The Food Almanac: Wednesday, January 29, 2014

It's Louisiana Caviar Day!

Choupique caviar is a first-class caviar by any standard. The grains are black and on the small side, but the flavor is so good that very little salt is used in its manufacture.

Tom Fitzmorris publishes The New Orleans Menu.

Today’s Flavor 

Today is Louisiana Caviar Day. This is an amazing regional product, as you know if you have a taste for caviar and have tried the stuff. It comes from a primitive fish that lives in the Mississippi River and the Atchafalaya Basin. Ichthyologists call it a bowfin; the local name choupique (pronounced “shoe-pick”) comes from a Native American word that means “mud fish.”

This is the time of year when choupique caviar is harvested. The process of making it from the fish’s roe was developed by a family living in the Atchafalaya Basin. John Burke, a young, failed oilman, thought it had possibilities and marketed it under the name “Cajun Caviar.” He later changed the name to Choupiquet Royale.

Choupique caviar is a first-class caviar by any standard. The grains are black and on the small side, but the flavor is so good that very little salt is used in its manufacture. It was still a very new product when, in 1989, I bought two pounds of it from Burke for $25 a pound to serve at our wedding reception. I put the cans out there on the ice, with the classic accompaniments. Those who were at the party who knew caviar were very impressed that I would serve such great caviar so liberally. They were amazed when I told them what it was. I wouldn’t hesitate to serve it whenever caviar is called for. Here’s more about it.

According to many Web sources, today is National Corn Chip Day. As in Fritos, and Doritos, and. . . well, here’s a list of dozens of different kinds of corn chips. How many have you eaten? That’s too many.

Edible Dictionary 

tomatillo, Mexican Spanish, n. — The name means “small tomato” in most Spanish-speaking parts of the world — except in Mexico and the United States. There it’s the most common of several names for a golf-ball-size green, fleshy, unsweet fruit covered with a loose, papery husk. It’s related to the tomato, and once the husk is removed and the tomatillo is cut open, it does resemble a small green tomato. The flavor is different, however. It has a distinct acidity that’s almost citrusy. It’s becoming increasingly popular in Mexican cooking in this country, and has been used for centuries in Mexico itself. In the store, the husks have often dried and become brown, giving a strange appearance. But the tomatillo inside is probably still fresh and tasty.

Deft Dining Rule #716:

The reason God made your tongue the strongest muscle in your body and your palate hard is so you can squish and break caviar in the way that releases most of its deliciousness.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

If you’re going to garnish a hot dish with caviar, put the caviar on top of something else (a little slice of endive, a little piece of toast, a rolled-up anchovy) at room temperature. Then place that on top of the dish, at the last minute. Hot caviar is not a good idea.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Strawberry, Arizona 85544 is in the beautiful, wooded, mountainous center of the state, 107 miles north-northeast of Phoenix. It’s an affluent community with many retirees; the average price of a home is $400,000. About a thousand people live there. The town is in Strawberry Valley, with the towering Mogollon Rim to the north creating a dramatic vista. Lots of places to eat in Strawberry, including the Strawberry Lodge and the Mogollon Steakhouse in the center of town. Uncle Tom’s Food Court is two and a half miles down the road. I’d like to go there someday.

Food Inventions

The Lester Milk Jar — the first milk bottle for distribution to consumers — was patented today in 1878. It was not very easy to use. A special clamp was needed to keep the cap on. Other milk bottles soon came along that improved upon it, and the era of bottled milk was underway.

The first machine that rolled waffle-like wafers into ice cream cones was patented today in 1924. The inventor was Carl Taylor, in Cleveland, Ohio. Dies to impress the sides of the wafers were on a turntable, such that each one had time to cool enough to get a little stiff before they were rolled up. (Otherwise they’d be squashed.)

Music To Eat Pineapple By

Today in 1891, Queen Liliuokalani, sister of the deceased King Kalakaua, ascended the throne of Hawaii. She was the last Hawaiian monarch, abdicating under duress about four years later after American businessmen seized power. She lived under very benign house arrest in a mansion in the middle of Honolulu, where it remains a tourist attraction. Liliuokalani wrote the most distinctive of all Hawaiian songs, Aloha Oe, among many others. Many years later, the melody of that song would be used in television spots for a Mississippi Gulf Coast development called Pass Christian Isles.

Music To Eat Crowder Peas By

Blues master and guitarist Leadbelly (real name Huddie Ledbetter) was born on a plantation north of Shreveport today in 1885. He claimed to be the world’s fastest and best cotton picker, but he is more famous for his groundbreaking blues music. He had much to be blue about. 

The Saints

This is the feast day of St. Juniper, a Franciscan monk who joined the order so early that St. Francis himself inducted him. A story about Juniper has it that a sick man wanted to eat a pig’s foot. Juniper cut the foot off a pig, cooked it, and gave it to the man. The owner of the pig was not happy about it, but Juniper showed so much remorse that the farmer gave him the rest of the pig, too.

Food Namesakes

I know we’re in trouble when I have to go to cricket stars for food names, but it’s strange that I found three of them from that list, and none from any other walk of life! Simon Cook, a star cricket bowler (that’s what they call their pitchers), born today in 1972. . . and Chris Pringle, a New Zealand cricketer, born today in 1968. . . and Bob Berry, a British left-handed cricket bowler, was born today in 1926. I ate chocolate-covered crickets once.

Words To Eat By

“Caviar is to dining what a sable coat is to a girl in evening dress.”–Ludwig Bemelmans.

Words To Drink By

Today is the birthday, in 1880, of W.C. Fields, a comic actor with a style of speech so distinctive that he’s still being imitated, long after his death. His character was famous for his love of drink, so he has many memorable lines on that subject:

“Once in the wilds of Afghanistan I lost my corkscrew, and we were forced to live on nothing but food and water for days.”

“Hey, who took the cork off my lunch?”

“I did not say that this meat was tough. I just said I didn’t see the horse that usually stands outside.”

“’Twas a woman who drove me to drink. I never had the courtesy to thank her.”

About water: “Never touch the stuff. Fish —- in it.”

And his most famous:


“Everyone must believe in something. I believe I’ll have another drink.”