The Food Almanac: Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Today's Flavor
Today is National Hot Doughnut Day. A friend of mine once described hot glazed doughnuts as "heroin." Once you're hooked, you can't help but be wooed by the things, for the rest of your life. Many of us got the bug in the 1960s, when, it seemed, everyone leaving church was required by law to pick up a dozen doughnuts on the way home. Since they were likely still hot from the fryer, they were wonderful and so light that you could down a few of them before overdosing.

Every now and then, doughnuts wheedle their ways back into my life, to my instantaneous pleasure and subsequent distress. Then, of course, there's the whole matter of French Market-style beignets. While beignets are fully fledged as an Authentic New Orleans Food Item, they are no less deadly to the diet. One wishes that beignets were sold singly, instead of in trios. But the waiters insist on giving you the whole order. And you can't help but eat them.

Annals Of Local Food Festivals
Today is the birthday, in 1947, of Quint Davis, the producer of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival since the very beginning in 1970. Although the Jazzfest is best known for the matchless program of music it packs into its two weekends, there is no question that just as many people show up for the food as for the music. This is nothing new. Food has always been front and center at the Festival, from its first running in Congo Square. The Jazz Festival menu is as distinctive as that of any restaurant, offering local dishes that are very hard to find at other times of the year. Indeed, eating the crawfish sacks, sweet potato pone, jambalaya, and meat pies out there is essential to getting into the swing of the thing.

Food Through History
The first European encounter with maize (corn) occurred today in 1492, when the natives of Cuba showed the grain to Columbus. As nourishing and useful as corn is, it was a long time before it caught on. Even now, in places where it is not familiar, it's usually rejected by people as suitable only for animals. But corn is now grown and eaten everywhere. As they did with most New World crops, the Italians took to corn eagerly, particularly in the northern provinces, where polenta–which is almost pure corn meal–is on almost every entree plate.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Lobsterville, Massachusetts is an area along the beach near the westernmost tip of Martha's Vineyard. We'll bet they have more beachside lobster and clam bakes there than they do lobstering operations, the Vineyard being the kind of real estate that it is. The last active commercial fishing port on the Vineyard is a couple of miles away.

Edible Dictionary
clove, n.–1. A spice with a powerful aroma and flavor, cloves are dried flower buds from a small tree in the myrtle family. Cloves were among the spices so much in demand in Europe in the Renaissance that it inspired the exploration of the world. It originally comes from the East Indies, and is still mostly grown there. Cloves are used both in sweet and savory cooking, ranging from apple pies to baked ham. An orange studded with cloves is part of the classic preparation of New Orleans-style cafe brulot. It's also one of the elements of Chinese five-spice powder. 2. One section of a head of garlic. Also known as a "toe."

Deft Dining Rule #471: 
You will never again enjoy doughnuts as much as you did when you were twelve years old. So you may as well quit trying.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
The unfried dough for making your own doughnuts should be so soft that you can hardly pick it up. The oil should be new, heated to 375 degrees (check this with a thermometer), and used to fry only two or three doughnuts at a time.

Annals Of Popular Culture
Today in 1935, Monopoly was released by Parker Brothers, and went on to become one of the most popular board games of all time. Since then, many specialized versions of Monopoly has appeared, but one I've yet to see is one based on restaurants. You'd have Domilese's and Mother's in those first two spaces after GO, and where Boardwalk and Park Place are on the standard board there'd be Restaurant August and Stella! In place of the railroads, you'd have Dorignac's, Langenstein's, Rouse's and Breaux Mart. Could be fun.

Restaurateurs On The Silver Screen
Today is the birthday in 1911 of Leonard Slye, better known as the King of the Cowboys, Roy Rogers. He became famous as the founder and lead yodeler of the greatest cowboy music group of all time, The Sons Of The Pioneers. Then his film career took off. Much later, he licensed his name for a quick-service roast beef sandwich restaurant chain. It's gone from New Orleans, but still live around the country. The sandwich was actually not bad. It was made of real beef, not some sort of processed beef roll, and seasoned with enough pepper to make it convincing. They had better-than-average fried chicken, too. The joke about the place was that after eating there you'd know what happened to Trigger (who, actually, was stuffed and still stands in a museum).

Great Hosts In History
Texas Guinan, an actress and singer who became best known for her saloon in New York, died today in 1933. Her joint was where you'd find the celebrities of the day enjoying their tipples during Prohibition. She was often in the news herself when her place was raided, as it often was.

Annals Of Eating Disasters
Today in 2000, a three-year old California boy was declared dead after he choked on Jelly Yum, a gel-filled fruit candy that lodged in his throat two days earlier. Several more deaths–all of young children–occurred in the next few years, and the candy was removed from shelves.

Celebrity Chefs
Remember Chef Tell? He was one of the early television chefs, and was still active enough in the 1990s that he appeared a couple of times on my radio show. His real name was Friedemann Paul Erhardt; he picked up his stage name when he was a child actor playing William Tell, and it stuck. He started appearing on television in 1974, and continued to make appearances for twenty-five years more. He had a German accent, and that made him easy to parody–as he often was. He owned a couple of restaurants in Pennsylvania. Today is his birthday, in 1943, in Stuttgart.

Food Namesakes
Brian Wheat, the bassist with the rock group Tesla, was born today in 1963. . . French writer Phillippe de Mornay was cooked up today in 1623. Mornay sauce is a bechamel with cheese. . . Actor Nestor Serrano walked onto life's stage today in 1955. Serrano is the Spanish dry-cured ham. . . Professional basketball player O.J. Mayo came out of the jar today in 1987. He has a rare drink-and-food name.

Words To Eat By
"The hole in the doughnut is at least digestible."–H.L. Mencken.