AlmanacSquare January 8, 2017

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras– 48
Valentine’s Day– 48

Annals Of Bacon And Beans

The Battle of New Orleans was fought in the vicinity of Chalmette two hundred years ago today. It was the the last battle in the War of 1812. The war had already ended, but word hadn’t reached the 7500 British troops. They slogged through the swamps in what is now St. Bernard Parish, where they met defeat in Chalmette by Andrew Jackson’s collection of 3100 back-bayou defenders. Who took a little bacon and a little beans, so that a rhyme could be made with a mispronunciation of “New Orleans.” The battle was a rout, with 2000 British killed. It turned Andrew Jackson into a hero both here and nationally. His statue stands in the most prominent possible place in New Orleans.

Today’s Flavor

Today is National Vol-Au-Vent Day. Or, to translate into Creole, Pattie Shell Day. Made in sizes from that of a thimble to that of a coffee mug, vol-au-vents are made of two layers of puff pastry cut into circles. The top layer has a hole cut in the center. When stacked and then baked, they become cups to contain concoctions that typically run to the rich and saucy. The name translates “fly on the wind,” which suggests the ideal lightness of these puff pastry cups.

Puff Pastry Shell, also known as vol-au-vents.

Unlike the smaller patty shells, vol-au-vents are usually made with a cap of pastry to cover the contents to keep them from cooling. The cap is always tilted off center, so the contents inside the vol-au-vent can be seen. Larousse Gastronomique says that vol-au-vents were invented and named by Marie-Antoine Careme, famous French chef and author of the nineteenth century.

In New Orleans, vol-au-vents are most often made into a dish called oyster patties–little vol-au-vents filled with oysters in thick sauce, baked a little more to make them crusty. Nine out of ten of these are terrible, usually because the the sauce is too thick. In the hands of a skillful chef, however, vol-au-vents can be fantastic. The best I ever had was a sweetbreads and mushroom dish made by Chef Denis Rety at the short-lived but brilliant Le Chateau in Gretna. The vol-au-vent was about five inches across and three inches deep, and was delicious enough to compete with the goodness of the creamy sauce and rich sweetbreads. You’d never know it was a close cousin to the gross little oyster patties forced upon you at wedding receptions.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

If you have a delicious dish whose consistency registers as glop to some diners, and if it doesn’t seem right to serve over rice or pasta, bake it in a vol-au-vent. Everyone will find it very fancy.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Eaton is a small in sparsely-populated northeastern Maine, five miles from the Canadian border and at mile marker 117 on US 1. Its small concentration of houses is near the crossing of the New Brunswick Southern Railway. Just to the east is a natural lake formed by Crooked Brook. Fishing is great in there. Good thing, because the closest restaurant eatin’ is twenty-four miles east in McAdam, Canada: The Family Cafe.

Edible Dictionary

oyster sauce, n.,–A prepared sauce found in bottles in the Asian section of the supermarket. It’s dark brown and very thick, spreadable but not pourable. A staple of Chinese cooking oyster sauce is made with actual oysters, soy sauce, salt, sugar, and water. It’s used to flavor and darken Chinese sauces. One story has it that a cook making an oyster soup forgot that it was on the fire, and when he checked the pot he found a thick, dark sludge. He bravely tasted it and liked the flavor, and started making it on purpose. Oyster sauce has been used in Chinese cooking since the latter 1800s.

Annals Of Candy

Walter E. Diemer, the inventor of bubble gum, was born today in 1905. (He also died on this date, in 1998.) Diemer was working for the Fleer Chewing Gum Company as a bookkeeper, but his interest in the product was fervent enough that he often fooled around in the test kitchen. He made a five-pound sample of pink gum that was both softer and more stretchable than standard gum base. It was tested in a store in Philadelphia, and became an immediate hit. Diemer not only created the gum but the technique for blowing gum bubbles, which he had to teach to his salesmen. He said that the most amazing thing about his gum was not its popularity but the fact that most of it is still pink, as if that were part of its essence. Fleer still makes Dubble Bubble.

Food At Sea

Today in 2004, the RMS Queen Mary 2 was christened by Queen Elizabeth II, the granddaughter of Queen Mary. At the time, it was the largest cruise ship in the world, and hailed as the peak of luxury. The Eat Club has traveled on the QM2 twice: an Atlantic crossing and a cruise from New York to Quebec and back. The latter was among of the most enjoyable cruises we have ever taken.

Music To Eat Banana Sandwiches By

Today is Elvis Presley’s birthday, in 1935. About twenty-five years ago a line of wines bearing Elvis’s name and likeness appeared. “Was this Elvis’s favorite wine?” I asked the distributor. “Elvis didn’t drink wine,” he said. “But if he had, this is the wine he would have liked.”

The Saints

This is the feast day of Saint Erhard of Regensburg, who lived in Bavaria in the 600s. He is one of many patron saints of bakers.

Politics And Food

Tonight in 1992, the first President Bush, attending a state dinner in Tokyo, became nauseous and lost his lunch in the lap of the Japanese Prime Minister. The White House explanation was that Bush had stomach flu, a euphemism for food poisoning. Make up your own sushi joke.

Food Namesakes

Soupy Sales, a deliciously wacko comedian who was on TV a lot in the 1960s–frequently with a pie flying in the direction of someone’s face–was born today in 1926. . . Bill Graham, the leading impresario of rock music in San Francisco in the Summer of Love (1967), began his trip today in 1931.

Words To Eat By

“All knives and forks were working away at a rate that was quite alarming; very few words were spoken; and everybody seemed to eat his utmost, in self-defense, as if a famine were expected to set in before breakfast time tomorrow morning, and it had become high time to assert the first law of nature.”–Charles Dickens, referring to the way we eat in America.

Words To Drink By

“Americans may be drinking fewer alcoholic beverages, but they are certainly eating more of them than ever before. Wittingly or un.”–Marian Burros, food writer for the New York Times.

Extra Calendar Page

Today, the Monday after Epiphany, is Plow Day. That’s the day when farmers return to work after the twelve days of Christmas, plus whatever else the calendar allows them to get away with–one day, this year. Here in New Orleans, we wind up postponing anything serious for a month or two longer. Epiphany is the first day of Carnival, and we turn a lot of our attention to that celebration. So, if we did do any plowing around here, it wouldn’t get started in earnest until Ash Wednesday.

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