The Food Almanac: Monday, November 25, 2013
Eating Across America
This is the birthday, in 1758, of Pittsburgh. It stands where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers combine to form the Ohio River, from which comes most of the water in that river we have here in New Orleans. Culinarily speaking, Pittsburgh is famous for a style of steak grilling. "Pittsburgh style" is very dark and crusty on the outside and cold rare in the center. (It's also known as "black and blue.") This requires a very thick steak and a lot of heat. The result, in our opinion, is the best steak imaginable.
Annals Of Prohibition
Carry Nation was born on this date in 1846. Her first husband was an alcoholic who died young, and it infuriated her so that she began a crusade against alcoholic beverages and saloons that lasted the rest of her life. Her modus operandi made her famous: she'd enter a saloon bearing bricks, clubs, or hatchets, and would start breaking everything in sight. She was arrested thirty times for these activities. And she was only one of many people who resorted to violence in their quest to rid the nation of alcoholic beverages. Oh, the spilled Cognac!
This is National Home-Baked Bread Day. Making bread from scratch is perceived by most home cooks as a major undertaking and risky. It's not as hard as all that, but it is different from other kinds of cooking, and requires much more attention to detail and patience than most other edible projects. To make good bread of any kind, first find a good source of recipes. My own favorite is Bread Alone by Daniel Leader and Judith Blahnik (one of several books with that clever title), but there are many others.
The critical instruction for good bread baking is: Follow the recipe exactly. Measure with precision. Better still, weigh the ingredients. Then time each part of the process. Bread baking cannot be rushed. It should be done with a mood of calm and serenity and trust. When you're done, you will feel good. Have faith in the recipe. Indeed, there's something about the best bread bakers that suggests a certain spirituality. (No wonder monks make good bread.)
Baker is just north of the the southeastern corner of Missouri, commonly known as the bootheel. A rural crossroads with a substantial farm headquarters, Baker is home to three people. They make enough money that Baker has the third-highest per-capita income of any town in America. It also has the distinction of being one of only two towns in the country less than twenty-nine miles from five states (Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri). What Baker lacks is a dining scene. The nearest restaurant is seven miles away. It has a memorable name, though: No Jokin' We're Smokin', in the small town of Morehouse.
lavash, [lah-VAHSH], Middle Eastern, n.--Also spelled lahvash, lavosh, and lavoch. A thin bread made from wheat flour, water, and salt. Whatever leavening it contains comes from the air in the place where it is made. Even then it hardly rises at all. In its fresh form, it is the thin bread used to make the Middle Eastern sandwiches that evolved into wrap sandwiches in this country. Lavash dries out so rapidly that it is also commonly served as a cracker. It once was common in bread-and-cracker baskets around America. As plain as they are, the cracker form of lavash can be habit-forming, especially when encrusted with sesame or poppy seeds, and they sometimes are.
Deft Dining Rule #508:
Don't eat sourdough bread in New Orleans, and don't eat poor boy bread in San Francisco.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
If you need a warm, moist place for dough to rise, and you can live without your microwave oven while it does, heat a cup of water to boiling in it. Put the bread dough in the microwave. Leave the cup of water in, away from the dough. Close the door. Don't turn it on. Let the dough rise according to the recipe.
On this date in 1715, Thomas Masters was granted a patent on a method of cleaning and drying Indian corn (as it was known back then). His method evolved into popcorn, much later. . . Another American, Swiss-born John B. Meyenberg, earned a patent today in 1884 for two new processes for making evaporated milk. His company now is a specialist in making goat's milk products.
Annals Of Food Research
Nikolai Vavilov was born today in 1887, in Russia. He was a plant geneticist who was far ahead of his time. He believed it was important to keep a collection of seeds from major food plants, especially those with strains that were becoming less common. His thought was that they my be needed if a plant disease were to wipe out important food crops. His collection in St. Petersburg, still maintained scrupulously, is probably the largest in the world.
Today's Worst Flavor
On this date in 2003, a series of hepatitis incidents traced back to green onions grown in Mexico caused a shortage of green onions everywhere. The problem was isolated and the Mexican farmers recovered (they took quite a hit for awhile).
People I'd Like To Dine With
This is John Larroquette's birthday, here in New Orleans in 1947. His career on television and in movies was big-time, but he never forgot his roots. He often talked about working for a radio station here called WVOG, the Voice Of God. That is, in fact, a real radio station, still on the air. I remember hearing his big voice on it. (Words cannot describe what a radio geek I always have been.) Very funny guy. Hey, John--Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse, us two old radio guys?
Music To Suck Mints By
Incense and Peppermints, by the mock-psychedelic band Strawberry Alarm Clock (there was a lot of such silliness around then) hit Number One on the pop chart today in 1967. It was one of two Number One songs with a reference to peppermints.(The other was Peppermint Twist, recorded by Joey Dee and the Starliters, a band named for those red-and-white mints.)
Anthony Peeler, a professional basketball player, was born today in 1969. . . Sugar Ray Leonard won the welterweight boxing championship in the Louisiana Superdome today in 1980, when opponent Roberto Duran threw in the towel. Really, he couldn't stand to wait any longer for some chicken-andouille gumbo. . . Joey "Jaws" Chestnut opened his jaws for the first time today in 1983. He is a competitive eater, showing up at the likes of hot-dog eating contests. His record: sixty-six dogs in twelve minutes.
Words To Eat By
"The first man gets the oyster, the second man gets the shell."--Andrew Carnegie, born today in 1835.