April 30

Louisiana Day. Fair Food. Raisin. Casey Jones. Godfrey. Loose Tea. Vietnamese Food. Farina.

Today is allegedly National Raisin Day. Raisins are ultra-ripe red grapes. They remain on the vine until wrinkled and intensely sweet. The same effect comes from picking the grapes and letting them ripen in open baskets. Raisins are very good for you, but not everybody likes them. In every pan of bread pudding--in which raisins are a common ingredient--I put all the raisins on one side, leaving the other raisin-free. ¶ The strangest use of raisins I ever heard of was a game played in England a century ago. You put raisins in a bowl of brandy and ignite them in a darkened room. The game was to reach into the flames and pluck out raisins, then eat them. They'd still be on fire, but as soon as you closed your mouth the flames would be extinguished. We do not recommend this game. ¶ I also note that today ends <strong>National Soy Foods Month.</strong> Darn! We forgot to do anything about that!

Days Until. . .

Mother's Day--10

Roots Of Creole Cuisine 

Today in 1812, the Territory of Orleans was admitted to the United States as the State of Louisiana--the eighteenth state. This is also the day, in 1803, when Thomas Jefferson signed the Louisiana Purchase, making it officially part of the United States. Our state is named for King Louis XIV of France--the Sun King. Even by royal standards, he lived in high style. His taste for great food and wine encouraged the development of French cuisine, which New Orleans inherited as part of the empire.

Music To Eat Red Beans By 

Today is the birthday (1925) of Johnny Horton, who recorded the hit song The Battle of New Orleans in the 1950s. It was one of many songs that requires the tourist pronunciation of our city's name: Well they took a little bacon and they took a little beans,
And they fought the bloody British in the town of New Orleans.

Food Calendar 

Today is allegedly National Raisin Day. Raisins are ultra-ripe red grapes. They remain on the vine until wrinkled and intensely sweet. The same effect comes from picking the grapes and letting them ripen in open baskets. Raisins are very good for you, but not everybody likes them. In every pan of bread pudding--in which raisins are a common ingredient--I put all the raisins on one side, leaving the other raisin-free.The strangest use of raisins I ever heard of was a game played in England a century ago. You put raisins in a bowl of brandy and ignite them in a darkened room. The game was to reach into the flames and pluck out raisins, then eat them. They'd still be on fire, but as soon as you closed your mouth the flames would be extinguished. We do not recommend this game.I also note that today ends National Soy Foods Month. Darn! We forgot to do anything about that!

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

If wine is better with age, and a raisin is a grape with age, why do grapes taste better than raisins? And would you get the aged-wine taste if you made wine with raisins? Many questions to be answered here.

Gourmet Gazetteer

One of the many towns named Orange is in central New Hampshire, forty-nine miles north of Concord. It's a rural township of 312 people, incorporated in 1790. The name comes from the color of the clay in nearby Mount Cardigan, made yellow-orange with hydrated iron oxide. It's certainly not named for the citrus fruit, whose trees can't live through the New England winter. This is mountainous terrain. Mount Cardigan rises to 3155 feet two miles east of Orange. The nearest restaurants are two miles away in Canaan. I like the sound of Dishin' It Out.

Dinner In The Diner 

Casey Jones ran off the rails in the great train accident that immortalized him in song. It happened near Vaughn, Mississippi, some fifty miles north of Jackson. The City of New Orleans used to cross the very spot where the Cannonball Express met its demise, but is now routed to the west. All the chicken gumbo in the dining car drained into a ditch, but they never talk about that. Hmph.

Music To Eat On The Road By (Again!)

This is the birthday (in 1933) of Texas country music icon Willie Nelson, as fine a writer as he is a performer. Among his many gifts to the word is his annual Farm Aid concert, helping the beleaguered American family farmer. He doesn't look to me like he eats enough, though.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine 

On this date in 1904, 101 years after the Louisiana Purchase was signed (see above), President Theodore Roosevelt officially opened the Louisiana Purchase World Exposition in St. Louis. The hot dog, the hamburger, and the ice cream cone are all reputed to have been invented there. If they were not, they certainly became popular as a result of the Fair. Dr Pepper, little known before the Fair, was a big hit after.

Edible Dictionary

carambola, n.--A tropical fruit with both citrus and mango-like flavors, refreshing and just tart enough. The most noticeable quality of the carambola, however, is its shape. Longer than it is wide, it has five pronounced ridges running from stem to tip. When cut across, the slices look like five-pointed stars. Hence the nickname "starfruit." It's entirely edible, including the skin. The best carambolas are yellow shading into green, with light browning along the ridges. They're originally from the Southeast Asian islands, but they're now grown anywhere the humidity is high and no freezing takes place. They contain the same compound that causes problems for some people when they eat grapefruit, but are otherwise healthful. They look great on a plate.

Food On The Air 

Today in 1945, Arthur Godfrey began a daily radio show on CBS Radio. He didn't end it until this same date in 1972, when his show was the last remnant of old-time network radio. It was a variety show with live music, interviews with guests, and joking around by Godfrey. Perhaps the most influential program in broadcasting history, its format is still in use by most television talk shows. A Prairie Home Companion is a lot like what Godfrey's show was. Godfrey did all the commercials himself, ad-lib. His most loyal sponsor was Lipton Tea.

Deft Dining Rule #616:

A Chinese restaurant that doesn't brew its tea to individual table order with loose tea leaves is Americanizing most of its menu, too.

Annals Of Ethnic Dining

Today in 1975, the last American helicopter pulled away from the American Embassy in Saigon, as South Vietnam surrendered to North Vietnam, and the Vietnam War ended in embarrassment. An upshot of the pullout was that many Vietnamese people relocated to the United States, many of them here in New Orleans, where they have done themselves proud. Most of our Vietnamese restaurants are at least indirectly descended from that exodus of Vietnamese people here.

Food Namesakes 

Now here's a strange coincidence. Folk singer Richard Farina was born today in 1956. His wife Mimi Farina was also born on this date, in 1945. (She was Joan Baez's sister.) And Johnny Farina--who was no relation at all to any of the above--was also born today, in 1941. Johnny was half of the early rock duo Santo and Johnny, famous for their instrumental hit Sleepwalk. (Farina is a word referring to all kinds of flour.)

Words To Eat By

"A raisin is just a worried grape."--Fred Allen, radio comedian of the 1930s and 1940s.

Words To Drink By 

"A hardened and shameless tea-drinker. . . has for twenty years diluted his meals with only the infusion of this fascinating plant; whose kettle has scarcely time to cool; who with tea amuses the evening, with tea solaces the midnight, and with tea welcomes the morning."--Samuel Johnson.