June 1

Delmonico. Marilyn. Sno-Balls. Nectar. Hurricane Season. Cheese Names. Original Whiskey.

Days Until. . .

Father's Day--20

Restaurant Anniversaries

Today in 1998, Emeril Lagasse reopened Delmonico after a $4 million renovation. Delmonico celebrated its one hundredth anniversary just the year before. At the time sisters Angie Brown and Rose Dietrich, who owned it, were looking for someone to take it over. Emeril's plans for the old building appealed to them, so they made the deal. At first the new Delmonico was a very elaborate, old-school restaurant along French service lines. Lots of tableside preparations and flaming this and that, even though the style was high Creole. They backed away from that when Chef David McCelvey redid the menu and turned it into what I thought was the best of Emeril's restaurants. The hurricane put them out of action; the renovation cost exceeded the one in 1998. Delmonico has evolved since the hurricane into a steak specialist, although it has a widely various menu. The most recent edition of it emphasized small plates.

The Chilling Season.

Summer for a lot of people is June, July, and August. For them, summer begins today. In New Orleans, summer equals sno-balls. This is National Sno-Ball Day, declared some years ago by the National Sno-Ball Museum on the corner of Tchoupizine and Magatoulas, Uptown. The NSBM had a little trouble getting traction in the rest of the country, where what we call a sno-ball is a) called a sno-cone and b) not nearly as fine (in every sense of the word) as it is here. The idea of shaving ice and then flavoring it with a sweet liquid is ancient. The Romans did it; it's possible that the Egyptians, who knew how to make ice, may have made something like sno-balls even earlier. Now the treat is found worldwide. However, nowhere else in the world is it more popular or taken to greater extremes than it is in New Orleans. Sno-ball stands are everywhere, and are a local cultural phenomenon of such importance that people from other places find it hard to believe. The number of variations and preferences for sno-balls is, for all practical purposes, infinite.A sno-ball hardly needs to be explained to a New Orleanian above the age of two. But I will anyway, adding to the definition the criteria for a sno-ball of the highest quality. The best sno-balls are ground from ice kept at a temperature of zero degrees or lower, using a machine along the lines of the Ortolano Sno-Wizard. Invented in a shop on Magazine Street in the 1930s, the Sno-Wizard is a square box (aluminum now, wooden originally). Inside is a ratcheted panel that shoves a block of ice against a spinning disc fitted with blades. These blades are replaced several times a season in the best sno-ball shops, to keep the ice fine.The ice shoots out of a chute into a waiting cup. The maker (or his assistant, in busy shops) douses it with the flavor or flavors specified by the customer. If the ice is properly fine, this will have to be done at least twice, because the flavorings can't filter all the way to the bottom. It's served with both a spoon and a straw. (A hopeful but failed innovation a couple of decades ago was the spoon-straw, its bottom end splayed out into a spatulate shape. It worked well as neither a spoon nor a straw.)Discussions about which sno-ball stands and flavors are the best fill many hours of conversation--no small number of them on the radio. Most sno-ball stands have already been open for months; a few are open year-round now. A summer without sno-balls is like a mother without a smile.Today is also the beginning of National Dairy Month. Also National Candy Month, National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month, National Iced Tea Month, National Papaya Month, and National Seafood Month. We'd better get to work on all that.

The Worst Season

On a more serious note, today is the start of the Hurricane Season in the Atlantic and Caribbean zones. The season, will go on until the first of December. The peak of the season is in August and September, with another spike in October.

Deft Dining Rule #435:

Any sno-ball will taste better with one-third less syrup than the pimply kid making it will probably want to flood it with.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Snowball, Arkansas is in the north central part of the state, in a relatively flat valley in the midst of the Ozark Mountains. Calf Creek flows through the town. It's a tributary of the Buffalo River, whose water winds up in the White and then the Mississippi. The area is intensively farmed, with lots of dairy cattle. The Gates-Helm Farm in Snowball is on the National Register of Historic Places. A mountain bike trail in the area is highly scenic. The nearest restaurant to Snowball is the Sunset, eleven miles away in Marshall by way of Dongola. We cannot find a sno-ball stand in Snowball--opportunity?

Edible Dictionary

nectar, n., adj.--In most of the English-speaking world, a nectar is a blend of fruit puree and water, to make something like a juice. The most common nectars are made from fruits that can't really be juiced, such as apricots, pears, and--recently--agave. In New Orleans, however, the word nectar is means a flavor made by blending almond and vanilla, a little citric acid, and pink food coloring. It's one of the most popular flavors for ice cream sodas and sno-balls, and uniquely local. It was created at the soda fountains of the old Katz and Besthoff drugstores, and made for them by the I.L. Lyons Company. Originally, the pink color was cochineal, made from an aphid-like insect that sucked cactus plants in Mexico. Later, the cochineal was replaced by an artificial color, but the flavor remains immediately recognizable.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Hurricane Katrina was terrible, but the red beans and gumbo in many homes taste much better now that a lot of nasty old pots were washed away.

Tirophilia Today

The International Convention on the Use of Designations of Origin and Names for Cheeses was signed in Paris (where else?) on this date in 1951. It took awhile to take force, but its result was that Roquefort cheese has to come from Roquefort, France. As do all other place-named cheeses. I guess American cheese must come from America, but who cares?

Food Inventions

Today in 1875, one A.P. Ashbourne patented a method of preparing raw coconut for use and storage in a home kitchen. Which is more difficult than it sounds. . . The first pop-up toaster went on sale today in 1926, manufactured by McGraw Electric Company.

Annals Of Whiskey

Today in 1495, whiskey was reported to exist for the first time in writing. It was in the Exchequer rolls in Scotland as having been distilled by Friar John Cor.

Food Namesakes

Edgar "Cookie" Fairchild, who wrote scores and conducted orchestras for the movies and on radio in the 1940s, was born today in 1898. . . On this date in 1967, the Beatles released what is considered by many of my generation to be the greatest album of all time, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I still have my original copy. Listening to it still brings back the consciousness I had in those days, but the last few times it's sounded very dated and clumsily produced to me. My favorite song from it remains Fixing A Hole. . . John Lemmon, British philosopher, had his first thought today in 1930. . . Canadian hockey pro Paul Coffey took his first slap shot today in 1961. . . Actor and comedian Mark Curry began the Big Joke today in 1964.

Words To Eat By

"Isn't there any other part of the matzo you can eat?"--Marilyn Monroe, born today in 1926.

Words To Drink By

"No animal ever invented anything so bad as drunkenness, or so good as drink."--Lord Chesterton.