August 3

Watermelon

As much as we consider watermelon a major local eating presence, it's not from around here. The vine originated in Africa, almost certainly in the Nile Valley. It spread all over the world from there. The Chinese have been growing and eating it for at least a millennium. One last fact about this refreshing fruit: the rind is as nutritious as the sweet flesh in the center.

Days Until. . .

Satchmo Summer Fest
2
Coolinary Summer Specials End27

Food Calendar

It's National Watermelon Day. The National Watermelon Promotion Board seems to know nothing about this. However, they do have a wealth of information and recipes here. WatermelonMy old traffic reporter Don Wilbanks once gave me some slices of golden watermelon, which I'd never tasted. The color of a cantaloupe, it's not as sweet as red watermelon, but good. Watermelon is my daughter's favorite flavor of hard candy. However, watermelon has only occasionally showed up in gourmet settings. I suppose this is because the fruit conjures up images of sitting outside in the grass and eating huge hunks of it, not caring how messy you get in the process. You can't eat just a little bit of watermelon. As much as we consider watermelon a major local eating presence, it's not from around here. The vine originated in Africa, almost certainly in the Nile Valley. It spread all over the world from there. The Chinese have been growing and eating it for at least a millennium. One last fact about this refreshing fruit: the rind is as nutritious as the sweet flesh in the center.

Gourmet Gazetteer

The small rural crossroads called Oats is seventy miles northeast of Columbia, the capital of South Carolina. Oats is on Boggy Gully, a half-mile downstream from a dam that forms Harold's Millpond. The sluggish, swampy waterway leads through others like it to the Pee Dee River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. The town name is also spelled Oates, in honor of Bill Oates, who bought land here in 1824 and began a plantation. By the 1880s, the town had grown large enough to have a school. About 150 people live there now, and farming is still dominant. That's not enough to support a cafe in the town, but you can eat at Mr. B's (no connection with the one on New Orleans), two miles away in Hartsville.

Edible Dictionary

vinaigrette, n.--A sauce or dressing served at room temperature, usually over salads and cool, crisp vegetables. It's an emulsion of oil in vinegar and water, often with other flavoring elements added. Mustard is almost universal in vinaigrettes. Herbs, onions, garlic, and ground pepper are common. Cheeses find their ways into some vinaigrettes. Other sources of variety come from the kind of vinegar used, with balsamic vinegar currently enjoying a vinaigrette vogue. A fading usage of the word refers to a cold dish--fish, poultry, meat, or vegetables--marinated in a vinaigrette or other tart, light sauce.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

You can tell whether a melon was picked at the right ripeness by fingering the spot where the stem was. If it's jagged, it was picked before it should have been, and will never get really ripe.

Annals Of Elegant Dining

Martha Stewart was born today in 1941. A great deal of her advice involves creative ways to serve food and lots of recipes, although whenever I read such articles in her magazine I get the idea that everything is conceived more for effect on the brain and eye than on the palate. Still, her ideas have certainly changed the way food is served in American households with ambitions to elegance.

Annals Of Bad Food

This is the day in 1975 when the Superdome was dedicated. It has since been part of many unforgettable moments in New Orleans history. But nobody in the Superdome's management ever seems to say, "Why don't we offer something really good to eat in here?" I once heard one of the former operators of the Dome's food services claim that for Saints games, they have to start frying the chicken fingers at the midnight before. Boy, I'll bet those are good. Some good food infiltrates anyway, as during the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience's Grand Tastings in May. Maybe it will inspire something permanent. Like, how hard could it be to find a vendor who will serve a great poor boy? Or great pizza? Or a great hot dog? If Zephyr Stadium can do it, why not the Dome?

Restaurant-Enhancing Inventions

Elisha Graves Otis, who invented an automatic braking system that made elevators safe and therefore useful, was born today in 1811. Unlike in other places, Otis's invention had little effect on the New Orleans dining scene, which continues to find people reluctant to dine anywhere but on the ground floor.

Long Reaches For Almanac Entries

Today is the birthday, in 1801, of Sir Joseph Paxton, the English landscape designer and architect who created the Crystal Palace in the London Exhibition in 1851. He announced once that he'd like to build a community on the American prairie. The citizens of Prairie City, Illinois thought that if they renamed their town Paxton, the architect would build his town there. So they did. But he never set foot in the place. I did, however--twice. On a trip to Chicago in 1972, we stopped for a terrific catfish dinner there in a 1940s-style downtown diner called Carman's Arcade Cafe. I returned in the mid-1980s and found Carman's was still there, but the catfish wasn't as memorable. And now you have too much information.

Music To Eat Rice-A-Roni By

Today is the birthday, in 1926, of Tony Bennett. Only Frank Sinatra is heard more often in Italian restaurants. Sinatra himself said the he thought Tony Bennett was the best interpreter of the American popular song. Although he's recorded better songs, his most famous hit--I Left My Heart In San Francisco--sends a chill of longing to be in that city there down my spine. I think I'll listen to it now.

Food Namesakes

Hamilton Fish, Secretary of State in the Grant administration, was born on this date in 1808. Did he come from Roe? No, but . . Reginald Heber Roe, early proponent of education and tennis in Australia, served himself up today in 1850. . . Boxer and martial arts fighter Eric "Butterbean" Esch started putting on weight today in 1966. He weighs almost 400 pounds.

Words To Eat By

"Some people kiss as if they were eating watermelon."--Saadat Hasan Manto, Pakistani writer of short stories. "If I can't have too many truffles I'll do without."--Colette, French writer on living well. She died today in 1954.

Words To Drink By

"To Gasteria, the tenth muse, who presides over the enjoyments of taste."--A toast by Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a French chef and cooking authority of the 1800s.