The Food Almanac: Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Staff Writer
It's Midsummer!
Stu Spivak

Today is Midsummer Day, the halfway point between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox. This datum triggers two emotions. The first is joy that half of the summer is ahead. The second is disappointment that we've let the first half go by without having a picnic on the lakefront. Another dichotomy: you have either a month and a half more of long, sunny days, or that much more sweltering heat. It's either get away for vacation before school starts (which it does this week, for some kids), or start watching the tropical storm satellite images for the bad part of that season. Whatever. At the very least, get these things done in the next few weeks:

Chill with a sno-ball.
Drink a mint julep.
Make a meal of chilled crabmeat, shrimp, and (why not?) oysters.
Have a midsummer night's dream.

Food Calendar
Today is Jerk Day, in honor of Jamaican Independence Day. (See below.) Jerk is the Jamaican barbecue. It differs from the American counterpart in relying less on smoke for its flavor and more on a peppery seasoning. Jamaican jerk seasoning is a wet rub, made by pureeing peppers, onions, and herbs. Two distinctive ingredients are Scotch bonnet peppers (the Jamaican name for habaneros) and pimento (allspice berries). They slather the chicken or pork and marinate it overnight. Then roast it in a closed outdoor grill over charcoal (most authentic: branches from the allspice tree) at about 250 degrees for enough time (an hour for chicken, six hours for pork) to get it crusty on the outside and about 170 degrees on the inside. And then you will be a jerk chef.

Today is also Root Beer Float Day. Isn't that a brown cow? That question exhausts the topic.

Far-Flung Creole Cuisines
Today is Independence Day in Jamaica, which ceased to be a British colony today in 1962. It continues to be part of the British Commonwealth. Its food is fascinating, particularly to New Orleanians. It's another flavor of Creole. The Jamaican everyday dish--rice and peas--fills the same role that red beans and rice does here. Jerk cooking (see above) is a Jamaican culinary signature. 

Two uniquely Jamaican foodstuffs are ackee (a starchy fruit related to the cashew, it looks like scrambled eggs when cooked) and what they call pimento (we call it allspice, which is the berry of a specific tree). Curried goat is another very popular and delicious Jamaican specialty.

Other Jamaican flavors you're familiar with are Pickapeppa Sauce and Myers "Plantation Punch" rum, a critical ingredient in making the Hurricane cocktail. Jamaica's unique culture and magnificent tropical scenery are, unfortunately, compromised by tremendous poverty, lack of resources, crime, and political inefficacy. (Sound familiar?) Click here for a good collection of Jamaican recipes.

Annals Of Latin American Cooking
Today in 1825, Bolivia became an independent country. It's named after Simon Bolivar, the South American liberator. I have seen Bolivian restaurants in New York, but we've never had one in New Orleans. Lima beans are very popular there. Here's a page of recipes for distinctive Bolivian dishes.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Banana Island is in Kings Bay, deep in the marshes where the Florida peninsula joins the panhandle, thirty-nine miles southwest of Ocala. It is shaped like a very curvy banana, and is a quick kayak paddle (or even a swim) from the fishing and recreational boat docks of Crystal River. Banana Island is jungle-like and uninhabited, but manatee-watching excursions often go there. Paddle the quarter-mile back to the docks for lunch at the Crystal River Ale House.

Edible Dictionary 
ackee, n.--A yellow, fleshy vegetable that constitutes one of the favorite foods of Jamaica, where it's cooked with sated cod. The ackee so much resembles scrambled eggs that the dish is most often served for breakfast. The edible part surrounds the seeds in the fruit of a tree imported to the island from Africa. The fruit itself, and the seeds, are poisonous. The fruit suddenly breaks open when ripe, and when the seed coats are exposed to light the poison dissipates--although not in the seeds themselves, nor in the rest of the fruits. Every year, a certain number of people die in Jamaica after eating underripe ackee. I've had it a couple of times. It not only looks like eggs, but sort of tastes like them.

Deft Dining Rule #121
Crispy fish skin is so delicious that you should never miss a chance to eat it.

Food In Science
Alexander Fleming was born today in 1881. He is the man who discovered that the green mold that grows on bread, cheese, and other foods has a property that kills bacteria. It took a while to figure out how to use that effect for disease prevention, but it resulted in penicillin. Which brings up a question: if penicillin kills bacteria, and it's manufactured by the mold that grows on blue cheese, should we eat as much blue cheese as we can?

Food In Show Biz
This is the birthday, in 1911, of Lucille Ball. Her groundbreaking television show I Love Lucy was such an icon of early television that it probably still is on the air somewhere in the world at all times. Among the most famous episodes are two involving food and wine: the chocolate factory scene and the grape-stomping episode. I Love Lucy was a reworking of a successful radio show Lucy did with the same producer. My Favorite Husband ran along the same plot lines, but with a different (and compared with Desi Arnaz, very normal) husband.

Food In Art
This was the birthday, in 1928, of Pop Artist and glitter pied piper Andy Warhol. Among Warhol's most memorable paintings were frank, cartoon-like renderings of Campbell Soup cans, among other food items.

Food And Drink Namesakes
Actress Soleil Moon Frye was born today in 1976. She was Punky Brewster on television. . . Adrienne Curry, winner of the first season of America's Next Top Model and former waitress, was born today in 1982. . . Goose Gossage tied a major league record with his 300th save today in 1988, for the Cubs. . . Speaking of baseball, early Philly Sherry Magee was born today in 1884.

Words To Eat By
"Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. Teach a man to create an artificial shortage of fish and he will eat steak."--Jay Leno.

Ultimate Jamaican Jerk Tour

Words To Drink By
"The health of the salmon to you: a long life, a full heart and a wet mouth!"--Irish toast.