The Food Almanac: Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Annals Of Gelato
Today is the anniversary of the 1905 opening of Angelo Brocato's ice cream parlor. Brocato began a career of making ice cream in his native Palermo when he was twelve. He immigrated to New Orleans in the early 1900s, and set about realizing a dream: to open his own gelateria as fine as the ones he remembered in Sicily. He did that with a classic parlor on Ursulines Street in the French Quarter in 1905. The original Angelo Brocato's remained there until the 1980s, when it moved to North Carrollton Avenue just off Canal. By that time the business was in the third generation of the Brocato family, and had become the gold standard for its spumone, cannoli, cassata, lemon ice, cookies, and dozens of other confections. They were in the throes of celebrating their one hundredth anniversary when the storm came, flooded their parlor and factory deeply. Brocato's came back, though, picking up right where it left off, to the great delight of ice cream lovers.
Today is National Tequila Day. Tequila is growing in popularity every year, thanks largely to the many new tequilas hitting the market with their many claims to excellence. The best tequila is made by distilling the fermented juice of the blue agave, a desert plant that grows in Mexico and the Southwest United States. (Cheaper tequilas are not always made entirely from agave.) As is true of the better Cognacs, Scotches, and Bourbons, the quality factor in tequila comes from selecting which agave from which locations are used, how carefully the distillation process is, and how long the spirit is aged. As better tequilas come along, aficionados of the stuff grow ever more enthusiastic and particular. And tequila gets ever more expensive. Last night I had dinner in El Gato Negro in the French Market, and found a large cabinet full of hyper-expensive tequilas, most at upwards of $12 a shot. One variety of Patron was going for $45. I honestly think we've been fooled into thinking this is worthwhile.
sotol, n.--Considered the standard alcoholic beverage of the Chihuahuan Desert region of Mexico and Southwestern Texas, sotol is made from the thick central stem of the sotol plant. It's a relative of the blue agave, the plant used to make tequila. Sotol is still made widely in the region, although its commercial distribution is nearly zero. After the long leaves are cut off (the people make baskets out of them), the leaf stubs can be pulled out of the plant to reveal a spoon-like, fleshy swelling which can be eaten like an artichoke. (This feature gives the plant its nickname, the "Desert Spoon.") There's enough starch in there to make it possible to make a sort of beer, which can then be fermented into the alcoholic shots. It's a lot like inexpensive tequila in flavor, if not exactly like that.
Sotol Vista is a well-named spot in Big Bend National Park in west Texas. The road that leads from the main park highway down to the magnificent Santa Elena Canyon descends a ridge of mountains into the valley of Blue Creek. The creek is dry most of the time, but when it rains in the mountains it can turn into a rushing rapids. All around there are thousands of sotols, distinctive plants with long, thin leaves coming out of a central core. It's striking enough a view that there's a spot to stop and take a long look. And that's all there is to Sotol Vista. The cores of sotols were eaten by the people who lived in the Chihuahua desert for thousands of years. I hear they taste like artichokes, and you eat them the same way, too. If that doesn't appeal, head to the former ghost town of Terlingua, just west of the park, and lunch at either the Chili Pepper Cafe, the Roadrunner Deli, or Kathy's Kosmic Kowgirl Kafe. Terlingua is twenty-six miles from Sotol Vista.
Annals Of Food Writing
This is the birthday, in 1802, of the French writer Alexandre Dumas. Although he is best known for his famous stories The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, he also write extensively about food and wine. His great work in that field was Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine, in which he not only held forth in numerous articles about the art of eating, but also had copious notes about wines.
Food And Politics
Today in 1959, Richard Nixon (then the Vice-President) and Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev had a heated discussion while touring a kitchen in Moscow. The event became known as the Kitchen Debate, and kicked up a lot of favorable publicity for Nixon. In an unrelated coincidence fifteen years later on this same date, Nixon was ordered by the Supreme Court to turn over sixty-four subpoenaed White House tapes.
Annals Of Bad Coffee
Nescafe, the first commercially successful instant coffee, hit the Swiss market today in 1938. The process took eight months for the Nestle Company to get right. What happens is that brewed coffee is sprayed into a heated stainless-steel cylinder, where all the water evaporates and crystals of coffee are left behind. This is something like letting your coffee dry up to a crust at the bottom of the pot (and we've all done this), then adding water to it and swirling it around till the crust dissolved again. Why anyone would buy that strictly for the slight convenience advantage is incomprehensible.
Bob Lemon, a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, hit two home runs today in 1949. Unusual for a pitcher to hit one homer a year, let alone two in one game. . . John Partridge, British actor and singer best known for his performance in Cats, was born today in 1971. . . Banana Yoshimoto, a Japanese novelist, was born today in 1964. Her real name is Mahoko.
Words To Eat By
Today is the birthday, in 1842, of Ambrose Bierce, an American satirical writer whose book The Devil's Dictionary has provided us with more than a few quotations for this department. Among them:
"Cabbage, n.: A familiar kitchen-garden vegetable about as large and wise as a man's head."
"Chop, n.: A piece of leather skillfully attached to a bone and administered to the patients at restaurants."
"Custard, n.: A detestable substance produced by a malevolent conspiracy of the hen, the cow and the cook."
"Edible, adj.: Good to eat and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm."
"Fork, n.: An instrument used chiefly for the purpose of putting dead animals into the mouth."
"Mayonnaise, n.: One of the sauces which serve the French in place of a state religion."
"Rarebit, n.: A Welsh rabbit, in the speech of the humorless, who point out that it is not a rabbit. To whom it may be solemnly explained that the comestible known as toad-in-the-hole is really not a toad, and that ris de veau à la financière is not the smile of a calf prepared after the recipe of a she-banker."
Words To Drink By
"One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor."--George Carlin.