The Food Almanac: Tuesday, July 2, 2013

It's National Anise Liqueur Day!

Food Calendar
Today is National Anise Liqueur Day. Anisette--a generic name for that spirit--was once very popular around America. Its anise flavor is what most people identify as like licorice. Many other liqueurs have it--notably absinthe and its many substitutes (Pernod, Ricard, and the locally-produced Herbsaint). You also find that flavor in Greek ouzo, and Italian Strega, Galliano and Sambuca. Those have largely supplanted the generic anisette in bars and homes. Not only do they make interesting cocktails, but they're often used in cooking. The most famous dish with anise liqueur as an important flavor is oysters Rockefeller. Around New Orleans, the sauce is almost always doused with Herbsaint.

The big news on this front right now is the return of genuine absinthe to the market. It is now generally accepted that well-made absinthe does not carry the poisonous substances that resulted in a ban against it a hundred years ago. That toxin came from wormwood, an herb used in the making of absinthe. But the problem substance doesn't persist through distillation. So The Green Fairy (absinthe's nickname) is back. You may even see it served with water drizzled over a sugar cube on a flat, filigreed spoon set atop the little glasses designed for the purpose. Absinthe was so popular in the 1800s that a ritual grew up around its serving.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez: 
Most chefs drink more Herbsaint than they cook with.

Restaurants And The Law 
Today in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, which prohibited the denial of publicly-offered services on account of race. Here in New Orleans, many restaurants still excluded African-Americans from their dining rooms, or required that they sit in segregated dining rooms. Such policies were rarely stated publicly, but were understood. Restaurateurs worried about what would happen when blacks suddenly appeared in restaurants. 

But not all. Dick Brennan, who was running Brennan's with his family, told me, "We decided not to worry about it, and to just let it happen. We never had any kind of problem." Other restaurants were more defensive. Some became private clubs--the only way they could legally remain all-white. I almost entered one of these in the early 1970s, but stopped when I saw the "Private Club" sign on the door. The owner, who was standing on the sidewalk, said, "Whoa! You looking to have dinner? Hold out your hand!" I did. He looked at it carefully. "That's white enough. Come on in!" The fact that such a story now sounds shocking tells us how far we've come.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine 
Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy's Hamburgers (and father of Wendy), was born today in 1932. He accomplished what seemed impossible at the time: taking a big chunk of the fast-food hamburger market from McDonald's and Burger King. He did it by moving the product a bit upscale (not enough to make it a great hamburger, but never mind), and by creating the drive-through window. The latter innovation did more for Wendy's than the former. But now the whole hamburger business is moving upscale, and Wendy's can be credited for starting that trend when it opened in 1969.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Quail, Texas is in the high, lonely plains of the Panhandle, ninety miles east of Amarillo. It's cattle country, and irrigated grain-growing country. It's what you're flying over when you look down and see perfect circles of green in perfect squarers of tan. You can drive a long way around there without seeing the end of it. Although if you fall into Palo Duro Canyon, just south of Quail, you'll find it beautiful, if very hot. The nearest place to pull up and eat is the town of Wellington, ten miles away, where you'll find Itza Italian Restaurant and The Quail Store.

Edible Dictionary
pancetta, Italian, n.--A section of pork belly with about equal amounts of fat and lean, dry-cured with salt and herbs for a few months. It's much like bacon, except that pancetta is not usually smoked. Most commercially available pancetta is cut into thinner slabs than is typical for bacon and then rolled up. Its most familiar use in this country is in the recipe for spaghetti carbonara. But it's also employed in many other recipes--not all of them Italian--when the fat, meaty saltiness of cured pork is wanted, but not the smoky flavor of standard bacon.

Food Namesakes
Singer and bass player Pete Briquette, of the Boomtown Rats, was born today in 1954. . . Actress Kathryn Erbe, who made a movie with a food name (Chicken Soup) was born today in 1966. . . Country singer Marvin Rainwater yodeled his first notes today in 1925. (Rainwater is the name for a variety of Madeira wine.) . . . Classical conductor Frederick Fennell raised the Big Baton today in 1914. . . George Law Curry, newspaper publisher and last territorial governor of Oregon, was born today in 1820.

Words To Eat By
"Food is an implement of magic, and only the most cold-hearted rationalist could squeeze the juices of life out of it and make it bland. In a true sense, a cookbook is the best source of psychological advice and the kitchen the first choice of room for a therapy of the world."--Thomas More.

Words To Drink By
"They speak of my drinking, but never think of my thirst."--Unknown, Scottish.