The Food Almanac: Wednesday, June 5, 2013
The Web rumor is that today is National Gingerbread Day, but that makes no sense at all--gingerbread, as we all know, is for the holidays. However, a local variation on gingerbread deserves annual celebration. It's the cookie called the stage plank. The origin of the stage plank, and even whether it is unique to this area, is unknown. The most primitive and best form of it comes from the sugar cane country southwest of New Orleans, where they were made with molasses. Those stage planks are thicker and softer than the standard, but like all stage planks they're oblong, have scalloped edges, and either white or pink hardened icing. They have a spicy flavor over a background of caramelized sugar. The most famous stage planks here were Jack's Rock 'n' Roll Cookies. They were much thinner--about an eighth of an inch--and brittle. I remember from my grocery-store days that long after the price of all other cookies had gone to a dime, the double pack of Rock 'n' Roll stage planks remained a nickel. In any case, when you buy a snack today, remember that this is Stage Plank Day.
molasses, n.--A thick, dark syrup created in the process of crystallizing cane sugar (or, less commonly, beet sugar). It starts with the juice extracted from the sugar cane, which is boiled down. The sugar crystals are usually extracted three times from the boiled juice. Each extraction leaves behind a progressively darker molasses. The darker it is, the more bitterness it carries, as the sugars caramelize. The darkest molasses, called blackstrap, has the greatest concentration of minerals (iron in particular) and vitamins, and so was for a long time used as a medicine. Sulphured molasses is made from immature sugar cane, and is inferior in flavor to unsulphured molasses. Molasses is not exactly the same thing as cane syrup, although the two products have similarities of flavor and texture. The word "molasses" descends from the Latin word for honey.
Molasses Junction, Florida is twelve miles inland from St. Augustine and the Atlantic coast. It is well-named: this is sugar cane country, the waving fields covering the flat land to the horizon in every direction, interrupted only by the sheds for the harvesting equipment and the occasional sugar mill. The latter makes molasses, as one of its products. The nearest restaurant is Jim's Place, in the small town of Elkton, where the sugar growers meet for lunch.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
A barbecue sauce made without molasses will not be memorable.
Great Moments In Wine
Today in 1988, the cork from a bottle of sparkling wine at Woodbury Vineyards in New York State was ejected by one Heinrich Medicus in such a way that the force of the natural carbonation propelled it 177 feet, nine inches--the world's record. The bottle was neither warmed nor abnormally treated (although I'll bet Heinrich shook the bottle a little).
Annals Of Fresh Fruit
Today in 1876, at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, bananas were first sold to the American public at large. They'd been eaten before, but as something exotic, since getting them to market before they rotted had only recently become possible. Their popularity took off, and they became the most popular fruit in this country.
Food And Politics
In the early days of margarine's marketing, the dairy industry used all the political stroke it had to keep this new competitor at bay. For example, for a long time margarine could not be colored yellow, leaving it an unappealing white color unless you mixed a drop of annatto color into it yourself. Today in 1877, the first such measure was passed in New York, placing a tax on margarine that butter makers didn't have to pay. It was only seven years since margarine had been invented. We'd consider this a tax on bad taste, and wish there were a way to levy such a thing on. . . oh, fried Twinkies, pork belly entrees, and Vienna sausage.
Alluring Dinner Dates
Italian mezzo-soprano singer Cecilia Bartoli's birthday was today in 1966. Her singing is as beautiful as her looks, highlighted by her famously dramatic eyes. She records and performs both opera and romantic music. My fantasy is to have her join us for dinner at Cafe Giovanni and sing a few songs. Then to permit me to perform a duet on "If I Loved You" with her. I can dream, can't I?
The Apple II, generally considered the first personal computer, premiered today in 1977. (The Apple I, in case you're interested, was just a circuit board; you had to find your own keyboard, monitor, and case.)
Today is the feast day of St. Boniface, a Benedictine monk who brought Christianity to Germany in the 700s. He is thepatron saint of Germany,and (logically enough) of beer brewers.
Food On Broadway
Monty Python's Spamalot won three Tony Awards today in 2005, including Best Musical.
NFL footballer Todd Burger hit the Big Scrimmage today in 1970. . . Gospel music pianist and singer Anthony Burgerwas born today in 1961. . . Rock drummer Zac Farro was born today in 1990. (Farro is a kind of primitive wheat, which has been making a comeback lately.)
Words To Eat By
"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."--Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, born today in 1723.
Words To Drink By
"The only things that the United States has given to the world are skyscrapers, jazz, and cocktails. That is all. And in Cuba, in our America, they make much better cocktails."--Federico Garcia Lorca, Spanish writer, born today in 1898.