The Food Almanac: September 7, 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 saying.

Today's Flavor
Today is alleged to be National Acorn Squash Day. Acorn squashes are more like gourds than the little yellow squashes we customarily use, with thick green skins (they get splotches of orange as they head toward overripeness) and a heaviness that's surprising when you pick one up. This is the time of year when they begin to appear in stores. I like them baked, then scooped out, cubed, and sautéed with butter, herbs, and garlic. They also make a great soup with shrimp or crabmeat and cream. They have little nutritional value other than fiber and beta carotene, which means you can eat a lot of squash and not gain weight.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Squash Lake gets its name from its shape, resembling that of a crookneck squash, all right. It's in the northeast corner of Minnesota, famous for its thousands of glacier-scraped lakes. Whoever named the ones around there must have been a hungry vegetarian, because the adjacent lakes — all about the same five-acre size — include Turnip Lake, Peanut Lake, Celery Lake, North and South Bean Lakes, Carrot Lake, Tomato Lake, Potato Lake, Pea Lake, Melon Lake, Parsnip Lake, Cucumber Lake, Onion Lake, Kraut Lake, and Strawberry Lake. All these are within about 20 square miles, most of which is marsh between low hills. Quite a wilderness. It's six miles to the Canadian border. With all those veggies, who needs a restaurant?

Namesakes of Great Dishes
This is the birthday of French playwright Victorien Sardou, in 1831. His plays were famously advertised by the Art Nouveau poster artist Alfonse Mucha; they're still being sold, and you'd probably recognize them immediately. But Sardou is more famous for a popular fancy egg dish. Eggs Sardou was created at Antoine's in New Orleans, in the dramatist's honor. The original recipe had poached eggs on artichoke bottoms with some chopped anchovies, all topped with hollandaise.

Annals of Cheesemaking
Today in 1995, a Canadian company called Agropur made a Cheddar cheese weighing 57,508.5 pounds for Loblaws Supermarkets, in Granby, Quebec, Canada. That set the record, according to Guinness. Over a half-million pounds of milk went into the making of the big cheese.

Food in the Funnies
Today in 1930, the comic strip Blondie made its first appearance in newspapers. Dagwood quickly evolved from a playboy into the nutbar husband of former flapper Blondie Boopadoop (that was her last name, all right). Soon he made culinary history by creating the sandwich that's named for him, loaded with every food imaginable.

Food on the Radio
Today is the birthday, in 1944, of Garrison Keillor, the creator of A Prairie Home Companion on public radio, and of its "sponsor" Powdermilk Biscuits. I've been trying to duplicate the recipe for those, but I can't seem to locate organic powdermilk.

Food and Gas Stations
Today in 2000, taxi drivers in France began what they called Operation Escargot. It was a protest against high gasoline prices. They drove their cabs very slowly through cities, snarling traffic badly. They also sprayed the insides of their taxis with air freshener that smelled like garlic butter.

Edible Dictionary
escargot [ess-car-GO], n. — The French word for snail, and so the one most commonly used on menus. While escargots are considerd by many to be an offbeat item eaten only by gourmets, they have in fact been eaten as least as early as Roman times. Not all snails are edible, though. The two most widely enjoyed are the petit gris snail (Helix aspersa is the species name), and the larger and slightly better gros blanc or "apple" snail (Helix pomatia). To get them ready for eating, they're first purged for a few days, removed from their shells, cleaned, then poached briefly. The classic preparation for escargots is bourguignonne — garlic and herb butter. But many more recipes appear.

Food Inventors
Luther Crowell was born today in 1840. He invented the paper bag with a flat bottom, of the kind used universally in grocery stores until plastic bags took over. He also invented a machine that assembled and folded the sections of a newspaper, so the supermarkets could run ads to fill those paper bags.

The Saints
It's the feast day of St. Gratus of Aosta (Italy), the saint traditionally called upon for help with fear of insects. Remember him next time you find a bug in your salad. St. Gratus is also one of the many patron saints of vinegrowers.

Food Namesakes
Anthony Quayle, actor in The Bourne Identity and other movies, was bourne today in 1913... Dr. Michael DeBakey, who pioneered the use of artificial hearts, was born today in 1908... U.S. Ambassador to Sweden and Canada, W. Walton Butterworth was born in New Orleans today in 1903.

Words to Eat By
"High-tech tomatoes. Mysterious milk. Supersquash. Are we supposed to eat this stuff? Or is it going to eat us?" — Anita Manning, reporter for USA Today.

Words to Drink By
"Here's to love, that begins with a fever and ends with a yawn." Welsh toast.