The Food Almanac: Thursday, April 18, 2013

It's National Animal Crackers Day!

Animal Crackers

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

Bad Days In Great Eating Towns
Today is the anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It devastated the city, killing hundreds of people and ruining thousands of lives. What the quake didn't level, the fire that followed it destroyed. Few people alive today remember it first-hand, but that event dominates SF history to this day. I wonder if the memory of Hurricane Katrina will last as long.

Today in 1862, Admiral Farragut's Union fleet crossed the bar at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Within a few days, New Orleans was under Union control, and would remain so. It was very early in the Civil War. While not a proud moment in the city's history, it did eliminate the possibility of a destructive battle there.

Today's Flavor
Today is National Animal Crackers Day. There is more to said about this than you might imagine. Although crackers and cookies shaped like circus animals were being made and sold in the late 1800s, the definitive version was Barnum's Animals, rolled out by the National Biscuit Company in 1902. Since then there have been fifty-four different animals in those small boxes. The boxes themselves were a breakthrough for Nabisco, and almost all Barnum's Animals have been sold that way. Forty million boxes a year. You get twenty to a box. Do the math.

Today is also Fried Onion Rings Day. Even though fried potatoes are at least as good, onion rings command greater respect than any other fried vegetable. The first quality criterion is thickness. There's no agreement about this. I'd say that thick rings look more impressive, but thin onion rings are much better. Thick rings have a way of losing their coatings. The coating is the second issue. Either a light dusting with flour or a thicker batter seem to work, with or without bread crumbs as the outer skin.

Two quirky versions we run into now and then are the onion loaf and onion straws. An onion loaf is made by jamming a bunch of onion rings with a pretty heavy coating into a fry basket, and frying them till they not only are cooked but stick together in a mass. We've found these taste good enough, but have a propensity to become greasy, especially towards the end. 

Onion straws (or strings) are thin onion rings cut in half, so they're no longer O's but C's. They're actually a little easier to eat than rings. But who wants to hurry?

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
Onion mums are theoretically delicious, but practically inedible.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Mint, Tennessee is on the northwest edge of the Great Smoky Mountains. It's where Indian Warpath Road meets Bluebird Lane to form Mint Road. The area is being developed with largish country homes, spilling over from the burgeoning Knoxville, twenty-eight miles north. The nearest place to eat is about two miles away in Maryville: Ridge Valley Farm Cafe.

Edible Dictionary
bagna cauda, [bahn-yuh COW-duh], Italian, n.--A warm antipasto with a consistency somewhere between a spread and a chunky dip. It's made of olive oil, garlic, and anchovies, all cooked down to the point that everything's soft. The words mean "warm bath" in Italian, the bathers being pieces of cauliflower, carrots, or bread, with which you can scoop up this powerfully-flavored appetizer. It's not bad spread on the bread you'll use to make a fried oyster sandwich.

Deft Dining Rule #101: 
All other things being equal, a regular customer in a restaurant eats better food than a first-timer, but spends more.

Annals Of Seafood 
Today in 2001, a blind codfish named Toralf died, a couple of months after it had surgery to relieve gas pains. (I am not making this up.) It was in a Norwegian marine park, to which it had been brought a year earlier by a man who had caught it in his nets forty times. The man felt sorry for it because it looked undernourished. After its operation, it seemed to regain its appetite, but it died anyway. By this time, it had become a celebrity in Norway. That's what we need in America: more fish heroes.

Annals Of Beef
The Union Stock Yard--the last big cattle auction site in Texas--held its last sale today in 2001. It was on the outskirts of San Antonio, and had been in operation since 1889. Stockyards like this were put out of business by the hegemony of the biggest beef processors in the country, which have thousands of cattle farmers under contract, and don't need to bid on beef--to the detriment of the ranchers.

Food Namesakes
Golfer Jeff Cook was born today in 1960. . . Today in 1834, William Lamb became Prime Minister of England. . . Lenny Baker, a member of the retro-Fifties group Sha Na Na, was born today in 1946. . . Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham, a comedian on the chitlin circuit (black vaudeville) was born today in 1904. Two of his trademark lines--"Heah come de judge!" and "Look that up in your Funk 'n' Wagnalls!"--survive today.

Words To Eat By
"What I admire most in men—to sit opposite a mirror at dinner and not look in it."--Richard Harding Davis, American writer, 1864-1916. 

"If you hear an onion ring, answer it."--Unknown.

Words To Drink By
"The universe may
be as great as they say.
But it wouldn't be missed
if it didn't exist."--Piet Hein, Danish scientist.