The Food Almanac: Thursday, December 6, 2012

Microwaves, Domino's Pizza, and a Ouija board-shaped buffet
Wikimedia Commons/ Doris R. Hanlin


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

Days Until...
Christmas: 19
New Year's Eve: 26
Make those reservations now!

Food Inventions
Today is the official birthday of the microwave oven. It was patented on this date in 1945 by the Raytheon Company, whose main business was making radar devices for fighting the Nazis and Japanese. Its essence is the magnetron, a tube that emits microwave-frequency radio waves. Percy Spencer discovered that anything containing water (among other things) had its molecules stirred up by the waves. Water molecules have a slight polarity, and are about the same size as the microwaves. So, as the waves pass around them, they move. Movement=heat. That's all there is to it. I've had a microwave oven since the mid-1970s, and the great miracle in them now is that you can throw a bag of popcorn in there and press just one button to pop it.

Today's Flavor
Homemade Vegetable Soup Day sounds delicious in the current cold weather. What could be more heart-warming? I have half a brisket I can boil to make the stock. We need some potatoes and tomatoes and carrots and Brussels sprouts and green beans... and...

Gourmet Gazetteer
Blueberry, Wis., is on US 2 in the northernmost part of the Dairy State, just south of the tip of Lake Superior and thirty miles from Duluth. It's just a crossroads with a few houses in dairy pasture country. A former railroad through there is now a long bicycle trail (in winter, snowmobiles use it). The nearest restaurants are about five miles away in Lake Nabagamon: The Village Inn and Sharon's Lakeview Café.

Edible Dictionary
barbecue, n., adv. — Any attempt to define barbecue creates an instant argument among its practitioners. But we think this definition captures its essence: the cooking of meats, birds, or seafood in an outdoor pit (open or closed) with a wood or charcoal fire, using either direct or indirect heat, or a sequential combination of the two, at a temperature higher than for smoking but lower than for grilling. That would be in the mid to high 200s. The word is frequently misspelled "barbeque" or "bar-B-Q." It derives from Spanish and ultimately from a Caribbean Native American word, barbacoa, describing the roasting of meats over an open fire.

Restaurant Anniversaries
Today is the birthday of the modern Domino's Pizza. Tom Monaghan opened the first one in 1960 in Ypsilanti, Mich., a Detroit suburb. It's an ordinary pizza, made in a conveyor belt oven. But for all that, you could do a lot worse, and they set the standard for the mass-marketed pizza. Years before that Domino's came on the scene, there was a Domino's pizzeria in New Orleans, on the corner of St. Charles and Girod, where Herbsaint is now. It was a dumpy place of the kind that all old pizza joints used to be.

Annals of Food Poisoning
Today in 2006, a widespread outbreak of E. coli contamination was announced. It appeared mostly in the Northeast. It was traced to green onions that had been grown in a field irrigated by suspect water.

Food Namesakes
Otto Graham was born today in 1921. He was a Hall of Fame quarterback for the Cleveland Browns in the 1950s... Mass murderer Richard Speck was born today in 1941. "Speck" is a common European term for the smoked version of prosciutto. We're only lately starting to see it in use here... Joseph Lamb, composer of songs in the peak of the ragtime years, was born today in 1887.

Words to Eat By
"I went to this restaurant last night that was set up like a big buffet in the shape of an Ouija board. You'd think about what kind of food you want, and the table would move across the floor to it." — Steven Wright, the deadpan comedian, born today in 1955
"I saw a cavalry captain buy vegetable soup on horseback. He carried the whole mess home in his helmet." — Aristophanes, ancient Greek playwright

Related Stories
The Food Almanac: Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Words to Drink By
"Before Noah, men having only water to drink, could not find the truth. Accordingly... they became abominably wicked, and they were justly exterminated by the water they loved to drink. This good man, Noah, having seen that all his contemporaries had perished by this unpleasant drink, took a dislike to it; and God, to relieve his dryness, created the vine and revealed to him the art of making le vin. By the aid of this liquid he unveiled more and more truth." — Benjamin Franklin