The Food Almanac: Tuesday, April 2, 2013

It's National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day!

Peanut Butter and Jelly

Annals Of Citrus
Today in 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon landed in Florida. He carried orange and lemon trees with him and planted them, beginning the now-enormous citrus industry in the Sunshine State. From which, in the past few years, we have not received fresh oranges, to our concern and dismay. Florida suffered major freezes and hurricane damage in 2004 and 2005, and it seems that all the orange crop is now going into the frozen concentrate stream. Alas.

Eggs In Politics
The first Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn was to have taken place place today in 1877, but it rained. Games for kids involving Easter eggs had been going on for many years, mostly on the grounds of the Capitol, but problems with crowds moved President Rutherford B. Hayes to organize it better. By 1878, it became an official White House tradition, and hardly a year has been missed since, except during wartime. After the eggs are raced with spoons across the lawn, everyone goes out for eggrolls and egg sushi rolls.

Today's Flavor
Many sources say it's National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day. My friend Dick Brennan Sr.'s take on the matter says all that needs to be said. "You know why kids like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Because they're good."

However, we're more interested in today's designation as Seafood Beignet Day. A beignet is any fried lump of dough--not just the kind we get with cafe au lait at the Morning Call. The English translation is "fritter." You can make up the dough with seafood and herbs inside, fry it, and serve it with something like an aioli. The best I know about are the bacalaitos that Chef Adolfo Garcia makes as an appetizer or a tapas at Rio Mar. I'm no fan of codfish (the main seafood ingredient in these) but the rest of the concoction is too light and delicious to disdain. Similar things can be made with crawfish, crabmeat, shrimp, or any seafood.

Deft Dining Rule #918:
Never take a bite from a beignet if there's a possibility that one of the people you're with is about to say something funny.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Egg Harbor City, New Jersey, population 4545, is twenty-two miles northwest of Atlantic City. It was incorporated in 1858 by German investors from Philadelphia, and had a powerful German heritage until around World War I. The name comes from a Dutch explorer who found many eggs on the banks of the rivers in the area. Those rivers are almost gone now, and the town has no harbor at all. The noteworthy places to eat are the Culinary Gardens and the Harbor Diner, where you can certainly have an omelette.

Edible Dictionary
mace, n.--A lacy covering over a nutmeg, which in turn is the nut of a fruit growing on a tree in the East Indies. When the fruit is freshly picked, the mace looks like bright red wax poured over the nutmeg. After it's dried, it turns light brown. Mace has a flavor somewhat similar to that of nutmeg, but with more aroma and a less assertive flavor--often described as being a combination of cinnamon and pepper. Its most common use is as a spice in apple pies. I'll bet it's in Fig Newtons. It's also interesting in barbecue sauce.

Food Through History
Today in 1863, the women of Richmond--then the capital of the Confederacy--rioted because they had no bread, flour, or salt. That lack was due to the starvation strategy of Union forces. They knew that little wheat was farmed in the South, and they burned every cornfield they found. The Yanks also occupied all sources of salt, including the famous mines at Avery Island in Louisiana. The women rampaged through town, breaking into stores and commissaries and taking home loads of food. With his own wife causing havoc, what chance did Johnny Reb have?

Music To Make Wine By
Marvin Gaye, whose version of I Heard It Through The Grapevine was a signature song of the Motown Sound in the 1960s, was born today in 1939.

Music To Bake Cakes By
Eileen Barton had a top hit on this date in 1950 with the song If I Knew You Were Coming I'd've Baked A Cake. If you happen to hear this song coming on the radio (very unlikely), turn if off immediately. It can lodge itself in your consciousness and not leave for days.

Food In Show Biz
Buddy Ebsen was born today in 1908. He was best known for playing Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies, in which there were more than a few hilarious moments when Jed disdained the fine food and wine that came his way for the white lightning and Mammy's cooking. But in real life Ebsen was a gourmet. One of his favorite restaurants was Antoine's in New Orleans. Once he visited the kitchen there, and stopped right in the middle of that expansive space. All the cooks stopped what they were doing when they saw Ebsen's very familiar face face. He looked around for a moment, and said, in his Jed Clampett voice, "Wheee doggies!" (True story.)

The Saints
Today is the feast day of St. Urban, the bishop of Langres (France) in the Fourth Century. He had a special relationship with the people who grew grapevines for the making of wine (sacramental and otherwise). So he is one of many patron saints of winegrowers, barrelmakers, and alcoholics.

Food Namesakes
Keren Woodward, of the rock group Bananarama, was born today in 1961. . . Charlemagne, King of the Franks and the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, was born today in 742. An incomparable white Burgundy, Corton Charlemagne, is named for him.

Words To Eat By
"What will be the death of me are bouillabaisses, food spiced with pimiento, shellfish, and a load of exquisite rubbish which I eat in disproportionate quantities."--Emile Zola, French writer and gourmet, born today in 1840.

"Eggs are very much like small boys. If you overheat them or overbeat them, they will turn on you and no amount of future love will right the wrong."--Irena Chalmers, British cookbook author.