June 24

It's National Praline Day

Midsummer. Kona Cafe. Clam Creek. Heirloom Tomato. That's What He Likes About The South. Jack Dempsey. Swift Meat. Pralines. Food Definer.

Days Until. . .

Fourth Of July 10

Today's Flavor

Today is National Pralines Day. Pralines are the official candy of New Orleans. Even though they're not eaten as often as, say, Snickers, and even though the typical Orleanian has not had a praline in awhile, we all say we love ‘em. Don’t we?Pralines are as simple as a candy can be. Sugar makes up about 90 percent of the recipe, followed by butter, condensed milk, and vanilla. Cook that down to the soft-ball stage, add the pecans and you’re finished. The basic flavor is that of caramelized sugar, with its slight bitterness and butterscotchiness. The vanilla is an important but subtle note, and a good mouthfeel comes from the milk. In recent years we’ve been offered other flavors of pralines. Loretta’s, one of the better makers of pralines, has pecan, coconut, chocolate, and rum flavors of pralines. Other makers have other flavors, some bordering on bizarre.My favorite praline flavor is "praline." Especially those at Aunt Sally’s in the French Market. They have a flavor and texture I prefer to any others. You can watch the manufacturing process in the window, or go in and take in the aroma. After boiling the liquid concoction for a half-hour, they pour the sticky, molten mixture onto a marble slab around pecans. That’s everything a praline should be. The best time to have a praline is in an energy lull in the middle of the afternoon, and after a light meal, in lieu of dessert. The combination of sugar and nut protein does something nice to your head, and the creamy vanilla sweetness can’t help but put you in a good mood.One final matter: the right pronunciation of the word is “prah-LEEN.” The only people who say “PRAY-leen” are those who would say “CRAY-fish” or “EYE-ber-ville Street.”

Eating With The Seasons

This is Midsummer Day, noted more in Europe than here. It's the midpoint between the day of first planting and the day of last harvest. Obviously, those change, but this day was settled upon as a good average. It's more about hours of daylight than temperature, obviously. Nothing could be much hotter than the weather we've had lately in New Orleans.

Music To Eat Grits By

This is the birthday, in 1904, of bandleader and comedian Phil Harris. Extremely popular during the Golden Age of Radio, Harris led the orchestra on the Jack Benny show, and had his own half-hour situation comedy show. His signature song was "That's What I Like About The South," which made numerous culinary references to the likes of grits and turnip greens. Phil's daughter Phyllis lived in New Orleans, and so he came to town often. He was the king of the Bacchus parade in 1972.

Annals Of Expensive Coffee

Yesterday in 1817, the first coffee plants were put down in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. Kona coffee is now some of the best on earth, commanding higher than average prices in your local coffeeshop or supermarket. The local coffee is served everywhere in Hawaii, and they make it good and strong, too. If we could produce coffee in New Orleans, I wonder what it would be like.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Clam Creek is a natural tidal inlet that has become completely surrounded by Atlantic City, New Jersey. It gores right into the middle of that Atlantic coast resort town. Also there is Clam Thorofare, another natural stream that separates the city from the wetlands to the north, and makes Atlantic City an island. This is certainly a favorable habitat for edible clams, although whether it's been polluted out of existence is a question. Clam Thorofare is part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, so a lot of ship traffic passes through it. Atlantic City is loaded with restaurants. But I think I'd go down Atlantic Avenue three miles to the Knife and Fork Inn.

Edible Dictionary

heirloom tomato, n.--One of a large number of tomato varieties created by allowing open pollination instead of controlled hybridization. What results often recalls characteristics that have not been seen in farm-raised tomatoes in a long time. The colors, shapes, growing patterns, and flavors can veer far from those of the standard tomato varieties. Some qualities that have been bred out of standard tomatoes return in some heirloom varieties, which may crack, fall victim to diseases, or develop stripes. Heirloon tomatoes (and other heirloom vegetables) have become very popular among chefs, who use them as a way to set their presentations apart from the norm.

Food Through History

Gustavus Swift, who created the first efficient method of shipping and marketing meat in America, was born today in 1839. He created the railroad refrigerator car, a major breakthrough in getting beef from the vast western herds to the markets in the East. Swift's railroad cars held meat that had already been slaughtered and butchered, instead of whole, living cows that had moved by cattle cars in the past.

Famous Names in Food

Jack Dempsey, the former heavyweight boxing champ in the 1910s and 1920s, was born today in 1895. He had a restaurant in New York City after he stopped fighting. Jack Dempsey's is a seafood restaurant in the old Bywater section of New Orleans, and quite popular with those who favor very large portions. The restaurant was named not for the fighter but for a long-time police reporter of the old States-Item, who was quite a local character.

Food Namesakes

Betty Stove, a professional tennis player in the 1970s, is 61 today. . . Birkett Davenport Fry, who was a brigadier general in the Confederate Army, was born today in 1822.

Words To Eat By

"Cabbage: a familiar kitchen-garden vegetable about as large and wise as a man's head."--Ambrose Bierce, born today in 1842. His Devil's Dictionary included many funny food entries. Here are some of those:

"Chop: a piece of leather skillfully attached to a bone and administered to the patients at restaurants."

"Crayfish: a small crustacean very much resembling the lobster, but less indigestible."

"Eat, v.i.: To perform successively (and successfully) the functions of mastication, humectation, and deglutition. ‘I was in the drawing-room, enjoying my dinner,’ said Brillat-Savarin, beginning an anecdote. ‘What!’ interrupted Rochebriant; "eating dinner in a drawing-room?’ ‘I must beg you to observe, monsieur,’ explained the great gastronome, ‘that I did not say I was eating my dinner, but enjoying it. I had dined an hour before.’"

Words To Drink By

The horse and mule live thirty yearsAnd nothing know of wines and beers;The goat and sheep at twenty die,With never a taste of scotch or rye;The cow drinks water by the ton,And at eighteen is mostly done.Without the aid of rum or ginThe dog at fifteen cashes in;The cat in milk and water soaks,And then at twelve years old it croaks;The modest, sober, bone-dry henLays eggs for nogs and dies at ten;All animals are strictly dry;They sinless live and swiftly die,While sinful, gleeful, rum-soaked menSurvive for three score years and ten.And some of us - a mighty few -Stay pickled 'till we're ninety-two. --Harlan F. Stone

A look at the July 2, 1832 New Orleans Bee available on Google Newspapers: It appears that the first Ice Cream shop in New Orleans opened on June 24 1832 @ 140 Royal Street and was called Madame LaCouture & Company. It boasted that there would be elegant rooms “For ladies and gentleman. Ice Cream of all descriptions will be served.”The logistics must have been horrendous. No electricity, no refrigeration, so an ice house as well as the old rock salt method of ice cream making must have been used.