August 15

Lemon Meringue Pie

Days Until. . .

Coolinary Summer Specials End 15

Annals Of Food Writing

Today in 1912 was is the birthday of Julia Child. Even after her death in 2004, she remains the all-time greatest television chef, as well as one of the most honored and accomplished authors of cookbooks. I was lucky enough to have dinner with her once, at Begue's. I was surprised by how down-to-earth and unpretentious she was, and also that her unique voice and bearing were not just television affectations but entirely real. That night, she liked the oyster Rockefeller flan. My favorite aspect of Julia's shows were that if she made a mistake or something didn't come out quite right, she'd admit it. You never see that on television now, even though we all know from eating in restaurants that all chefs make mistakes.

Today's Flavor

Today is National Lemon Meringue Pie Day.
A good lemon meringue pie is wonderful, especially if you take that old recipe from your grandmother and cut the amount of sugar by at least a third (in both the lemon custard and meringue parts). We seem to have had a taste for much sweeter desserts forty or fifty years ago than we do now. Making a lighter pie crust is a worthy goal, too. Take liberties. I once had a pie that was creme brulee on the bottom and lemon meringue on the top. Fabulous. Throw a meringue pie (leave out the lemon) one at someone you love someday soon. It's great fun. On his birthday in 1981, the publisher of the newspaper where my restaurant review column has appeared for thirty years received a meringue pie in the face from my hand. He's gone, but I'm still there. So just go ahead and do it. Note: a pie can only be thrown at a man. Most women fail to grasp the humor.

Essential Ingredients

Speaking of pie crusts: Crisco was released today in 1911 by Procter and Gamble, the soap people. (Soap and fat are largely the same product.) The advance that made Crisco popular was that it was pre-creamed and shelf-stable. That accomplishment was achieved through hydrogenation. In more recent times, it's been found that hydrogenated fats--especially those with high trans-fatty acids--are rather bad for you to eat. So Crisco developed a new formula involving zero trans-fats. I like the stuff, and find it a good, clean product that's hard to replace in certain baked goods, notably biscuits and pie dough. Although the trans-fat issue did move me to start using butter instead in many recipes. Isn't that a turnabout! One of the reasons Crisco was created was to replace animal fats.

Edible Dictionary

beef daube, daube [DOBE], n.--Beef cooked slowly in its own juices and other liquids, including seasoning liquids like wine, Worcestershire, or vinegar, plus savory vegetables. After it's tender, the beef is sliced or shredded. In classic French cookery (which the word first appeared, in the 1700s), daube was cooked in the oven in a terrine or a baking dish, until the liquids had mostly evaporated. Then it was sliced and eaten as it was. It could also be blended with seasoned gelatin, and served cold. The latter survives in New Orleans as daube glace, a popular appetizer in the Christmas season. It's sort of a beef version of hogshead cheese, and eaten in much the same way. As is true of many French dishes, it's made with much more pepper here. Another version of daube is made by slicing the beef and simmering it in an Italian red sauce, then serving it with spaghetti. Although it's still made in many homes, it's become a rarity on menus.

Annals Of Drinking

Elvin Jellinek was born today in 1890. He was the first scientist to study intensively the causes and effects of alcoholism. He suggested that the condition be treated as a disease, not as a sin. In his day, alcoholics were thought of as merely weak-willed people, an approach that did little to address or correct the problem.

Citrus At War

The Satsuma War began today in 1863, between British would-be colonizers and the Japanese. Satsuma is a province of Japan. It's where the original satsuma fruit was grown, the ancestors of all those trees in Plaquemines Parish that will give us their succulent orbs in a month or so.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Cucumber Lake is in the Hiawatha National Forest on the sparsely-populated Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It's ten miles from the northern shore of Lake Michigan. It's also just sixty miles from Fish Creek. Banana Lake gets its name from its shape. (So do the nearby Cranberry Lake and Square Lake.) It's only about 200 feet wide, but a half-mile wide. It's a good place for fishing muskies and trout, even in winter, when it freezes over. If you don't hit anything and get hungry, drive your four-wheeler eight miles up the dirt Banana Lake Road to the much larger Indian Lake's shore, for a scenic lunch at the Big Spring Inn.

Annals Of Military Cuisine

Napoleon Bonaparte was born today in 1769, on the island of Corsica. He left his mark on world history in such a pervasive way that he even crops up repeatedly in discussions of our own local special food interest. The Napoleon pastry, the Napoleon House, chicken Marengo, and Pascal's Manale (on Napoleon Avenue) come to mind immediately, and it wouldn't be hard to think of many more. In recent years, chefs have taken to calling any layered dish a Napoleon of this or that. Napoleon was a gourmet, and a personal chef was essential to him even in the field of battle.

The Saints

This is the day, in 1534, when St. Ignatius Loyola organized the Jesuits. I wouldn't be who I am without their influence. Whatever else can be said about the Jesuits, I've always noticed that when you are in their company, you eat well. (Anyone who's been to Manresa Retreat House on the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge can vouch for that.)

Food And Drink Namesakes

Bert Berry, a pro football player, was born today in 1975. . . Elias M. Fries, a Swiss botanist whose specialty was mushrooms, was born today in 1794. . . Congresswoman Maxine Waters was elected to life today in 1938.

Words To Eat French Food By

"The French complain of everything, and always."--Napoleon Bonaparte, born today in 1769. "Life itself is the proper binge."--Julia Child, born today in 1912.

Words To Drink By

“Drinking is the soldier's pleasure.”--John Dryden.