The Food Almanac: Thursday, April 23, 2013

Food Patents
The Patent Act of 1930 made it possible for plants to be patented.This gave the seed companies a tremendous boost, largely at the expense of the individual farmer and the consumer. If a seed company developed a new corn hybrid, for example, it could now forbid farmers from just replanting the corn using the kernels from last year's crop. Although this was seen as a boon to the creation of new, much more productive hybrids, it also had the unintended effect of narrowing the gene pool for corn. The jury is still out on this one, but it's highly questionable whether in the long run this will prove to have been a good thing for anyone but the three gigantic companies that control corn.

Today's Flavor
It is Corn and Crab Soup Day.That combination has been around in Chinese restaurants for who knows how long, in the usual thin style common to most Asian soups. But that's not the soup the name conjures up around New Orleans. A rich, spicy potage came to light during Paul Prudhomme's tour of duty as chef at Commander's Palace, in the late 1970s. That soup had the two namesake ingredients in a matrix of reduced heavy cream and crab stock, with a good shake of cayenne pepper to make it convincing.

What makes a corn and crab soup great is the size of the crab lumps, the richness of the broth, and the freshness of the corn. The best versions involve corn cut freshly off the cob, with the corn milk collected and added to the broth. Sometimes a stock is even made from the corn cobs, and that's good, too. It's really simple to make–if you have any instincts at all, you already know how to make it from just what I've already told you here.

Corn and crab soup (also called bisque by some purveyors) quickly became part of the pantheon of classic New Orleans soups, right up there with gumbo, turtle soup, and oyster-artichoke. Some restaurants have become famous for it, notably Vincent's (where they serve it in a bowl made of French bread), most of the Brennan restaurants, and even Copeland's.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Corncob Creek runs across north central Oregon, some 207 miles east of Portland, up in the arid mountains. It's often a dry wash, but carries a good bit of water from melting snows in late winter. It's pretty far out there–it's twenty-two miles as the crow flies to the nearest restaurant, the Big Timber Family Restaurant in Fossil, Oregon.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
Crabs don't eat corn
And corn's not for crabs
But when the cob's shorn
And lump's up for grabs
Put cream in the pot
And simmer it down
Add cayenne–not a lot
Then just go to town.

Edible Dictionary
cornichon, French, n.–A small, sour gherkin cucumber pickle, served inevitably with pâté de campagne, the coarse, chunky French pâté that you eat with a fork, not as a spread. The name is a reference to the shape, which resembles that of the horns on a goat, narrow at one end and broad on the other. These little pickles do go well with pâté, although if you taste one by itself you may wonder why the French make such a big deal about them.

Deft Dining Rule #548
Before ordering chowder in any restaurant, demand to know everything in it, and what color it is. And ask this: Not canned, right? Watch the server's eyes when you ask this.

Music To Chew Gum By
One of the worst songs ever to top the music charts did so on this day in 1968. It was the outer limits of bubblegum music: Yummy Yummy Yummy, by the Ohio Express.

Food Namesakes
Seabiscuit, the famous racehorse, was born today in 1933. . . Early baseball pro Zack Wheat was born today in 1888.

Words To Eat By
"I wish I had time for just one more bowl of chili."–Kit Carson, a cowboy who, according to legend, spoke these words with his dying breath on this date in 1868.

Words To Drink By
There's alcohol in plant and tree.
It must be Nature's plan
That there should be in fair degree
Some alcohol in Man. –A. P. Herbert, British humorist.