The Food Almanac: Thursday, June 27, 2013
Annals Of Silverware
Around this day in 1630, John Winthrop, the first colonial governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, began using at his dinner table what may have been the only fork in the colonies. He encouraged its use. As omnipresent as the fork is now, it was only then coming into widespread use in Europe.
Food Through History
Today is the birthday (in 1835, in London) of Fred Harvey, who more than any other one man brought civilization to the Wild West. He emigrated to America and worked in restaurants in New York, New Orleans and elsewhere. Railroads were just beginning to carry passengers long distances, and Harvey saw an opportunity in the need for hotels and restaurants along the tracks. He aligned his new operation with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, which was completing its line from Chicago to Los Angeles in the 1880s. He opened Harvey Houses all along the line. He hired young women from all over America to move West as waitresses. The wholesome Harvey Girls found many single men looking for wives. They married and settled, bringing real community to Western towns. Fred Harvey's motto was "Maintenance of Standards, Regardless of Cost." His restaurants were the best in the West. It lasted until the end of widespread train travel. Only a little of the Harvey empire remains, most notably the grand El Tovar Hotel in the Grand Canyon. A great book about Fred Harvey--a fascinating man long ahead of his times--is Appetite For America, by Stephen Fried.
Annals Of Food Writing
The author of the first Creole cookbook was born on this date in 1850. Lafcadio Hearn wrote La Cuisine Creole in 1885. Its subtitle was "A Collection of Culinary Recipes, From Leading Chefs and Noted Creole Housewives, Who Have Made New Orleans Famous for its Cuisine." The recipes would seem odd to us now, but their style is very recognizable as New Orleans food. The book establishes that Creole cooking was all-encompassing and indeed famous way back then, long before the same could be said of other regional American cuisines.
Today is National Indian Pudding Day. Indian pudding is made with cornmeal, eggs, and molasses. It's also National Orange Blossom Day. An ingredient important in both Southern bars and Middle Eastern bakeries comes from those flowers. Orange flower water is a fascinating and under-utilized ingredient. The Ramos gin fizz cannot be made with out it. I forgot to mention it throughout the month, but June is National Papaya Month. I have not had a papaya lately, but I will. I think it's one of the most delicious fruits in the world, when you catch it at optimum ripeness--but that's not easy.
The 2077 inhabitants of Saltville, Virginia have a nice view from their town. A heavily forested ridge of the Appalachians tower three hundred feet above Saltville to the north. The burg is in a narrow valley created by the Holston River, a tributary of the Susquehanna. Saltville is named for a number of salt domes and salt marshes nearby. The salt attracted gazing animals since prehistory. Enough of them sunk into the marsh that many fossils have been found. Saltville was a critical source of salt for the Confederates, who'd list the more productive salt miles in Avery Island, Louisiana. The Union captured Saltville's works, which hit the Confederacy hard. Ed's Drive-In Restaurant is on Main Street. Its salt shakers are quite full.
wiener, n.--We all know that a wiener is a hot dog. But let's look a little deeper. The name gives the blame to Vienna, the highly sophisticated arts and music town in Austria. (I have a collection of all nine Beethoven symphonies performed, the albums say, by the Wiener Philharmonic.) This seems to suggest that wieners and those awful canned Vienna sausages have a common ancestor. In this country, about the only distinction given to the sausage that Oscar Meyer calls its pork-and-beef product a wiener, but all-beef version of the same thing a frankfurter. However, back in Vienna, they call this thing a frankfurter, while in Frankfurt, Germany, it's a wiener! Just give me a hot dog.
Deft Dining Rule #241
Ask whether tomato paste is in the marinara sauce at every Italian restaurant. (Correct answer: no.)
Eating Across America
On this day in 1985, US Route 66--the road made famous by two songs and a television series, along with many guidebooks--was scratched off the list of certified highways and ceased to exist. It ran from Chicago to Los Angeles, and carried so much traffic that its route had long since been paralleled by Interstate highways. One of the many books I lost in the flood was a dining guide to Route 66, written in the 1930s. Even now, a few of the diners and cafes along the old route remain open.
Albert "Cubby" Broccoli, who produced the James Bond films, died in 1996 on this date. The vegetable that bears his name was developed by an ancestor. Broccoli is a hybridized cauliflower, crossed with raab. . . Actor Jack Lemmon died on this date in 2001. . . Blues immortal Robert Johnson recorded a song called Come On In My Kitchen on this date in 1937, along with nine other songs that would become classics of the genre.
Words To Eat By
"Don't cut the ham too thin."--Fred Harvey, born today in 1835. These were his last words to his son when he died in 1901. It's bad advice. For a sandwich, anyway, you can't cut the ham thin enough.
Words To Drink By
This bottle's the sun of our table,
His beams are rosy wine;
We planets that are not able
Without his help to shine.
--Richard Brinsley Sheridan.