The Food Almanac: Wednesday, August 28, 2013

It's National Cornbread Day!
Douglas P Perkins

When you start talkin' 'bout cornbraid, ya gotta git yersef into a Southern draaaawwwwwl.

Annals Of Condiments
Today in 1837, pharmacists John Lea and William Perrins introduced the sauce that bears their name, and the generic name Worcestershire sauce. They concocted it from fermented anchovies, tamarinds, molasses, vinegar, garlic, chili peppers, cloves, and a few other things, on the orders of Lord Marcus Stanley. Stanley had just returned from many years in India, and he was trying to duplicate a sauce he's become addicted to there. (Most likely, it was something along the lines of Southeast Asian fish sauce, variations of which are widely used in cooking there.) 

The first attempt tasted horrible. Lea and Perrins left it in a barrel in their basement and forgot about it for two years. When they found it again, they discovered that it had fermented into something rather good. And the rest is history. We use it constantly in our cooking, as does most of the English-speaking world.

Annals Of Wine Marketing
The venerable Beringer winery in St. Helena, in the Napa Valley, was bought today in 2000 by the Foster's Brewing Company of Australia. Beringer had, under previous owners, already evolved into a medium-low-end winery with a few excellent flagship wines. It seems to me that in the Foster's years their overall quality has improved a bit, but that may be because wines in general have improved a lot. In any case, Beringer's wines have become more popular.

Food On The Air
Today is the anniversary of the first paid-for broadcast commercial, aired on New York radio station WEAF for an apartment development, today in 1922. Until that time, everyone was excited about radio, but nobody had figured out what would pay for the costs of broadcasting. This was the answer. Or an answer, anyway. It keeps my radio show alive, that's for sure.

Today's Flavor
It's National Cornbread Day. Cornbread has a distinctly country, home-cooked identity. When you start talkin' 'bout cornbraid, ya gotta git yersef into a Southern draaaawwwwwl. I guess that's why we only rarely see cornbread in restaurants. Or it could be that restaurants can't buy ready-made cornbread of any quality. It must be baked on site. But why not? It's simple enough: cornmeal, flour, baking powder and soda, eggs, milk, oil. Unless you want to get ambitious an add cheese and jalapeno peppers and the like. Which is not a bad idea.

Most cornbread is baked in a cast-iron pan, from the kind that has impressions of ears of corn to full-size black iron skillets. The main controversies over cornbread are over texture and sweetness. The more flour in the mix, the smoother the crumb. You use more cornmeal if you like it good and crumbly. All cornbread has at least a little sugar in it, but some recipes have quite a lot, and taste distinctly sweet. Both flavors have vocal partisans who love one and hate the other.

Cornbread may be too assertive to be served as the only bread on a dinner table, but certain dishes cry out for it. Red beans and rice, fried catfish, and barbecue come to mind. The best cornbread in New Orleans is the jalapeno cheese cornbread at K-Paul's, followed closely by Emeril's cornbread with whole corn kernels inside. Most of us have always had our cornbread at home, for breakfast. My mother gave it to us right out of the oven, with cane syrup to dip it in. Dat's good stuff, yeah.

Edible Dictionary
cush-cush, n.--An old Creole and Cajun breakfast dish made by combining cornbread--usually stale pieces left over from a few days ago--with milk or cream and sugar, and simmering it until soft. The name probably comes from the sound the stuff makes when you work it with a fork, to get the cream to soften the old cornbread. I say this with some authority, because I used to watch my mother make it (for herself--nobody else was interested) when I was a kid. There's also a story that the name comes from couscous--the northern African dish of granular pasta--through some roundabout adaptation in Cajun country. Although not may people eat cush-cush anymore, the dish lives on in a football cheer for the LSU Tigers. It must be said with a Cajun accent, and it comes out like this: 

Hot boudin and cold coosh-coosh 
Come on Tigers, poosh poosh poosh!

Gourmet Gazetteer
Cornville, Maine 04976 is in the central part of the state, fifty-five miles west of Bangor. It's in a rolling part of the state where farms long ago gave way to woods, but there are still quite a few large plantings in the area. Cornville is a crossroads community of such farms, with a spread-out population of about 1200 people. It has a long history, having been settled in 1794 and incorporated four years later. I'll bet the holiday season is pretty around there. You have to drive five miles into Skowhegan to eat in a restaurant. We recommend the Golden Eagle.

Food In Medicine
Today in 1878, George H. Whipple was born. He's the man who discovered that pernicious anemia, a problem you don't hear about much anymore, can be addressed by feeding the patient liver. Or the essence of liver, which is how it's done now. I'd much prefer to eat the liver, especially if it's the Provimi veal liver at Clancy's or Pascal's Manale. . . Also, the Oral B trademark for dental floss was registered today in 1951. Now it's on everyone's lips.

The Saints
This is the feast day of St. Augustine, former man about town, gourmet, lover of wine, and all-around playboy who reformed and became one of the greatest early philosophers of the Church. As Bishop of Hippo, in Northern Africa, he has come to be revered by those of African descent. I was baptized in St. Augustine's Church in the Treme section of New Orleans, and spent first and second grades in their school. This is probably not mere coincidence: St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest permanent European town in the United States, was founded today in 1565.

Food Namesakes
Anne "Honey" Lantree, the drummer with the British rock group The Honeycombs, was born today in 1943. . . Former U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg Rosemary Ginn was born today in 1912.

Words To Eat By
"If you ever have to support a flagging conversation, introduce the topic of eating."--Leigh Hunt, British writer, who died today in 1859.