The Food Almanac: Thursday, January 9, 2014

It's National Nutmeg Day!
Frank C. Müller

Nutmegs are the fruits of a small tree native to the East Indies.

Eating Across America
Connecticut, The Nutmeg State, became United State Number Five today in 1788. The nickname commemorates a fraud. Nutmeg, a tropical spice, cannot be grown there. But it was expensive enough that some early Yankee con men carved nuggets of what looked like nutmeg from wood and sold it as such to anyone they could fool. The tradition lives on: now Connecticut’s specialty is insurance.

Today’s Flavor
In honor of the statehood of Connecticut, this is National Nutmeg Day. Nutmegs are the fruits of a small tree native to the East Indies. It’s really two spices in one: the nutmeg itself, which looks like a pecan but smaller, and mace, which is a lacy covering around the nutmeg. Both are used in recipes.

Mace has a more powerful aroma, but nutmeg has the more intense flavor. Indeed, a little nutmeg goes a long way, especially when used in a savory dish. Like what? Sneak a pinch into cream sauces and bechamels. You won’t taste nutmeg, but you’ll notice an improvement in the finished dish.

Most of us have jars of nutmeg that should have been thrown away years ago. The old stuff has as much flavor as the grated wood that gave Connecticut its unlikely nickname. The best way to use nutmeg, of course, is to grate your own as you need it–if you can find the damn nutmeg grater.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
No dish ever needs a little more nutmeg.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine
Campbell’s Soup was made a trademark by the Patent Office today in 1906. The first of their soups was tomato. . . In other food branding news, today in 1984, Wendy’s premiered a strange new advertising campaign that added a new catchphrase to American speech: “Where’s the beef?” The line was delivered by Clara Peller to a fellow octogenarian to express her disappointment with the product of a competing burger joint.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Bagely Creek, Idaho is in wild, forested, high Bitterroot Mountain country at the base of the Idaho Panhandle. It’s in the Nez Perce National Forest, 244 miles east of Walla Walla, Washington. Its waters ultimately flow, appropriately enough, into the Salmon River. Which, in turn, flows into the Snake, which heads on the Pacific. As much a wilderness as the Bagely flows through, its mouth is only four miles away from the Elk Country Steak House in Dixie.

Deft Dining Rule #239:
The world’s most underrated combination of flavors is seafood with beans. Any kind of either tastes great together.

Music To Eat Vitello Tonnato By
Domenico Modugno was born today in 1928. The Italian singer had a Number One hit in the United States–in Italian, yet!–with a song titled Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu. It was better known as Volare. One of the most familiar songs in the world, it is heard in Italian restaurants everywhere. Spunto, a short-lived restaurant on St. Louis Street (in the building where Nola is now), played Volare at top volume every half hour. The waiters would go around the room warning that it was about to start, so as not to alarm the patrons.

Edible Dictionary
courtbouillon, [KOOR-boo-yohn], French, n.–Literally, “short boil.” A courtbouillon is a poaching liquid that’s well-flavored with herbs, spices, and savory vegetables before the main food item is added. Onions, celery, parsley, thyme, peppercorns, wine, and lemon juice are typical additives to the water. In Creole cookery, the courtbouillon often contains enough tomato, green onions, and bell pepper to lend their flavors, and the typical main item is fish. The fish picks up the flavors of the courtbouillon, while at the same time adding its own to the liquid. The fish is served with the resulting stock, which becomes thicker during the cooking. The classic fish for courtbouillon is redfish, but any fish whose fillets can stand up to the poaching process works. Whole fish is the best of all.

Food In The Funnies
Today is the birthday, in 1901, of Chic Young, who created the Blondie comic strip. It’s more about her husband Dagwood than Blondie. Dagwood is an iconic chowhound, although he doesn’t appear to be an ounce overweight. His finest creation is an overloaded sandwich on a whole loaf of French bread. It contains every known foodstuff, including whole fish. Such things have come to be known as a Dagwood Sandwich. A few years ago news came of the development by New Orleans-based chain of Dagwood Sandwich Shoppes. There are a few of them around the country, but none here.

Food Namesakes
It’s the birthday, in 1913, of actor Eric Berry, who appeared in the film Double Exposure, among others. . . Wally Mary Stiefel McBride Baker was born today in 1898. She was the oldest person in history from Delaware. She passed away in 2009 at 111 years old. . . Television personality Beth Troutman saw the Big Tally Light come on today in 1977.

Words To Eat By
“Richard Nixon committed unspeakable acts with cottage cheese.”–Jay Jacobs, the former New York restaurant critic for Gourmet. It’s Richard Nixon’s birthday (1913).

Related Links
Autumn Spice Cocktails: NutmegWhat Is Nutmeg?