May 25

Black Pepper

Days Until. . .

New Orleans Wine And Food Experience Begins Tonight. Greek Festival 1

Eating And Drinking Calendar

Appropriately enough, today is National Wine Day. But that's absurd. Every day is wine day. This is also National Beer Week and National Frozen Yogurt Week. Plenty of time to honor both. Of much greater interest is Worldwide Black Pepper Day. The dried berries of the piper nigrum plant are without question the world's most important spice, second in its use as a seasoning only to its tablemate salt. Its original home--both in terms of its growth and its use as a seasoning--is Southern India. In ancient times, the flavor it added to food made it so valuable that its trade created vast fortunes and altered world politics. Even with all the other seasonings we now have, it's hard to imagine cooking without pepper. The berries (drupes, really, with one seed inside) grow in clusters of several dozen on stalks. They're picked when they just begin to ripen and turn red. After they ferment in a pile for three or four days, the berries are spread out in the sun to dry. Black pepper comes from the fully-dried berries. White pepper is made by washing the skins off the black peppercorns, resulting in a milder flavor. Green peppercorns are the same berries, picked before they ripen, after which they're either dried or pickled. They too are milder than black peppercorns. While the uses of black pepper are so numerous it might be easier to make a list of savory dishes that don't contain it, the use of a great deal of black pepper in a dish is rarely explored. I love what happens when you really load the pepper on.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Apricot Street is in the Carrollton section of New Orleans, running (mostly one-way) from South Carrollton Avenue to the city limits at Monticello Street. It's interrupted for about a half-block by the Earhart Expressway, a block away from the historic but now defunct Barrow's Shady Inn. From the 1940s until Katrina, Barrow's was a leading contender for the title of Best Fried Catfish in New Orleans. Apricot continues on the other side of Carrollton Avenue as Walmsley Street. Two blocks from that intersection is the closest restaurant to Apricot Street: Ye Olde College Inn.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

In honor of Worldwide Black Pepper Day, empty all your pepper shakers and peppermills into a container. Use that for cooking. Now wash the pepper shakers (how does that opaque residue build up so fast) and refill them with fresh pepper from a newly-opened can. And put fresh peppercorns into the mill. Doesn't that make you feel virtuous?

Edible Dictionary

scungilli, [skoon-ZHEEL-ee], Italian, n., pl.--An American-Italian dialect word for whelks--a large sea snail with a shell resembling that of a conch, to which it is related. Scungilli are more talked about than eaten these days, and then much more in the Northeast than anywhere else in America. Mario Batali says that the dish has roots in Naples, and that the word is a mispronunciation of sconciglio. He also says that you'd have better luck finding them in Asian markets than Italian ones. I have never seen scungilli in any New Orleans restaurant or home. My saying this will flush out of hiding any people here who do eat them.

Deft Dining Rule #176:

If you find yourself in a Chinese restaurant that claims to use true Szechuan peppers in its dishes from that spicy cuisine, you are in luck.

Music To Eat Fried Chicken By

On this date in 1878, Luther "Bill" Robinson was born. He was more famously known as Mr. Bojangles, the one referred to in at least two songs. Years after he died, his name was taken up by a new fried chicken chain. It served hot biscuits with its chicken instead of the insipid white rolls that the chicken chains had always given. The biscuits were so good and popular that all the other chicken chains followed suit.

Food On The Road

Speaking of fast food: On this date in 1965, the Gateway Arch was dedicated in St. Louis. When I first saw it in person, my reaction was typical, according to my St. Louis friend and sometimes food writer Ann Lemons. I was surprised that its color was silver, not gold. "You're thinking about McDonald's," she chided me.

Condiment Corner

Unconfirmed sources report that on this date in 904, prepared mustard--a paste made from the seeds of the mustard plant, with various liquids and flavorings added--was first made, in France. More details as they become available.

Sounds Food Related, But Isn't

The Diet Of Worms ended today in 1521 when Holy Roman Emperor Charles V declared Martin Luther a heretic. Worms are edible, but have never caught on. Some years ago a rumor got started that McDonald's was substituting worms for beef in its hamburgers. They quickly proved this untrue by pointing out that the price of worms was much higher than that of beef.

Food In Medicine

Andrew Moyer received a patent today in 1948 for creating a method of producing massive amounts of penicillin. Big deal. The multiple loaves of bread in my pantry do that all the time.

Food Namesakes

Cookie Gilchrist, tied for the record number (five) of touchdowns in a single pro football game, was born today in 1935. He played for the Buffalo Bills. . . . Raymond Carver, who was a writer of poetry and short stories, was born today in 1938. Popular guy at Thanksgiving, I'll bet.

Words To Eat By

"You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity."--Ralph Waldo Emerson, American philosopher, born today in 1803. Here's another line from him: "The more he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons."

Words To Drink By

"Wine is sunlight, held together by water."--Galileo Galilei.