October 29

Today's Flavor

Halloween 2

Turkey Day

Not Thanksgiving, yet, but the National Day of the modern country of Turkey. The Ottoman Empire, defeated in World War I, ceased to exist today in 1923. In its place was a republic led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. In the next few years, the sultanate was abolished and the country became officially secular. Turkey is now quite modern, although still unambiguously Islamic. All the cuisines we think of as Middle Eastern originally came from Turkey. The Ottoman Empire's long influence installed the Turkish style of cooking from Greece through Israel and Egypt across to Morocco.

Today's Flavor

This is National Oatmeal Day. Oatmeal began to be eaten as a hot breakfast porridge in Scotland. Most of the ways we eat oatmeal in this country are similar to the Scottish recipes. The two kinds of oatmeal both come from the same grain. Steel-cut oatmeal--made by chopping the grains--is preferable, but takes longer to cook. Rolled oatmeal is made by steaming the grains, then squashing them between rollers. Some nourishment and flavor are lost in that process, but it's so much more convenient that it dominates the market. Since oats are historically grown in cold areas, that's where you find most oatmeal. The competition from grits as the preferred hot cereal in the South adds to the relative rarity of oatmeal there. However, everybody makes and eats oatmeal muffins and cookies, especially since the discovery that they lower cholesterol.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Quite a few small towns around America are called Pumpkin Center. Three of them are in North Carolina. The first is thirteen miles from the Atlantic Coast, 117 miles southeast of Raleigh. The area is a mix of suburban neighborhoods, farm fields, and light factories. Helen's Kitchen is less than a mile away on US 17 toward Jacksonville. Pumpkin Center, NC #2 is on the western side of the state, on US 64 in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. It's seventy-six miles northwest of Charlotte. Los Arcoiris, a Mexican restaurant, is less than a half-mile away. I hope they make the famous Mexican pumpkin-seed dish called pipian there. The third Pumpkin Center, NC is about half the distance from Charlotte to the second, and may be the most populous of the three, with about eighty houses interspersed with woods in rolling countryside. You have to go four miles to find a restaurant, though. That's the Chuckwagon Grill in Lincolntown. They must grow a lot of pumpkins in North Carolina.

Edible Dictionary

Hangtown fry, (Archaic), n.--This nearly-dead dish of oysters and eggs still shows up on menus now and then, particularly on the West Coast. But the story is worth telling. During the California Gold Rush, a prospector who had a good strike wandered into a cafe in the boom village of Hangtown (now Placerville). "Give me the best food in the house!" he said. The cook said the most expensive food he had were oysters, and that he could fry them and serve them with eggs and bacon. That sounded good to the prospector, who enjoyed a big plate of them. Someone else saw him eating the dish, and the next thing you know, people were eating fried-oyster omelettes all over California. The one time the dish showed up in New Orleans was at Houlihan's Old Place on Bourbon Street. The dish's popularity was no doubt depressed by its name.

Turning Points In Cooking

Today in 1929 was Black Tuesday, the day Wall Street laid an egg (as Variety reported). The stock market lost about a fifth of its value in one day, an event often noted as the beginning of the Great Depression. Those hard times changed eating habits for a lot of people. Many of us know (or were descendants of) folks whose styles of cooking were very frugal. My own mother (and most people of her generation) were that way. One of the first books written by legendary food writer M.F. K. Fisher was on this subject: How To Cook A Wolf, referring to the proverbial wolf at the door. Those who filled the gaps left when the fearful backed away from work and life did well.

World Record Food

Today in 2000 J.J. Tranfield--a butcher working for Asda Stores in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England--completed a sausage which, if rolled out straight (disregarding the curvature of the Earth, which it followed) would be thirty-six and three-quarters miles long, a world's record. It was served with a bowl of red beans the size of the North Sea.

Deft Dining Rule #202

If a restaurant owner complains to you about how tough times are right now, he is trying to persuade you of the necessity of his lowering standards. Expect a less than perfect meal.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Before you add oats to cookies or muffins, put them into a skillet over medium heat, dry, and let them brown a little around the edges. Gives a nice toasty flavor.

Food Namesakes

Steven Sweet, drummer for the heavy metal band Warrant, was born today in 1965. Their song Cherry Pie went platinum. . . Yankee shortstop Frank Baker was born today in 1946. . . LaVern Baker was inducted into the Rock and' Roll Hall of Fame today in 1990.

Words To Eat By

"Good taste is innate, and knowing with certainty when and how to break the rules--and when not to--is a talent few possess."--Michael McLaughlin, food writer, author of The Mushroom Book.

Words To Drink By

"Woman first tempted man to eat; he took to drinking of his own accord."--Unknown, from Four Hundred Laughs by John R. Kemble, 1902.