The Food Almanac: Thursday, August 8, 2013

It's National Frozen Custard Day!

Today's Flavor
Today is allegedly National Frozen Custard Day. Frozen custard is not something we recognize around New Orleans, despite the efforts of the late Chef Warren LeRuth to introduce it in his Chelsey's in the 1980s. Frozen custard is a variation of soft-serve ice cream, but the softness is provided by eggs in the mix. It's good stuff, and very popular in St. Louis. From the same web sources we learn that it's National Zucchini Day. I am about to say something terrible about zucchini: they really don't have much in the way of flavor. I believe we serve them only to have a vegetable on the plate, or as a carrier for something that does have flavor (i.e., garlic butter or a seafood stuffing), or to add some color to a bread.

Today's Aroma 
Remember those purple-printed mimeograph copies that schools used in the 1950s and 1960s? When the teacher passed out freshly-printed mimeograph copies of a test, some kids sniffed the strangely appealing (to them) odor and rolled their eyes back. The mimeograph process was patented on this date in 1876, by none other than Thomas Edison.

Methods Of Payment
On this day in 1786, Congress officially named the dollar as the United States currency and the decimal system of splitting it up. As late as the 1940s, a dollar could buy you a complete plate dinner in almost any restaurant in New Orleans. I don't know when the last dinner for a dollar became extinct, but quite a few such opportunities persisted into the mid-1970s: red beans and sausage at Buster Holmes, dinner specials at the Camellia Grill, and lunch platters at Mother's were among them.

Annals Of Food Storage
The first refrigerator for home use was patented today in 1899. The inventor was A.T. Marshall of Brockton, Massachusetts. It would not be until after World War I that the device became common in American homes, but it changed the way we buy food, and therefore the way we eat. 

Previously, anything perishable had to be bought the day you wanted to cook it, making daily shopping a necessity. That habit that lived on long after refrigerators became commonplace. When I was a kid in the 1950s, almost every neighborhood in New Orleans had at least a small grocery store within walking distance to serve that need. Within a decade, that business was nearly dead, replaced by stores designed to provide you with a week's worth of meat, dairy products, or anything else. It was more convenient, but we paid a price in certain areas. Eggs, meats, and seafood in the home would, on average, never be as fresh again.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Shake City is 150 miles up the Pacific coast from San Francisco, fifteen miles from the town of Mendocino. It appears on the USGS map at the point where McMullin Creek runs into the Noyo River, which flows to the ocean. But nothing's there except for the valley's sparse woods. An abandoned railroad right-of-way passes through. Pretty countryside. To satisfy the need for a milkshake in Shake City, trek five miles east to the town of Willits, where is found the Willits Cafe.

Edible Dictionary
stracciatella (ice cream), [strah-chya-TELL-ah], Italian, n.--A variation of vanilla ice cream, popular in Italian-style gelato shops throughout Europe. The name means "torn up" in Italian, a reference to the shaved shreds of chocolate mixed in. Fans of chocolate chip ice cream will like stracciatella even more, because the thin slivers of chocolate melt faster than a chip would, and give a better flavor release as you eat.

Food Namesakes
Don Cook, who wrote a number of books on American history, was born today in 1920. . . Veronese actor and lyric tenor Nino Martini was born today in 1905. He once did two concerts a week on CBS Radio. . . Carl Switzer, who played the character Alfalfain the Our Gang movies, was born today in 1927. . . Astros infielder Mike Lamb took his first swing today in 1975.

Words To Eat By
"The first zucchini I ever saw I killed it with a hoe."--John Gould, Maine writer.

Related Stories
13 Zesty Zucchini Recipes6 Sweet and Savory Zucchini Recipes

Words To Drink By
All animals are strictly dry;
They sinless live and swiftly die,
While sinful, gleeful, rum-soaked men
Survive for three score years and ten.
And some of us--a mighty few--
Stay pickled 'till we're ninety-two.
--A toast given by Harlan F. Stone, twelfth Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.