The Food Almanac: Thursday, March 28, 2013

Happy birthday, Victor Mills!


Restaurant Anniversaries 
La Petite Grocery, an excellent restaurant on Magazine Street a block from Napoleon Avenue, opened today in 2004. In a way, it was a spinoff of Peristyle, where Anton and Diane Schulte worked before opening the Grocery with partner and gourmet caterer Joel Dondis. When they left to open Bistro Daisy, Justin Devillier took over as chef. He has since bought the restaurant. 

Le Petite Grocery is named for the Frank A. Von Der Haar Grocery, a first-class food emporium that operated for decades in the building. The renovation that resulted in the restaurant left a few signs of the old days (I remember the ceiling in particular). La Petite Grocery was one of the first major Uptown restaurants to reopen after the hurricane. For many Orleanians, it was the place where they reconnected with friends after the storm, and saw that it was possible for the life we love to go on

Great American Brewers 
Now here's an odd coincidence: August Anheuser Busch Jr., the long-time boss of Budweiser, was born today in 1899. And Frederick Pabst, for whom that brand of American beer is named, was also born on this date, in 1836.

Food Inventions 
Victor Mills was born today in 1897. He lived to be 101, which gave him time to achieve several major advances in the food world. His method of milling flour for cake mix made Duncan Hines into the country's dominant cake mix brand. He figured out a way of keeping the oil in peanut butter from separating out--and Jif was born. Then he devised the method of stacking potato chips that led to Pringles. He also worked on the other end: he created Pampers.

Deft Dining Rule #7:
All other things being equal, a new pleasure beats the repetition of an old one.

Eating Around The World 
Today in 1930, Turkish authorities changed the name of Constantinople to Istanbul. In the same stroke, they changed the name of bean dip to hummus.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez: 
Add what seems like the right amount of lemon juice to your hummus recipe, then add that much again. It strikes flavor-heightening battle with the bitterness of the garlic and the chickpeas.

Music To Dine By
Be My Love, the biggest hit recorded by Mario Lanza, reached the top of the charts today in 1951. It is heard frequently in Italian restaurants everywhere. . . On this date in 1899, William Fleming received a patent for an electrically operated player piano. Many restaurants have grand pianos, but few have matching pianists. The gizmos now available to play the piano electronically are amazingly good. But you can't ask them to play your song.

Edible Dictionary
annatto, n.--The pulp and seeds from pods growing on the achiote, a tropical South American tree. Both seeds and pulp are used very widely in food coloring. The most common annatto-colored foods are margarine, butter, cheddar cheese, and yellow rice. In many inexpensive restaurants, paella is colored with annatto powder instead of the vastly more expensive saffron. Annatto has only the subtlest of flavors, nothing like that of saffron. Its ability to color what it touches is very powerful. In South America, it has long been used by indigenous people as skin coloration, and the tree it comes from is nicknamed "the lipstick tree." Sometimes the stuff is called achiote. Although it is legitimately a natural coloring, more people are allergic to it than have reactions to artificial colors. (But not that many.)

Gourmet Gazetteer
Vanilla, Pennsylvania is near the Maryland state line, thirteen miles from Hagerstown. It's a large farm, really, in an area where many similar farms are nearby. Quite a lot of tomatoes are grown around there. The nearest place to eat something other than a farm-cooked meal is in Mercersburg, about five miles away, at the Towne Square Eatery.

Food Namesakes
The Raspberries, the 1970s rock group, broke up today in 1974. . . Cheryl James, "Salt" of the hip-hop group Salt 'n' Pepa, was born today in 1969.

Words To Eat By
"It is part of the novelist's convention not to mention soup and salmon and ducklings, as if soup and salmon and ducklings were of no importance."--Virginia Woolf, who drowned herself today in 1941.

Related Stories
Kellogg Buys Pringles for $2.7 Billion6 Dip-Worthy Hummus Recipes

Words To Drink By
"Drink to the point of hilarity."--St. Thomas Aquinas.