The Food Almanac: Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!
Kristin Ausk

Halloween is an old, old holiday that dates back to the pagan Celts, perhaps before the time of Christ.

All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day. An old, old holiday that dates back to the pagan Celts, perhaps before the time of Christ. The food connections now mostly involve candy, but. . .

The largest group of current New Orleans restaurant customers are from the first generation never really forced to grow up--the Baby Boomers. We didn't get over Halloween, and so many of us go out in search of some pleasure to replace the bag of candy we still, down deep inside, feel should be coming our way today. That puts us in restaurants. It started last Friday, where at Galatoire's the downstairs dining room was filled with people in semi-costumes. A group of women will hold their annual Witches' Dinner tonight at Clancy's. Things would really be bad if they didn't. And many restaurants have special menus, decorations, and other fun. It's an interesting and unique night for dining out. [related]

Today's Flavor
Today allegedly is National Candy Apple Day. But they tell kids not to eat candy apples they find in their trick-or-treat bags. Just as well. What a perverse thing to do to the perfection that is an apple.

One a more interesting note, today is National Quail Day. Quail is a dark-meat bird, easily raised on farms, and not particularly expensive. The birds are so little and cute and have such a gourmet reputation that most chefs get pretentious in preparing them--not always to good effect. But the pinnacle of quail cookery is simple: debone the bodies, butterfly them, season them well, and just grill them over an open fire.

But what we usually get instead is quail stuffed with something. This allows the quail to look like it actually has a substantial enough torso that perhaps a restaurant can get away with serving just one quail as an entree. But one quail is nothing but an appetizer, no matter what you do to it. Especially since the food value of eating a quail may be exceeded by the amount of work required to eat it.

The stuffing can be good, but not usually. That's because it usually involves seafood. I may be off your beam on this, but I believe that seafood and poultry do not go together well. The effect is particularly distressing in the case of a seafood-stuffed quail, because there's not enough of either seafood or quail to make a statement without the other getting in the way.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that quail are better cooked and served unstuffed, two at a time. The best quail chef in New Orleans--Pat Gallagher of Gallagher's Grill in Covington--has always served them that way.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Pumpkin Center is an unincorporated community in Southeast Louisiana. A small agricultural nexus, it has become a suburb of Hammond, eight miles east. Aside from the presence of Pumpkin Center Road, it's hard to tell where the place starts and stops. Pumpkin Center indeed grew pumpkins a hundred or more years ago, but it also grew just about everything else. The nearest restaurant of note is Catfish Charlie's, three miles east. All you can eat!

Edible Dictionary
butternut squash, n.--A native American squash related to pumpkins and acorn squashes, the butternut squash is more famous for its color (often used to describe a shade of yellowish brown) than for it's flavor. It's a big squash; one of them can make a side dish for a family of six. It's usually baked, and its meat scraped out and served in a semi-puree, like mashed potatoes, usually with some aromatic spices like nutmeg. It's also used to make soups, with a little cream, and sometimes seafood. Fall is the season for them.

Deft Dining Rule #10
When entertaining visitors from out of town who have never or rarely been to your city, always take them to a restaurant with which you're familiar. Better still, to a restaurant where you are known. It will be a better evening than one even in a much better restaurant about which you know nothing.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
The most essential use for expensive kitchen shears will not be revealed until the first time you try to butterfly quail.

Food In Science
Carl Von Voit was born on this date in 1831. His life work was determining how the body uses food, and how certain foods have particular effects on the metabolism. He would have been the first to be able to write nutritional analyses on the sides of food packages.

Roots Of Our Food Culture
The Louisiana Purchase was ratified by Congress today, the United States doubled in size, and New Orleans became an American city. . Whew. If that hadn't happened, we wouldn't have had had FEMA to help us after the hurricane. And we wouldn't have that buffet restaurant in Metairie called the Louisiana Purchase.

Music To Eat Wherever You Want By
This is the birthday (1944) of Texas writer, musician, comedian and counter-culture hero Kinky Friedman. He had a minor hit in the early 1970s with We Reserve The Right To Refuse Service To You. It begins with his exclusion from a lunch counter, and gets increasingly irreverent and political. It has elements of a protest song, but with humor. The lyrics are here.

Beverages In War (Sounds Like)
Today in 1917 the Battle of Beersheba was fought in what is now Israel, but then was part of the Ottoman Empire. A brigade of Australian horsemen conducted what is considered the last successful cavalry charge in world warfare history against the Ottomans, in the middle of World War I.

Food Namesakes
The comedy actor John Candy was born today in 1950. . . The rap singer Vanilla Ice (who has gone back to his great real name, Rob Van Winkle) began life in 1968 on this date. . . Actress and blues singer Ethel Waters was born today in 1896. . . American balloonist Charles LeRoux was stirred up into life today in 1856.

Words To Eat By
"A pasty costly-made,
Where quail and pigeon, lark and leveret lay,
Like fossils of the rock, with golden yolks
Imbedded and injellied."--Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Related Stories
10 Best Food Scenes in Halloween Movies10 Halloween Food Pranks10 Most Terrifying Attractions for Halloween

Words To Drink By
If all be true that I do think,
There are five reasons we should drink;
Good wine—a friend—or being dry—
Or lest we should be by and by—
Or any other reason why.
--John Sirmond, French writer of the 1600s.