The Food Almanac: Monday, November 11, 2013
Restaurateur Hall Of Fame
On this date in 1955, Owen E. Brennan died of a massive heart attack following a gourmet society dinner at Antoine's. He was only 45 at the time. Owen founded the Brennan restaurant business, and was the father of the three brothers who have operated Brennan's on Royal Street since 1973. This was tragic for reasons beyond the obvious. Brennan's was about to move to its present location, an event that transformed the restaurant. Owen E. Brennan never saw the new restaurant he built. I would love to have met him; he was one of the great visionaries in the restaurant business. And he is reputed to have been the best of hosts.
This is Veterans Day. It grew from Armistice Day, which commemorates the end of World War I. The exact moment is famous: the armistice was signed at 11:11 a.m. on 11/11, in 1918. Same day, same year, it was Independence Day in Poland, which got its identity back for the first time in two centuries at the end of World War I.
Elsewhere around the country it is Sundae Day. Ice cream with sauces, fruit, and whipped cream poured over it got that name because it was created on a Sunday for service on that day of the week. Here in New Orleans, it's Nectar Soda Day. Nectar is a uniquely New Orleans flavor. It's a combination of almond and vanilla flavors, always artificially colored pink. It was created at the soda fountains of the old Katz and Besthoff drugstores. They later passed along the formula to the I.L. Lyons Company, which made it for a very long time. 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. (Many foods and drugs colored bright pink for no apparent reason originally used the cochineal dye, too.)
Nectar sodas come two ways: with or without ice cream. The basic version is nectar syrup, milk, and soda water, the latter shot into the mixing cup from a soda jet that mixed the ingredients and made the soda foam up.
Although some retro new places like the Creole Creamery make it, it's hard to find a nectar soda made that way now. But there is no danger of extinction for that flavor. The New Orleans Nectar Soda Company makes the syrup and a pre-mixed soft drink that does have the original flavor. (They claim to use the original formula, sans cochineal.) And nectar remains one of the most popular flavors in sno-ball stands all around New Orleans.
Sodaville, Oregon is in the Willamette Valley, eighty-eight miles due south of Portland. This is fertile country, the source of great wine grapes, bordered on the east and the west by tall mountain ranges that moderate the weather and make it perfect for Pinot Noir. The population is around 300; they voted an ex-felon as mayor in 2008. Hmm. The nearest place to have a soda with diner is the public restaurant at the Pineway Country Club, a mile and a half east.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
The judicious and subtle use of food coloring in savory cooking is not as bad an idea as it has come to be viewed. The most useful color of all is green. Guacamole. Oysters Rockefeller. Green Goddess salad dressing. Just a drop.
airline chicken breast, n.--Half a chicken breast with the upper section of the wing still attached. I say half, because strictly speaking there is only one breast on a chicken. (Even more strict is to note that chickens don't have breasts at all, but never mind.) The whole breast is usually split down the middle to give two identical pieces, each a mirror image of the other. If it's an airline chicken breast, the drummette part of the wing is still there, making a substantial portion and a good look for serving. Airline breasts are expensive enough that they are most often found in white-tablecloth restaurants. The "airline" reference is strictly an industry note. It may have been used aboard planes at one time, but that use is almost non-existent now. Nobody is quite sure how the name got started. A whole breast with both drummettes might look a little like an airplane, but that's hardly even a theory.
Deft Dining Rule #202:
The additive used to turn a shake into a malt works better if it's in liquid form, and the best soda fountains know this. Ask for an extra squirt.
People We'd Like To Dine With
This is the birthday of the brilliant ad-lib comedian and actor Jonathan Winters, born today in 1925. He played a wide range of wacky characters, and was a very funny guest on talk shows. Robin Williams says that Winters was the inspiration for his own improvisations. Winters was once in a movie with a food name: The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh.
This is the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, a converted Roman soldier who lived in the fourth century. He is, among many other things, the patron saint of both alcoholics and winemakers. He's also the patron of geese and people who raise them, which would give him a connection with foie gras.
The Old Farmer's Almanac maintains that today, St. Martin's Day, is the beginning of Indian summer, the brief resumption of warm days after a spate of cold. But they're in New England, and we're here, and it seems to me that if we have Indian summer at all, it's in those days in the middle of December when it goes up into the eighties for no apparent reason.
Andy Partridge, an English pop-rock musician, was born today in 1953. . . The great Chicago blues singer LaVern Baker was born today in 1928. . Perry Bass, whose family makes the shoes of the same name, was born in 1914 on this date. . . In 1899 Pie Traynor, a Baseball Hall of Fame third baseman and Pirates hero, was born today. . . Another historic baseball player, Rabbit Maranville, stepped up to The Big Plate today in 1891. He was an infielder, named for his speed on the bases. . . Today in 1493 was the first stanza in the life of Italian poet Bernardo Tasso. . . David L. Cook, Christian country singer and comedian, made his first funny sound today in 1968.
Words To Eat By
"That was the best ice-cream soda I ever tasted."--Lou Costello, the funny half of Abbott and Costello. He is supposed to have said these words right before he died.
Words To Drink By
"The biggest danger for a politician is to shake hands with a man who is physically stronger, has been drinking and is voting for the other guy."--William Proxmire, long-time U.S. Senator, born today in 1915.