The Food Almanac: Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Food Through History
King Charles VI was born to rule France today in 1368. He raised court cuisine to new high, largely by hiring Guillaume Tirel to run the royal kitchen. Tirel became known simply as Taillevent, and published the first major French cookbook. One of the most famous restaurants in Paris bears Taillevent's name.) It was during the rule of Charles VI that Roquefort cheese gained its recognition as a special food because of the place it came from–the first appellation-controlled substance.

Annals Of Indigestion
Today is the birthday, in 1931, of Alka-Seltzer. It's aspirin combined with sodium bicarbonate (the chemical name for baking soda). The claim was that the effervescence got the pain-relieving ingredient into the parts of the body that needed it faster. Maybe. Water–of which you drink a glassful to take an Alka-Seltzer–also helps a headache, and the bicarbonate has a soothing effect on the stomach. Alka-Seltzer went on to recommended itself as a cold remedy, but that may go a little far. Still a good product, and it gave rise in the 1960s to Fizzies, which were the same kind of tablet but with fruit flavors instead of aspirin.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
If you think you need an Alka-Seltzer, try a club soda first and see if that doesn't do the job.

Annals Of Home Economics
The founder of the science of homemaking, Ellen Swallow Richards, was born today in 1842. She was an accomplished scientist, and the first woman student and first woman teacher at MIT. She felt that women who stayed home to rear children should know enough science to be able to run their households more effectively.

Today's Flavor
Today is National Apple Pie Day. Apple pie, as American a dessert as can be imagined, is in a period of decline right now. Think about it: when is the last time you ate a slice of apple pie? In New Orleans, most pies on restaurant menus are either pecan or sweet potato pies. Other than chain restaurants, I can't think of five restaurants that routinely serve apple pie anymore.

Here's why. Apple pie is perceived as very sweet, and the crust is traditionally made with trans-fats. On top of that (literally), the temptation to top the pie with ice cream is hard to resist. That adds up to more calories, perhaps, than the entire remainder of the meal.

But a good apple pie–made with fresh, firm, slightly acidic fruit and a light crust–is a wonderful thing. And there's no reason we have to maintain the sticky-sweet style that was in vogue during the 1940s and 1950s. A great apple pie will be baked on the premises–although you wouldn't believe how many upper-end restaurants just take their pies out of a box.

The greatest mystery concerning apple pie is how the practice of topping a hot apple pie with a slice of American cheese ever got started. It makes no sense from any perspective.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Cranberry, North Carolina is near Cranberry Gap, a crossing of the Appalachians, very close to the Tennessee border. It's unlikely that a big crops of cranberries are found around there, but it's certainly possible that the grow wild. The town was founded over a hundred years ago as a coal and iron mine, which made it prosperous. Now Cranberry is in a camping and resort area, with numerous hotels along US 19E and in the bigger town of Elk Park, a mile or two up the road. The places to eat are the Times Square Diner and the Old Country House Restaurant.

Deft Dining Rule #707:
Beware of apple pies served from thin, disposable plastic pans. That's a sign that the pie came into the restaurant completely finished. If the pie is in a solid metal pan, they probably baked it in house.

Edible Dictionary
cream meal, n.–A blend of cornmeal and corn flour in approximately equal proportions. It's seasoned and used for coating fish, especially catfish. I believe this is a local expression used around New Orleans, most often by African-American cooks. I first heard it from Billy Barrow, the late owner of Barrow's Shady Inn, the finest place to eat fried catfish until the storm. Other cooks I mentioned it to knew exactly what it was. It's not something that's sold at retail; you have to make it yourself.

Food In The Theatre
A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams's most successful play (it won a Pulitzer Prize, too), premiered on Broadway today in 1947. It made an instant star of Marlon Brando, who played Stanley. His love interest, Stella, was played by Kim Hunter. Those two characters inspired the naming of Chef Scott Boswell's restaurants, the five-star Stella! and the less ambitious soda fountain Stanley.

Food Namesakes
Toi Cook, pro football cornerback, kicked off his life today in 1964. . . Green Berry Raum, a Union general in the Civil War, was born today with his double food name in 1829. . . Pro wrestler Ray Candy began acting out today in 1951. . . John and Greg Rice, twin dwarves, were born today in 1951. They had a successful career in infomercials.

Words To Eat By
"Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness."–Jane Austen.

"If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe."–Carl Sagan.

"If all the world were apple pie,
And all the seas were ink,
And all the trees were bread and cheese,
What would we have for drink?"–Mother Goose.

Words To Drink By
"I know how the nuts taken in conjunction with winter apples, cider, and doughnuts, make old people's tales and old jokes sound fresh and crisp and enchanting."–Mark Twain.