The Food Almanac: Monday, November 18, 2013

It's Leek And Potato Soup Day!
Wikimedia Commons/ BocaDorada

Leeks straddle the flavor divide between onions and garlic, and have a certain sweetness that's hard to describe.

Restaurant Anniversaries
Austin's, the upscale Suburban Creole bistro that Ed McIntyre spun off from Mr. Ed's, opened today in 2002. It has become one of the best and most successful restaurants in Metairie. Explanation: it's one of surprisingly few white-tablecloth restaurants in that populous suburb. There were more upscale restaurant in Metairie twenty years ago than there are now. A review of Austin's with an updated menu is later in the Menu Daily.

Today's Flavor
This is one of two days on the calendar that celebrates Leek And Potato Soup Day. The other one is June 23, National Vichyssoise Day. We have both a cold and a hot version of leek and potato soup because the two ingredients have a nice flavor affinity. Leeks straddle the flavor divide between onions and garlic, and have a certain sweetness that's hard to describe. Today's leek and potato celebration, at the beginning of the chilly season, suggests that you make a steaming pot of the potage, using the two ingredients of the name, plus some ham and vegetable stock. And a few drops of Tabasco to enliven the starch.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Leektown, New Jersey is in the southern part of the state, twenty-six miles north of Atlantic City. It's a flattened X-shaped intersection in the Pinelands that flank the Garden State Parkway. Looks like a lot of trailers are in those woods, and not much town. Leektown is named for the Leek family, which settled there over two centuries ago. For food, Allen's Clam Bar sounds good. It's two miles away in Tuckerton.

Edible Dictionary
ramp, n.--A wild leek, a little bigger than a scallion. They appear during April and May in the Appalachian region and beyond. Instead of the hollow, straw-like leaves of green onions, ramps have flattened, wide leaves. The name may come from the fact that the British wild onions they resemble (and were named for) first appear when the sun is in Aries, the Ram. Some people in the mountains call them "rampscallions." In recent years ramps became a darling of gourmet chefs, who like to grill them or use them in place of other onions.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
Before you put leeks into the pot, slice them from top to bottom, pull the layers apart, and rinse them under running water. Leeks have a way of picking up silt that will be gritty when you eat it. [related]

Food Through History
The apple figures into many myths. One such story is set on this date in 1307, when William Tell is alleged to have shot an apple off his son's head with an arrow. The same story turns up in many cultures, so it's probably apocryphal. Say! Where did William Tell take his garbage? To the dump, to the dump, to the dump dump dump. (Say it out loud.)

Religion In Eating
On this date in 1966, the bishops of the Catholic Church in America announced that, starting December 2 of that year, Catholics were no longer required to abstain from meat on Fridays outside of Lent. That released school kids from the scourge of fish sticks. Nevertheless, many of us still keep the habit of eating seafood on Friday. Which was never what you could call a painful act in New Orleans.

The Saints
This is the feast day of St. Peter, Apostle and first pope. The astonishing basilica named for him in the Vatican was dedicated on this day in 1626, replacing the one built on the same spot 1300 years earlier--also dedicated to St. Peter on this date, in 326. St. Peter is the patron saint of many of the people who bring us food: butchers, bakers, harvesters, and--of course, since he was one himself--fishermen.

Deft Dining Rule #206:
If you're dining out on Thanksgiving Day, make the reservation for as early as you can round up everybody. The food will be better, especially if it's a buffet. Eleven-thirty, no later than noon. The busiest time is one; things don't full recover until about three.

Music To Eat By
On this date in 1984, the big-production musical Three Musketeers closed on Broadway after only nine performances. What did they expect from a play about a candy bar? . . . Today is the birthday (1909) of the great composer and singer of standards,Johnny Mercer. A food-related quotation from him, about a composer of which he thought little, goes, "I could eat alphabet soup and s--t better lyrics." . . . And this was the day in 1956 when Fats Domino performed Blueberry Hill on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Food Namesakes
Don Cherry, a jazz trumpeter, was born today in 1936. . . Civil War General (Union Volunteers) Americus Vespucius Rice, was born on this day in 1835.

Words To Eat By
"We remember the fish we ate in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at."--Numbers 11, verses 5-6.

Words To Drink By
"A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems."--Paul Erdos.