The Food Almanac: September 13, 2012

Get your day off to an appetizing start with food facts and trivia from Tom Fitzmorris

In The Food Almanac, Tom Fitzmorris of the online newsletter, The New Orleans Menu, notes food facts and sayings.

Food Calendar
Today is National Peanut Day. Peanuts are a remarkable food, highly nourishing both to the eater and to the grower. [Mention George Washington Carver here.] They've suffered a dip in reputation in recent years, because of the 1 percent of Americans who have allergies to them. This number has doubled in recent years, likely because of the reverse placebo effect. Now we see advisories on candy bars and other products that say, "This product was manufactured in a plant that processes peanuts."

However, for most people peanuts offer nothing but pleasure. They're a better snack than a candy bar. Peanut butter is an essential product in most homes, especially those with kids. Peanut butter pie is a great dessert, if made with a light hand and some chocolate (recipe elsewhere in today's edition). And peanuts appear all over the menu, from Vietnamese peanut sauce for dipping spring rolls to peanut soup (a traditional dish in the Carolinas that seems ripe for exploitation here).

The best source of peanut information comes from the National Peanut Board, which offers hundreds of recipes, amusing trivia, and even facts about the allergy issue. And this: no trans-fats in peanuts!

Gourmet Gazetteer
Nut Creek is a small tributary of the Chattahoochee River, in west central Georgia, 62 miles southwest of Atlanta. It is well named: most of its four miles are flanked by pecan groves. You might be able to catch some fish at the spot where Nut Creek enters the Chattahoochee. If not, you're five miles west on Highway 34 from Lakeside Bar-B-Que in Franklin.

Annals of Chocolate
Milton Hershey, who founded the chocolate manufacturing company that made his name famous, was born today in 1857. He ignored the methods used by European chocolatiers and developed his own way of making milk chocolate. The Hershey process involved slightly soured milk. That flavor is widely disdained by many makers of chocolate, but it remains the standard for chocolate in the United States. Once his company was successful, Hershey pulled away from it, donating most of it to a charitable foundation. He spent the rest of his life traveling.

Edible Dictionary
Brazil nut, n. — A large nut produced by a very large tree (they can live for centuries and get to be more than 100 feet high) in the rainforests of central South America. The thin shell is dark brown, covering a wedge-shaped nut. They're so big that from pollination to harvest takes more than a year. Brazil nuts come not only from Brazil, but all the countries touching the Amazon basin. They contain more oils than almost any other nut — more, even than macadamias. The oils are the healthiest kind, and easy to extract — although Brazil nut oils get rancid quickly. We really ought to eat more of them. One reason we don't is an unfortunate nickname we ought to forget.

Annals of Table Etiquette
Miss Manners (real name Judith Martin) was born today in 1938. As she notes in her book, etiquette is more than knowing which fork to use — even though knowing which fork to use is what inspired etiquette as we know it. Louis XIV is often credited with making the first really big deal about table manners. Those who failed to practice them became outcasts.

Many rules of table etiquette have fallen from practice in this increasingly casual era. That doesn't make them any less worthwhile. Here are a few that are largely unknown, but which I think would add a great deal to dining pleasure:

1. Dessert, no matter what it is (even ice cream) should be served with a tablespoon (oval soup spoon) and a salad fork.

2. It's perfectly acceptable to pick up lamb chops, pork chops, and similar items with bones and nibble off them.

3. Asparagus can be picked up with the fingers and eaten, whether cold or hot. (Unless they're so saucy and limp that doing so might make a mess.)

4. Bread should be broken off the loaf at the table, not sliced. The piece you tear off should be enough to get you through the next course or so. Only butter one bite at a time, after tearing that off your piece.

5. The butter knife — that flat-bladed thing with the notch near the end of the blade — should be used only to transport butter from the common butter dish to your own bread and butter plate. The actual buttering is done with your table knife.

Or just forget about it all, do it your way, and miss out on the additional enjoyment that eating by the rules provides.

Music to Dine Elegantly By
Today in 1925 was the birthday of Mel Torme, one of the all-time great singers of the Great American Songbook. His nickname was "The Velvet Fog," which defined his sound exactly. But he didn't like it, as he told me during an engagement in the Blue Room in New Orleans about 30 years ago. All night long he gave the smokers in the grand old ballroom grief. . . Another terrific singer was born today in 1916. Dick Haymes was Frank Sinatra's replacement twice: with Harry James' and Tommy Dorsey's bands. Big, rich baritone, but not a lot of emotion.

Music to Eat Ice Cream By
Little Richard recorded Tutti Frutti, one of his most famous hits in his wild style, on this date in 1955. All-a-rooti!

Food Namesakes
American singer and songwriter Fiona Apple was born today in 1977... Dutch writer Nicholas Beets was uprooted today in 1814 . . . Relief pitcher Dan Quisenberry racked up his 39th save of the year, a record, today in 1983. I like a good quisenberry pie, don't you?... TV soap opera actor Jason Cook was born today in 1980... Actress Ann Dusenberry was born today in 1958. I like a good dusenberry pie, don't you?

Words to Eat By
"Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands — and then eat just one of the pieces." — Judith Viorst.

"I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can't stop eating peanuts." — Orson Welles.

Words to Drink By
"I never drink coffee at lunch. I find it keeps me awake for the afternoon." — Ronald Reagan.