The Food Almanac: Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Staff Writer
It's National Pesto Day!
Wikimedia Commons/ Flusel

Pesto is a blend of fresh basil (the top flavor note), garlic, olive oil, grated Parmigiana cheese, and toasted pignoli (pine nuts). It's named for the pestle and mortar used to grind the ingredients into a near-paste.

Today's Flavor
The International Agency For Food Holidays reports this is National Pesto Day. Pesto is a blend of fresh basil (the top flavor note), garlic, olive oil, grated Parmigiana cheese, and toasted pignoli (pine nuts). It's named for the pestle and mortar used to grind the ingredients into a near-paste. Some say that's the only way to make it right, but almost all pesto these days is made in a food processor. (If the food processor had been invented first, the same people would proclaim that it's wrong to use mortar and pestle.)

Pesto is most often used as a room-temperature sauce for pasta, but it turns up saucing all sorts of other foods. In recent times, clever chefs have had fun substituting other herbs for the basil and other nuts for the pignoli. (That's because basil isn't available year-round, and pine nuts are the most expensive part of pesto.) This is the time of year when many of us start making a lot of pesto, to use up the surplus basil we have growing outside before the first frost hits it.

The classic pesto blend is the culinary trademark of Genoa and the surrounding Ligouria area of Italy. Traces of its history go all the way back to Roman times. It has a unique, fresh deliciousness that bespeaks spring and summer. The most traditional chefs refuse to make it in the winter.

Edible Dictionary
basil, n.----One of the most popular of fresh herbs, basil's very name--from basileus, a Greek word meaning "king"--tells of its importance. It originated somewhere in the Middle East, probably between Iran and India. It moved both east and west, and to this day is widely used in cuisines from Southeast Asia (particularly in Thai cooking) to western Europe (where it's essential in Italian cooking). The leaves give off an unmistakable aroma and flavor when crushed. The sensation is in the direction of anise, but with other qualities. Different varieties of basil--and there are dozens--taste like lemon, chocolate, and cloves. Basil is incomparably better fresh than dried. It's usually added at the end of of a recipe because its flavors cook out quickly. It is usually planted annually, but the plant can live for years if the flowers are pinched off and it doesn't freeze.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
The best thing to do with your bumper crop of fresh basil before the first freeze gets it is to make an enormous batch of pesto, without the pignoli. Then freeze it. It lasts forever.

Annals Of Sugar
Today in 1901, the trademark of Domino Sugar was registered with the U.S Patent Office. The American Sugar Company of New York City (the world capital of sugar refining) created blocks of sugar in the shape of dominos, and they were so distinctive and popular that the name wound up on all their products. The main American Domino sugar refinery is in Arabi, just east of the New Orleans city limits. It can produce between seven and eight million pounds of sugar per day.

Annals Of One Too Many Cocktails
The Great Chicago Fire started this night in 1871. The destruction was so widespread that few structures were left standing (the Watertower is best known among them). Almost 100,000 people were left homeless. The legend was that Mrs. Patrick O'Leary's cow kicked over a lantern and started it, but officially the story is that Pegleg O'Sullivan (the Irish seem to still catch the blame) knocked over that lamp when he entered the barn looking for milk for making whiskey milk punch. Was he having brunch?

Food On The Air
Bandleader Ozzie Nelson and his girl singer Harriet Hilliard were married today in 1935. On this same date in 1944, they premiered in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, a weekly radio sitcom. They moved to television in 1952, where they remained until 1966. Their show captured perfectly the innocence of the Fifties and early Sixties. Watch the show and note that a) Ozzie did not apparently have a job; 2) Harriet was always cooking, but the Nelsons hardly ever ate; and iii) Harriet always dressed as if she were about to go out to dinner, but they didn't do that, either. This was before most of America discovered the pleasures of the table (we Orleanians knew all about them, of course). They slept in separate twin beds, too. These were the good old days?

Gourmet Gazetteer
Pine Nut Creek is usually a dry wash running across the desert flatlands twenty miles south of Carson City, the capital of Nevada. A ridge mountains high enough to have ski resorts separates the creek from Lake Tahoe, nine miles to the west. Pine Nut Creek emerges from Fish Spring Flat, where a number of springs and well feed it a little bit of water. When a rainstorm comes, Pine Nut Creek it can suddenly carry a wall of water. That enabled it to cut a 200-foot-deep canyon along its way. It finally ends up in a series of canals, which control floods in what had become a new area for residential development. It's enough water to allow some farming. If the fields grow basil, they have everything they need for pesto, with the pinyon pine nuts.

Deft Dining Rule #138
Those visually perfect sliced black olives you find on chain pizzas and in salad bars may as well be made of wax for all the flavor they have.

Food In Science
Harry Gilbert Day was born today in 1906. He spent most of his career determining what roles the chemical elements played in human nutrition. He established those minimum daily requirements you see on the sides of vitamin bottles. He's best known for developing stannous fluoride--Fluoristan, the cavity-retarding ingredient that made Crest into the best-selling toothpaste in the land.

Food Namesakes
Long-time college football coach Pepper Rodgers took the Big Field today in 1931. . . Actor, singer, and dancer Max Crumm spoke his first lines today in 1985. He won the Grease audition-competition to be in the revival of the play on Broadway in 2008.

Words To Eat By
"A well-made sauce will make even an elephant or a grandfather palatable."--Grimod de la Reyniere, early French food writer.

Words To Drink By
"Health is what my friends are always drinking to before they fall down."--Phyllis Diller.