The Food Almanac: Tuesday, December 17, 2013

It's National Maple Syrup Day!
Wikimedia Commons/ Dvortygirl

Maple syrup is made by collecting the sap that runs up from the roots of a maple tree in the spring to begin the growth of the year’s crop of leaves.

Lucky Dogs In Literature

Today is the birthday, in 1937, of John Kennedy Toole, the author of the novelConfederacy of Dunces. The story of a character (in every sense of the word) named Ignatius J. Reilly takes place in New Orleans in the 1960s. Ignatius (for whom a Magazine Street sandwich shop is named) pursues a very odd agenda while downing Lucky Dogs and washing them down with Dr Nut–a real local soft drink from those times. Toole committed suicide in 1969, after having no luck in getting the book published. It has since become a local classic, and plans to make it a movie have been advanced but never completed. My radio colleague John “Spud” McConnell portrayed Ignatius often enough that a statue of him in character stands in front of the old D.H. Holmes location, where the book begins.

Today’s Flavor

Today is National Maple Syrup Day. Maple syrup of the best quality is such a flavor revelation that it’s a wonder why more of a cult hasn’t grown up around it. It certainly has its fans, but most people have never tasted a real maple syrup, let alone a good one. The best maple syrup is the lightest in color, and comes not from Vermont but Canada. That country makes at least three-fourths of the maple syrup sold worldwide, and the maple syrup you find on your supermarket’s shelf is probably from there. [related]

Maple syrup is made by collecting the sap that runs up from the roots of a maple tree in the spring to begin the growth of the year’s crop of leaves. It’s about ninety-five percent water, which must be either boiled away or removed by reverse osmosis. As is true of most reduction processes, the faster the stuff is boiled the more the flavors suffer. If you’re ever in Canada, ignore the high price of light maple syrup and buy it. Like a good wine, a lot of work goes into making the best maple syrup, and a marvelous flavor comes out.

Deft Dining Rule #992:

Filling each square of a waffle with syrup seems to be the right measure of syrup, but that’s far too much, especially if it’s good maple syrup being used.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Roll, Arizona is in the southwest corner of the state, forty-five miles east of Yuma, about two miles off the I-8. It’s in the middle of a vast area of former flat desert that has become fertile farmland, thanks to irrigation from the last section of the Colorado River before it goes, almost dry, into Mexico. The main line of the former Southern Pacific Railroad runs right through the center of Roll, and if you take the Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Los Angeles, you will too. It’s hot enough around there in the summer that you might be able to bake a roll without using an oven. Although there are fewer than ten structures in all of Roll, one of them is a restaurant: The Tamarack Cafe and Bar.

Edible Dictionary

licorice, n., adj.–The root of the glycyrrhiza glabra plant, whose first name literally means “sweet root.” The licorice root does, in fact, contain a compound whose sweetness is some fifty times sweeter than that of sugar. But other flavor compounds in the root have a higher profile. The unique flavor of licorice–similar to that of anise, but different, too–has been used in cooking for millennia. Licorice also has a long history as a medicine. It soothes the throat and reduces coughing, among many other benefits. Although licorice is a common flavor in candies and other foods, it almost always comes from artificial sources. True licorice is rarely seen outside of health food stores and the very top gourmet restaurants.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

The trick of beating egg whites and cream separately, then incorporating other flavorings and small bits into the mixture, almost never fails to produce a striking dessert.

Food Patents

Today in 1974, the one millionth U.S. patent was awarded to the Cumberland Packing Company, the creator of Sweet ‘n’ Low. The patent was for the product’s logo, a treble clef invoking the musical connotation of the stuff’s name. It was only a coincidence that it was number one million, but Cumberland points to it with pride.

Annals Of Flying And Food

Today in 1903, the Wright Brothers made their first flight at Kitty Hawk, proving their design for the first airplane. The flight was twelve seconds long, which didn’t allow enough time for the snack and beverage service.

Music To Eat Gumbo By

This is the birthday (1937) of Art Neville, the elder statesman of the Neville Brothers and the Meters. We first heard Art’s voice in 1954 on the Hawkettes’ perennial Carnival hit, Mardi Gras Mambo.

Food Namesakes

Émile Roux, a French bacteriologist who was such an early participant in that field that he worked with Louis Pasteur, was born today in 1853. . . Kofi Annan was named Secretary General of the United Nations today in 1996. . . Paul Butterfield, who leads the blues band that bears his name, was born today in 1942. . . Jim Bonfanti, lead singer for the 1970s rock group The Raspberries, was born today in 1948.

Words To Eat By

“A waffle is like a pancake with a syrup trap.”–Mitch Hedberg, American stand-up comedian.

Words To Drink By

Related Stories
5 Breakfast Recipes for Maple Syrup LoversCooking with Maple Syrup — 8 Recipes

“Drink wine every day, at lunch and dinner, and the rest will take care of itself.”–Waverly Root, American food writer of the mid-1900s.