The Food Almanac: Thursday, August 22, 2013

Annals Of Food Under Pressure
Today is the birthday–in 1647 in France–of Denis Papin. He invented the pressure cooker. He noted that water boils at a higher temperature when under pressure, thereby cooking food faster. But he missed on the big chance. He saw that the lid of a pressure cooker had tremendous force pushing it up (in fact, he created a pressure valve to keep the thing from blowing up), and figured that this could be made into some kind of engine. But he didn't quite finish that invention, leaving it to James Watt.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine
It's National Spumone Day. The importance of spumone in New Orleans was demonstrated when Angelo Brocato's–New Orleans premier maker of Italian ice cream for over 100 years–reopened in 2006. Its antique ice cream parlor on North Carrollton Avenue was welcomed back to action by a genuine festival. Spumone is a Sicilian-style layered ice cream. The way Brocato's makes it, the layers are pistachio, torroncino (vanilla with ground almonds and cinnamon), a bright yellow, lightly lemony flavor that has an Italian name I can't remember, and strawberry. It's sold in wedges, six of which make a half-gallon of ice cream. It's the best-selling flavor at Brocato's, with good reason. The mix of flavors is delightful, all of them rich and light at the same time. It's great to have it back again at Brocato's, as well as in stores and restaurants.

Oddly, when we were in Sicily in the summer of 2006, we saw no spumone in any of the many gelaterias we raided. Maybe you have to find an old stand out of the tourist areas.

High Life
Today is the birthday in 1893 of Dorothy Parker, one of the great writers on the party scene in New York in the 1920s through the 1950s. She wrote mostly for The New Yorker, and was a prominent member of the Round Table of authors at the Algonquin Hotel. She was most famous for her humorous, light verses, along the lines of this famous one: "Men seldom make passes/At girls who wear glasses." She was the first to observe that "Eternity is two people and a ham." And she wrote the definitive poem about martinis, a subject she knew much about:

I love a good martini
One, or two at the most
After three I'm under the table
After four I'm under the host.

Annals Of Eating Healthy
The inventor of granola was born today in 1867. Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner postulated what dietary experts are telling us now: that we should eat less meat and refined carbohydrates, we should eat more vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole grains. He created a mix he called muesli, of oats, nuts, and dried fruit. This evolved into granola in this country. I don't know whether to thank him or curse him.

Music To Drink Cheap Wine By 
Today in 1970, Eric Burdon and War's record Spill The Wine peaked on the pop charts at Number Three. Spill the wine. . . dig that girl. That's almost the entire lyric of the song. Eric performed a classic New Orleans song, House of the Rising Sun, with his group of the time, The Animals.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Applejack Creek–named for the brandy made from distilled apple cider–is in central Idaho. It's usually a dry wash, descending from 5234 feet down the heavily-forested slope of Mineral Mountain. It ends up three miles later in the Muddy Creek. Through intermediate rivers Applejack's waters wind up in the Pacific Ocean through the Columbia River. It's a thirteen-mile hike from the source of the Applejack to the nearest restaurant, Wild Bill's in Garden Valley.

Edible Dictionary
polenta, Italian, n.–To make a long story short, polenta is Italian grits, with only a small difference. Polenta is made from pure cornmeal, while grits are made from corn hominy (dried corn treated with alkali to remove the hulls and germ). Polenta is a nearly universal side dish in northern Italy, present on any entree plate with meat or poultry. It's served in a wide range of textures, from flowing (like grits) to so stiff that it can be cut into wedges and grilled. In America, chefs like to add other ingredients, but the just-plain variety is most common in Italy. The preparation of polenta is simple: you pour cornmeal into a saucepan with twice as much water, and cook it over low heat, stirring now and then, until it thickens to the point that it pulls away from the sides of the saucepan and the spoon stands up.

Deft Dining Rule #470:
If a pizzeria doesn't offer calzones, there's a strong likelihood that the place is using pre-made, partly-baked dough for its pizza crusts. Which puts it in the lower end of the quality scale.

Food Namesakes
Captain James Cook claimed Australia for Great Britain on this date in 1770. His ships were the first European ones to land there with empire in mind. . . The last of some eleven million VW Rabbits was completed on this date in 1984. The design is still around, but they call it the Golf now, which has always been its name in Europe. . . Basketball pro Michael Curry was born today in 1968, and by strange coincidence Denise Curry, also a basketball player who won gold in the 1984 Olympics, was born on this date in 1959. . . The soft-rock group Bread hit Number One with Make It With You on this date in 1970. . . On a more classical noteCandido Lima, a pioneer in creating serious music with computers, was born in Portugal today in 1939. . . Peppermint Patty, a flirtatious tomboy who called Charlie Brown "Chuck," appeared for the first time today in 1966 in the comic strip Peanuts.

Words To Eat Spumone By 
"Age does not diminish the extreme disappointment of having a scoop of ice cream fall from the cone."–Jim Fiebig, relationship author.

"I doubt whether the world holds for anyone a more soul-stirring surprise than the first adventure with ice cream."–Heywood Broun, American writer of the mid-1900s.

Words To Drink By
"When your companions get drunk and fight, take up your hat and wish them good night."–Unknown.