November 17

Wine Buying Day. Canning. Baklava. Walnut. Phyllo. Harira. Thirsty Play. Aunt Jemima.

Days Until. . .

Thanksgiving: 7. Christmas: 39. New Year's Eve: 46.

Food Calendar

Today is National Baklava Day. Baklava, the delicious, honeyed pastry of nuts and phyllo, is a universal dessert in Greek and Middle Eastern restaurants. But most of us over the age of forty in New Orleans became acquainted with it not in such cafes but at the Central Grocery or the Progress Grocery, where baklava was the classic dessert to have after a muffuletta. (How did we do it?) Baklava (and phyllo pastry itself) was invented in Turkey about a thousand years ago. In fact, the Penguin Companion to Food points to an Azerbaijani version of baklava made with pasta dough, and says that this may be evidence that baklava predates phyllo. The nuts, syrup, and layering have always been a hallmark of the dessert. However, no source can explain why baklava is always cut into diamond-shaped pieces instead of squares.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Two towns in Illinois are named Walnut. The larger of them is out in the cornfields of north central Illinois, 116 miles west of Chicago. It's home to about 1500 people. A main of the Burlington Railroad used to pass through, but it's been dismantled. The two restaurants downtown ate Konz's and the Walnut Cafe. The other Walnut, IL is eighty-six miles south. It's one farmhouse and ancillary buildings, twenty-six miles southeast of Peoria. The only thing it has in common with the Walnut upstate is its being surrounded by cornfields. Small as this Walnut is, you need travel less than two miles down Highway 6 to the nearest restaurant: Gil's Country Inn.

Edible Dictionary

hrstule, [XRUHS-tuh-lay], Croatian, n., pl.--Thin pasta sheets, cut into ribbons about an inch wide and three or four inches long, folded over to look like a bow tie. ("Bowties" is how the name of the dish is usually translated into English.) The pasta dough is sometimes flavored with vanilla, anise liqueur, or citrus juice. The bowties are fried until crispy, and served dusted with powdered sugar. These are exceedingly popular at Croatian family gatherings around New Orleans and other places with a Croatian heritage. They're good from the beginning to the end of a meal.

Deft Dining Rule #751:

It is impossible to cut through a piece of well-made baklava with a knife and fork, so you may as well eat it one layer at a time.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Frozen phyllo pastry is handy and easy to use, but it dries out so quickly that you must cover it the unused sheets with a nearly airtight wrapper as soon as you remove what you need.

Annals Of Food Marketing

Aunt Jemima.This is the birthday, in 1834, of Nancy Green. You may not have heard of her, but you certainly would know her face. She was the model for the image of Aunt Jemima on millions of boxes of pancake mix. She may have been the first living person whose image was trademarked. Born a slave in Kentucky, Nancy was hired to represent Aunt Jemima in 1890. She appeared at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893, making pancakes. Her sparkling personality made her so popular that the company gave her a lifetime contract. She did well with that, and she did good, too, sharing her time, familiar face, and money to antipoverty campaigns until she died in 1923.

Food Inventions

Nicolas Appert, French cook and inventor of the modern process of canning food, was born today in 1749. He was inspired in his effort by Napoleon, who offered a large reward for anyone who could develop a method of preserving food for his armies. It took Appert fourteen years to work it out. It amounted to heating the food in nearly full container and then, while it was still hot, capping it with an airtight seal. He used glass jars with wax for the seals.

Movies To Drink By

Don't Drink The Water opened on Broadway today in 1966. It was the first play written by Woody Allen. It ran for two years, and upgraded his career from stand-up comic and writer to major theater and movie force.

Annals Of Grocery Stores

Wal-Mart, which up until that time had been an enormous dry-goods store, opened its first Super Center today in 1988 in Oklahoma City. That combined a very large supermarket with the full array of fresh meats, vegetables, a bakery, etc. with the old store. It immediately began a bruising competition with existing supermarkets, forcing many out of business and the rest to make big adjustments to their marketing plans.

The Saints

Today is the feast day of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, one of several patron saints of bakers. She is also the patron saint of hoboes and those with toothaches.

Food Namesakes

Jim Brewer, an all-star pitcher in the 1960s and 1970s, was born today in 1937. . . Peter Cook, the British comedian who partnered with Dudley Moore on a show called Beyond The Fringe, caused his first smiles today in 1937. . . Another Brit, Gerald Savory, was born today in 1909. He was a playwright, movie scriptwriter, and producer of television shows in the early days of the medium in this country. . . Actress and model Leslie Bibb was very cute (and a few hours old) today in 1974.

Words To Eat By

"What good is it if I talk in flowers while you're thinking in pastry?"--Ashleigh Brilliant.

Words To Drink By

"You're like a beautiful chandelier. I'd like to be around when you get lit up."--Irving Brecher, American comedy radio and film writer, who died today in 2008.