, and a devoted gourmet, he was a curious mix of good humor and pompousness.

Deft Dining Rule #102:
If a restaurant is famous for catering to celebrities, no tip to the maitre d' will be sufficiently large to persuade him to seat you near where the big names dine.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Flapjack Lakes are a pair of twin ponds in Olympic National Park, across the Puget Sound from Seattle. They're filled with snowmelt, at the 3850 feet. The rocks surrounding it are most unusual, being made by "pillow lava"--molten rock that came up under the ocean. Getting to the Flapjack Lakes is quite a climb on a primitive hiking trail, given that sea level water is only about 14 miles away. When you return there, stop for lunch at Girls Cafe, just off US 101 on Hoodsport.

Food Inventions 
The first icemaker was patented today in 1851 by John Gorrie. It was also the first mechanical refrigeration unit. Icemakers are so handy in kitchens that it's astonishing to note that they have never been perfected. Of all the appliances in restaurants, icemakers are most likely to cause problems.

Edible Dictionary 
tamarind, [TAH-mah-rihnd, n.--A tropical tree native to East Africa, but now cultivated all over the world. Its fruit is a large pod with big seeds and a lot of edible, sweet, acidic pulp. The pulp of ripe tamarinds is directly edible and much enjoyed in the parts of the world where the tree grows. It's made into a wide range of food products, from candies to sauces. In the United States, tamarind fruits are mostly an ethnic taste, particularly among recent Mexican, Indian, Thai, and African immigrants. But tamarinds are also eaten unwittingly by almost everyone. They're a major ingredient in many bottled sauces and marinades, notable steak sauce and Worcestershire. Tamarinds are a healthy food, loaded with Vitamin C and calcium. In its homelands, it has always been used in various medicinal ways.

The Saints 
This is the feast day of St. John the Apostle. He is the patron saint, among other things, of writing, editing, publishing, typesetting, and bookbinding. You also are advised to pray for his intercession in protecting you from food poisoning.

Food Namesakes 
John Deere today in 1833 built the first plow made of steel, a tremendous advance in tilling the soil. . . Singer Marguerite Piazza, who practically defines the concept of diva, performed both opera and television comedy in the 1950s and 1960s. She was born today in New Orleans in 1926 with a triple near-miss on a double food name and two singles. "Pizza Margherita" is the name of the original pizza from Naples.)

Words To Eat By 
"Hunger makes you restless. You dream about food--not just any food, but perfect food, the best food, magical meals, famous and awe-inspiring, the one piece of meat, the exact taste of buttery corn, tomatoes so ripe they split and sweeten the air, beans so crisp they snap between the teeth, gravy like mother's milk singing to your bloodstream."--Dorothy Allison,Southern American novelist.

Words To Drink By
“Drink today, and drown all sorrow
You shall perhaps not do it tomorrow; 
Best, while you have it, use your breath; 
There is no drinking after death.”--Ben Jonson.