November 24

National Cranberry Week

Thaw. Roman Wine Oracle. Cranberry. Arancini. Evolution. Toulouse-Lautrec. Pink Goo.

Days Until. . .

New Year's--39

Food Calendar

This is National Cranberry Week, for obvious reasons. The annual cranberry crop came in a month or two ago, ready not only to be made into cranberry sauce but also as an increasingly common component in drinks. The antioxidant properties of cranberry juice have made it so popular that it's tough for American growers--most of which are in Wisconsin and New England--can barely keep up with the demand.Cranberries come from a woody, low-growing bush, native to North America (although they're also found across Northern Europe). They're related to blueberries and huckleberries. The name is an evolution of "craneberry," so named because the flower and its stem resemble the head and beak of a crane.No other plant has so distinctive a harvest. The bogs where they grow are flooded when the berries are red and ripe (they're not usually under water). Machines run though them to shake the berries free. They float to the surface and are then corralled--there's no more accurate name for the process. It's something to see.You can make a cranberry sauce out of fresh berries very easily by cooking them down with sugar and water. (The instructions on the back of the Ocean Spray bag describes the technique perfectly.) But there will always be someone at your Thanks giving table who likes the canned, jellylike cranberry sauce--the kind that retains the shape of the can after it slurps onto the plate. For them, you must buy one can of the stuff each year, or call down the wrath of the spirit of Thanksgiving.

Food Through History

Today begins the Brumalia, a Roman festival of wine honoring Bacchus. It's ancient even by Roman standard, going back at least to the days of Romulus, and perhaps originating in Greece as a Dionysian festival held at the time of the winter solstice. In Roman times it lasted for thirty days, roughly paralleling the time from Thanksgiving to Christmas in our culture. This is no coincidence. Brumalia was celebrated for fifteen hundred years, persisting even after the fall of Constantinople and the final end of the Empire. During the thirty days, there was much drinking of wine, and the wild images formed in the mind were considered prophetic. So take notes if you happen to get tipsy during the next month.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Cranberry is an unincorporated highway stop in the Appalachian Mountains of southern West Virginia. It's fifty-eight miles south of Charleston, the state capital. The drive there is easy, because Cranberry is just off I-64/77. The old highway--US 19--runs right through the middle of Cranberry. Cranberry is home to 350 people, and is surrounded by similar communities. All of them support coal mining, the big business in the region. The restaurant in Cranberry is Southern Red's BBQ, right on US 19 at Cranberry Drive.

Edible Dictionary

arancini, Italian, n., pl.--A Sicilian appetizer made by rolling rice moistened with a meaty red sauce into balls an inch or two in diameter. They're coated with bread crumbs and fried. The word means "little oranges," an apt name. Arancini usually have a lump of cheese in the center. This gives rise to their alternate name, suppli al telefono--"telephone wires," which is what the festoons of cheese look like when you take a bite and they stretch out from the arancino to your teeth. Sometimes meat or peas or other fillings are in the center, along with the cheese. Arancini are found everywhere in Sicily, and are slowly becoming popular in this country.

Deft Dining Rule #905:

If a bartender has fresh cranberry juice, you are in one hell of a great bar.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

When cooking fresh cranberries to make a sauce or relish, add orange juice or frozen orange juice concentrate. It's the flavor cranberries have always been missing.

Science And Food

Today in 1859, Charles Darwin published On The Origin Of Species, his landmark book on evolution. One sees the force of natural selection Darwin talks about not only in nature, but also in smaller chunks of the world. There is no doubt that cuisines evolve. It's especially apparent here in New Orleans, where for most of our history we've had a flavor palette unique to our area. But pick up an old Creole cookbook, and you'll find dozens of dishes you've never heard of--even though, when you think about them, they have a distinctly Creole quality. Many of those old dishes don't sound very good. That's because evolution on the whole and in the long run makes everything better.

Food In Art

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was born today in 1864. The diminutive artist drew posters advertising the nightlife of Paris, in which he was so avidly involved that he died of alcoholism when he was thirty-six. Naturally, we have adopted him in an honorary way here in New Orleans. He's had at least one restaurant and one bar here named for him.

Food Namesakes

Anton Burger, a German artist, was born today in 1824. . . English sculptor John Bacon was born today in 1740. . . Singer Johnny Carver stepped onto the big Bandstand today in 1940. He'd be a popular guy at the Thanksgiving table. . . Donald "Duck" Dunn, who plays bass on many blues and jazz recordings with some of the most famous musicians in those genres, plucked his string for the first time today in 1941.

Words To Eat By

"It has been an unchallengeable American doctrine that cranberry sauce, a pink goo with overtones of sugared tomatoes, is a delectable necessity of the Thanksgiving board and that turkey is uneatable without it. There are some things in every culture that you must be born to endure, and another hundred years of general satisfaction with Americans could not reconcile this expatriate to cranberry sauce, peanut butter, and drum majorettes."--Alistair Cooke, longtime correspondent in the U.S. for the BBC.

Words To Drink By