April 26

Pretzel

Days Until. . .

Jazz Festival--2 Mother's Day--18/strong>

Food Calendar

This is National Pretzel Day. Most of us first encounter pretzels in their small, hard form, the kind you get in a bag for a crunchy, salty snack. When I was a kid, the most common pretzels were sticks, sold in small rectangular boxes for a nickel. Now the traditional pretzel shape, which was supposed to represent a boy's arms when at prayer (the story has it that the original pretzels were the reward for learning one's prayers), dominates the pretzel market. Soft pretzels, long a street food in New York City and elsewhere, have become more widely available, especially in food courts in malls and airports. They're made of a bread dough that doesn't rise very much, and so has a dense texture. They're habit-forming. I have thought for a long time that pretzels are long overdue to turn up in the bread baskets of restaurants trying to offer something a little different.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Beer begets pretzels, and vice-versa.

Food And The Law

Today in 2006, Chicago passed its infamous ban on foie gras in restaurants. The law was pushed by people who say that the process of raising ducks for foie gras--the fattened liver, brought about by overfeeding the birds-- is inhumane. This is widely disputed. Despite the law, some restaurants continued to serve foie gras, and restaurants outside the city limits of Chicago that never served the expensive delicacy before started selling a lot of it. Two years later, the ban was struck down, and the city has returned to its senses. (Especially the sense of taste.)

Essential New Orleans Figures

John James Audubon was born today in 1785 in what is now Haiti. He moved to France in his youth and began drawing birds--the art that made him famous. He came to the United States when he was eighteen, moving around the country for the rest of his life. He spent enough time in New Orleans that, after the Cotton Centennial Exposition of 1884 closed, its site was named Audubon Park. Which, appropriately enough, is the home of the Audubon Zoo. Audubon Park's claim to culinary fame is the Zoo To-Do, which may be the most copied charitable fundraiser in the world. It's the most remunerative non-medical fundraiser in the country. Begun in 1972, it was an original idea: chefs from the city's best restaurants came in to serve their best specialties, while wine and cocktails were being poured, music played, and patrons walked around in formal dress. It's still a sellout every year. This year's Zoo To-Do is Friday, May 5, 7 p.m. until midnight. Click here for tickets.

Edible Dictionary

jerky, n.--Thin slices of salted, dried meat--most often beef. Needing no refrigeration, taking up little space and not weighing much, beef jerky could be carried by people who needed to travel long distances through areas where food might be at a premium. It's most closely associated with American cowboys, who got the idea from their Mexican predecessors in the West. The name is a slurring of the Spanish word for the process,charquit. Jerky was often dried over a wood fire, and picked up a smoky flavor. It has now become a staple snack food. It's also featured in barbecue festivals and competitions. They guys who make barbecue often make jerky out of meats that went a little too long in the smoker.

Eating In City Park

Coincidentally, this is the birthday, in 1822, of Frederick Law Olmsted. He was the father of large, natural city parks, starting with New York's Central Park. Our own City Park was developed along Olmsted's principles. An exception was made to Olmsted's design for Central Park when the Tavern on the Green was built in it. That restaurant, with sales of over $37 million a year, was the busiest independent restaurant in America until it went bust and closed in 2009.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Burgundy Street begins, as many New Orleans streets do, at Canal Street. It runs at the bottom of the topmost blocks of the French Quarter, then through the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods. It's interrupted (what isn't?) by the Industrial Canal, but picks up on the lower side and continues all the way to Jackson Barracks, at the Orleans-St. Bernard Parish line. It is named for the large province in central France, the ancestral home of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wine grapes. The top Burgundian red wines are among the best and most expensive in the world. The efforts of Le Meritage (the best restaurant on Burgundy Street) not withstanding, there is not nearly enough Burgundy wine drunk on Burgundy Street. The big-time nonconformity about the street is the way its name is pronounced in New Orleans: burr-GUN-dee. If you say it the same way you would when asking for the wine, it will immediately flag you as an out-of-towner.

Food In Music

Mashed Potato Time, a dance record by Dee Dee Sharp, hit Number One on the pop charts today in 1962. To do the Mashed Potato, you pretend that a baked potato is on the floor, and you're mashing it with your foot. (I am not making this up. I actually did this dance on a 1960s television show for teens.)

Food and Drink Names

A play called Jelly's Last Jam opened today for 569 performances on Broadway, about Jelly Roll Morton. . . Sir Edwin Alliott Verdon Roe, the first person to build and fly an airplane in England (in 1908), was born today in 1877. . . Pete Ham, a member of the Beatles soundalike group Badfinger, was born today in 1947. . . Olympic basketball player Robert Boozer was born today in 1937.

Words To Eat By

"A food is not necessarily essential just because your child hates it."--Katherine Whitehorn.

Words To Drink By

“It takes only one drink to get me drunk. The trouble is, I can't remember if it's the thirteenth or the fourteenth.”--George Burns.