The Food Almanac: Thursday, September 26, 2013

It's National Pancake Day!
Wikimedia Commons/ Potesara

Making pancakes is so simple that I've never understood why anyone uses a mix for them.

New Orleans Chef's Hall Of Fame
Today in 1972, Chris Kerageorgiou opened La Provence, a little west of Lacombe, in what had been the dining room of a small defunct motel. He went by the name Chris Kerras back then; he didn't think anybody could handle his real name. He was well-known to New Orleans diners. He had been the maitre d' at the Rib Room at the Royal Orleans, and then at the Royal Sonesta. But he wanted to explore his own ideas. He went into the kitchen (he'd done that before, on cruise ships) and put together a menu of familiar New Orleans dishes. But the menu was sprinkled with tastes from his native South of France, as well as a few tastes from his Greek background. Chris sold La Provence in 2007 to John Besh (who cooked at La Provence on his way up), and shortly after passed away. He is a permanent member of the pantheon of most loved New Orleans chefs.

Today's Flavor
It's rumored that today is National Pancake Day. The day on which pancakes are most widely celebrated is Shrove Tuesday. Mardi Gras. We're too busy here in New Orleans with other things that day to do much with pancakes, so we'll take the cue.

Pancakes were more popular forty or fifty years ago than they are now. Restaurants specializing in pancakes were a big deal. The Buck Forty-Nine was as much a pancake house as a steak house, and its menu listed dozens of varieties, which they served with a rack of some six flavors of syrup. Rick's on Canal Street and the Tiffin Inn also made sure Orleanians got their share of pancakes. Here and there around America, a widely-imitated franchise called the Original Pancake House keeps the flame alive. Begun in the 1950s, those places take pancakes to the limits, with a number of variations that boggles the mind.

Now pancakes are hard to find in New Orleans restaurants. They don't like to make them, because they take up a lot of space on the grill. The few restaurants that make pancakes don't do a very good job of it. The Tiffin Inn is still at it. So is the Peppermill, a descendant of the old Buck Forty-Nine. The Abita Cafe turns out flapjacks that are almost impossible to finish because of their size. But not many other purveyors are out there.

Making pancakes is so simple that I've never understood why anyone uses a mix for them. The batter is essentially one of everything: one cup of flour, one egg, one cup of milk, one heaping tablespoon of sugar. Flavor it with a little vanilla and cinnamon, and add a bit of butter or oil, and that's about it. (The exact recipe is elsewhere in today's edition.) It's best if the batter sits for a few minutes before you pour the first one onto the griddle.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Pancake, Pennsylvania is in the center of the state (in the well-named Centre County, yet!), thirty-two miles north of the city of State College, where is Penn State University. It's up in the forested hills, a collection of small farms along Pancake Road. But you'll have to make your own pancakes if you want some there. The nearest restaurant--Snow Shoe Exit 22 Restaurant--is two miles away, on I-80.

Edible Dictionary
blini, n., Russian--The plural form of blin, a Russian word for a small , unsweet pancake. The word is related to blintz, although the two pancakes are a bit different. Blini are classically made with buckwheat flour and leavened with yeast. More often--especially in this country--they're made with all-purpose flour and baking powder instead, plus a little sugar. Blini are usually two to three inches in diameter and a quarter-inch thick. They're most famously used as a carrier for caviar, usually with a dollop of sour cream as a buffer. You pick one up and eat the whole thing.

Deft Dining #533
The first pancake in a batch is always the worst one. The second one is the best.

Food In The Wild
Johnny Appleseed (real name, John Chapman) was born today in 1774. He was a real person, who really did plant thousands of apple trees all over the eastern United States. He was romanticized as a delightful eccentric, wearing a pot as a hat, usually going around barefoot. What is not well known is that his apple trees were meant for the making of hard cider. Apples do not grow true from seeds. If you plant the seeds from a single apple, the trees will give you five different kinds of apples, none of which will be like the original apple. All of them probably will be nearly inedible. The only thing they're good for is making an easy alcoholic beverage. I'll bet that changes the image you had of the guy from your children's books.

Food In Science
Today was the birthday, in 1754, of Joseph-Louis Proust, a French chemist. He studied sugars, among other things, and found that most sugars are very similar, no matter what their original source was.

Annals Of Cookbook Writing
Lafcadio Hearn, the author of what is generally considered the first Creole cookbook, La Cuisine Creole, in the 1880s, died today in 1904.

Food In Show Biz
The movie Soul Food premiered today in 1997. Starring Vanessa Williams, it's the story of a mother who maintains a family tradition of Sunday dinner at home, and what happens to the family when it stops. Not good, you can bet on that. That's the downside of our much-increased reliance on restaurants.

Food Namesakes
TV Actor Philip Bosco was born today in 1930. . . Actor Donald Cook hit the big stage today in 1901.

Words To Eat By
"It is contrary to the will of God to eat delicate food hastily."--Chinese proverb.

Words To Drink By
"One sip of this will bathe the drooping spirits in delight, beyond the bliss of dreams."--John Milton.