The Food Almanac: Thursday, November 1, 2012

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

The Saints
It's All Saints' Day. The tradition here in New Orleans is to visit the graves of all your relatives on All Saints' Day, after weeding them and adding fresh flowers the day before. Some of my earliest recollections of dining out are associated with All Saints' Day. After we visited the cemetery, we had lunch in a restaurant.

Historic Restaurant Openings
Brennan's opened the bar in its new location on Royal Street in New Orleans today in 1955. It would be a few more months before full food service began. Meanwhile, diners wanting eggs Hussarde and steak Stanley were still getting those Brennan's classics at the corner of Bourbon and Bienville, the restaurant's original location.

Today's Flavors
Various sources claim that this is National Deep-Fried Clams Day. Which is almost reason enough to stay home. We don't like clams much in New Orleans, even though they grow by the millions in Lake Pontchartrain. Nobody seems to have eaten them much, ever.

Another source says it's National Vinegar Day. That has more possibilities. Vinegar is essential for salad dressings and such, but it's always in the back of my mind for sauces. Next time you make up a recipe that calls for lemon juice, and the lemon flavor is less essential than the acidity, try using vinegar instead. (A good quality wine vinegar, I'd better say.) I've taken to adding it to hollandaise sauce, and like the result.

The source of the word "vinegar" is interesting. It comes from the two French words, vin aigre, which means "sour wine," with a secondary, idiomatic meaning of "sick wine." In all my years of wine tasting, I've never encountered a bottle of wine that had gone to vinegar. However, I once had a little wooden barrel that was charged with "mother," the enzyme that converts wine to vinegar. You'd pour leftover wine into it, and within just a day or two it would have turned it all to an excellent vinegar. I'd occasionally open the little spout and let a few drops run into a spoon, then let friends take a sniff if it. They always said the same thing: "That made my mouth water!"

Gourmet Gazetteer
Little Neck is a neighborhood in the borough of Queens, and so is officially part of New York City. It doesn't look like it, through. The houses and street layout are more like those modern American suburbs than the Big City. Little Neck is named for Little Neck Bay, an inlet from Long Island Sound, just north. Here is where the clams that once were the best in the world were harvested. Pollution brought an end to most of the clam beds one hundred years ago, but some of them have recovered in recent times. Littleneck clams are still found in restaurants, but very likely come from other places along the Atlantic coast. The best restaurants in Little Neck are Italian: Il Toscano and Giardino. Both have great clams.

Edible Dictionary
littleneck clam, n. — The smallest, most tender specimens of the hard-shell clams found all along the northern Atlantic Coast. Littlenecks are the same species as the larger quahogs used for making clam chowder — just younger and smaller. They are eaten raw on the half shell, steamed, baked (sometimes with a thick, bread-crumb-crusted sauce), or in a white sauce for pasta. Like the slightly larger cherrystones, littlenecks get their name from the place where large beds of them once lived: Little Neck Bay, on Long Island, N.Y.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
When you boil eggs, use standard balsamic vinegar in the boiling water. It will turn the shells a little brown, telling you at a glance which ones in the refrigerator have been boiled.

Deft Dining Rule #892
If you're offered a balsamic vinaigrette in a restaurant, ask which balsamic vinegar they use. If you don't get an answer, they didn't really make it themselves, and it probably isn't made with real balsamic.

Food Namesakes
The Broadway musical Top Banana, with unmemorable music by the great Johnny Mercer and starring Phil Silvers, opened on Broadway today in 1951 . . . Ruud Cabbage, a star soccer player for the Dutch FC Twente team, was born today in 1966 . . . Grantland Rice, one of the most famous sportswriters in history, was born today in 1880 . . . Nobel Peace Prize winner Philip Noel-Baker was born today in 1886 . . . Pro baseball outfielder Coco Crisp stepped up to the Big Plate today in 1979.

Words to Eat By
"Serve the dinner backward, do anything but for goodness sake, do something weird." — Elsa Maxwell, American writer, who died today in 1963.

Words to Drink By
"In most households a cup of coffee is considered the one thing needful at the breakfast hour. But how often this exhilarating beverage, that 'comforteth the brain and heateth and helpeth digestion' is made muddy and ill-flavoured! You may roast the berries to the queen's taste, and grind them fresh every morning, and yet, if the golden liquid be not prepared in the most immaculate of coffee-pots, with each return of morning, a new disappointment awaits you." — Janet McKenzie Hill, cookbook author in the late 1800s and early 1900s, collaborator with Fannie Farmer.

Check out other Food Almanac columns by Tom Fitzmorris.