The Food Almanac: Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Turkey Day
Not Thanksgiving, yet, but the National Day of the modern country of Turkey. The Ottoman Empire, defeated in World War I, ceased to exist today in 1923. In its place was a republic led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. In the next few years, the sultanate was abolished and the country became officially secular. Turkey is now quite modern, although still unambiguously Islamic. All the cuisines we think of as Middle Eastern originally came Turkey; Ottoman Empire's long influence installed the Turkish style of cooking from Greece through Israel and Egypt across to Morocco.

Today's Flavor
This is National Oatmeal Day. Oatmeal began to be eaten as a hot breakfast porridge in Scotland. Most of the ways we eat oatmeal in this country are similar to the Scottish recipes. The two kinds of oatmeal both come from the same grain. Steel-cut oatmeal–made by chopping the grains–is preferable, but takes longer to cook. Rolled oatmeal is made by steaming the grains, then squashing them between rollers. Some nourishment and flavor are lost in that process, but it's so much more convenient that it dominates the market.

Since oats are historically grown in cold areas, that's where you find most oatmeal. The competition from grits as the preferred hot cereal in the South adds to the relative rarity of oatmeal there. However, everybody makes and eats oatmeal muffins and cookies, especially since the discovery that they lower cholesterol.

Gourmet Gazetteer
The small rural crossroads called Oats is seventy miles northeast of Columbia, the capital of South Carolina. Oats is on Boggy Gully, a half-mile downstream from a dam that forms Harold's Millpond. The sluggish, swampy waterway leads through others like it to the Pee Dee River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. The town name is also spelled Oates, in honor of Bill Oates, who bought land here in 1824 and began a plantation. By the 1880s, the town had grown large enough to have a school. About 150 people live there now, and farming is still dominant. That's not enough to support a cafe in the town, but you can eat at Mr. B's (no connection with the one on New Orleans), two miles away in Hartsville.

Edible Dictionary
farro, farro, n.–An early form of cultivated wheat grown in the Mediterranean since prehistoric times. It's also known as emmer or spelt, but some authorities claim that it's subtly different from both. It's cooked and eaten as whole grain, especially in Italy. A soup of farro is still popular there, thought of as very homely. In this country, farro is largely the province of health food stores and their customers, but in the past few years some chefs have begun cooking it to add variety to the grain side of their menus.

Turning Points In Cooking
Today in 1929 was Black Tuesday, the day Wall Street laid an egg (as Variety reported). The stock market lost about a fifth of its value in one day, an event often noted as the beginning of the Great Depression. Those hard times changed eating habits for a lot of people. Many of us know (or were descendants of) folks whose styles of cooking were very frugal. My own mother (and most people of her generation) were that way. One of the first books written by legendary food writer M.F. K. Fisher was on this subject: How To Cook A Wolf, referring to the proverbial wolf at the door. Those who filled the gaps left when the fearful backed away from work and life did well.

Deft Dining Rule #202
If a restaurant owner complains to you about how tough times are right now, he is trying to persuade you of the necessity of his lowering standards. Expect a less than perfect meal.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
Before you add oats to cookies or muffins, put them into a skillet over medium heat, dry, and let them brown a little around the edges. Gives a nice toasty flavor.

Food Namesakes
Steven Sweet, drummer for the heavy metal band Warrant, was born today in 1965. Their song Cherry Pie went platinum. . . Yankee shortstop Frank Baker was born today in 1946. . . LaVern Baker was inducted into the Rock and' Roll Hall of Fame today in 1990.

Words To Eat By
"Good taste is innate, and knowing with certainty when and how to break the rules–and when not to–is a talent few possess."–Michael McLaughlin, food writer, author of The Mushroom Book.

Words To Drink By
"Woman first tempted man to eat; he took to drinking of his own accord."–Unknown, from Four Hundred Laughs by John R. Kemble, 1902.