The Food Almanac: Thursday, November 15, 2013
Today is National Guacamole Day. The word translates from the language of the aboriginal Mexicans as "avocado sauce." They were eating it and avocados--a pure American food--long before the arrival of the Spanish. Although guacamole carries with it a sort of secret-recipe cachet, in fact it's easy to make. The key is in limiting the recipe to ingredients that the Aztecs would have used. The originators seem to have had it down cold. So we're talking about native American plants: avocados, chile peppers, cilantro, onions, and tomatoes. No dairy products. No black pepper. Two ingredients of non-Aztec origin that can pass are olive oil and lime juice, both used in small proportions and mainly to keep the concoction from spoiling too fast.
Guacamole is everywhere in restaurants, and much of it is even good. Only recently has the spectre of pre-made guacamole reared it's ugly head; avocados have until recently resisted all efforts at packaging. On the other hand, some restaurants (notably Sun Ray Grill, in New Orleans) now make their guacamole to order, sometimes right at the table. In Mexico, guacamole is almost always made to order, even in the tourist-pitched restaurants.
The only problem with guacamole is that good, ripe avocados are not always available. One must plan ahead, buying the avocados days before you'll serve them. If I can only get Florida avocados or stone-hard, underripe Hass avocados, the dish is off the table. Guacamole is a house specialty of mine. My guests expect to find it when they come over, even for Thanksgiving.
Avocado Creek plods along for sixteen miles through the heart of The Everglades in extreme southern Florida. It's hard to imagine that avocados grow there. This is remote, wild territory. The only way to get around out there is by airboat, although you can follow the network of streams in a canoe if you have a GPS. If Avocado Creek could be said to flow (it's largely tidal), it ultimately winds up in Oyster Bay. Which is also appetizing. Funny: I've never heard of a dish with avocados and oysters together. The nearest town is Flamingo, about thirty miles south. But there are no restaurants there.
guacamole, [wock-uh-MOE-lee], Spanish, n.--A dish dominated by avocados, with additions of tomato, onion, lime juice, and seasonings. It ranges in texture from a thick sauce to a chunky dip. It's so widely served in America it's hard to imagine that anyone would not know what it is. That was facilitated by the much greater availability of avocados starting in the 1950s. But both the dish and its name are hundreds of years old, having been developed in Mexico by the Aztecs using their native vegetables. The name is a shoving together of huacatl (Aztec for avocado) and molli (sauce). Guacamole is one of those dishes that engenders a great deal of doctrine as to the authentic way to make it. Indeed, no two are alike. It seems to me that it has become firmer and chunkier over the years, with a higher pepper content.
Deft Dining Rule #523
Adding a layer of guacamole to a Mexican dish that already has three or more ingredients inside the tortilla cannot be guaranteed to make the dish better.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
When making guacamole, combine all the ingredients except the avocado first. Then scoop out the avocados and add them as quickly as possible. Mix only until the avocados are chunky, not a mash.
Annals Of Food Writing
Prosper Montagne was born today in 1865. He was one of several brilliant French chefs who remade French cuisine in the early 1900s, and streamlined kitchen operations by organizing cooks better and simplifying presentations. But his finest legacy is the creation of Larousse Gastronomique, an encyclopedic treatise of French cookery, still being published in many languages. It's considered the last word on the subject.
Today's Worst Flavors
Today in 2003, a bunch of people were sickened with hepatitis A after eating at restaurant in Pittsburgh. Three died. Green onions proved to be the vector. Always wash your vegetables and your hands before eating. And never eat your hands. . . On the very same day, a man in Chennai, India ate two hundred live earthworms in just over twenty seconds, beating the previous record of ninety-four worms in thirty seconds. That achievement was by an American named Hogg--no joke. C. Manoharan's feat was performed in front of official observers for Guinness. Earthworms are edible, but who would want to? Some years ago McDonald's was accused of substituting earthworms for beef. It disproved the charge by noting that earthworms are much more expensive than beef is.
Today is the birthday (1954) of Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State in the Bush II admin. . . Prince and the NPG had a number one hit on this date in 1991 with a song entitled Cream.. . . Accordionist Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural of Buckwheat Zydeco was born today in 1947. . . John Steuart Curry, who was a painter and maker of lithographs, was born today in 1897. . . Harrison Salisbury, long-time New York Times journalist, was born today in 1908. . . British wrestler Shirley "Big Daddy" Crabtree, who had a sixty-two-inch chest, wrestled his way into the world today in 1930. . . Leo Hendrik Baekland was born today in 1863. He was the inventor of Bakelite, which is considered the first plastic.
Words To Eat By
"To be always intending to live a new life, but never find time to set about it--this is as if a man should put off eating and drinking from one day to another till he be starved and destroyed."--Sir Walter Scott.
"In the last analysis, a pickle is a cucumber with experience."--Cookbook author and wit Irena Chalmers. Today is alleged to beNational Pickle Day.
Words To Drink By
"When I find someone I respect writing about an edgy, nervous wine that dithered in the glass, I cringe. When I hear someone I don't respect talking about an austere, unforgiving wine, I turn a bit austere and unforgiving myself. When I come across stuff like that and remember about the figs and bananas, I want to snigger uneasily. You can call a wine red, and dry, and strong, and pleasant. After that, watch out."--Kingsley Amis.