November 30

Churchill. Mark Twain. Mousse. Pecan. Osteria. Biscuit Cutter. Mason Jar. Twain. Churchill.

Days Until

Christmas 26. New Year's Eve: 33.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Dove is a small rural community in the middle of dairy farming country, in south central Missouri. There's some uncertainty as to where it got the name, but the most credible story is that a lot of doves live around there. And die, too. There are 33,000 licensed dove hunters in the Show-Me State, and this is prime country for it. Got to take it home, dress it and cook it yourself to eat it, however. Otherwise, go to Gary's Italian Place, three miles south.

Edible Dictionary

entree, French, n.--Now, the main course of a meal. But it didn't start out meaning that. The way the meaning of the word entree has changed tells us something about the evolution of formal dining. The word means "entry"--the beginning of something. When large banquets became de rigueur among the aristocracy in the reign of Louis XIV in France, dishes we would now describe as large appetizers were called entrees. They were artfully composed. The bulk of the meal was simpler: large roasts of meats, as well as game birds, carved up and eaten au naturel. Over the centuries, these meats began to be sauced and garnished, and moved into the entree category, while the lighter dishes originally called entrees became even more creatively worked up with rare, delicate ingredients. These evolved into hors d'oeuvres, served before the guests sat down at the table. But they eventually returned to the table, making the word "entree" a misnomer. It hardly matters: almost nobody ever eats a dinner with enough courses that an entree and a main course are both present.

Gourmets Through History

Today is the birthday, in 1874, of Winston Churchill. The celebrated British prime minister was a dedicated and knowledgeable gourmet and oenophile. A few years after the end of World War II, he contacted Pol Roger Champagne house to request some of his favorite vintages from the 1930s. The firm sent an apologetic note saying that the Nazis had cleaned out the caves of those vintages. In lieu of those, the winery sent a case of the 1945 vintage, the only one Pol Roger had produced since V-E Day. Churchill sent back this message: "Best postwar vintage I've had!"

Non-Gourmets Through History

Mark Twain was born today in 1835, as Samuel Clemens. We all know his books; I suspect those of us who live on the river, in New Orleans or elsewhere, understand them better than most. Twain was much feted in the latter part of his career, when lavish eating reached a peak in America. He did not especially like it, as a quotation below attests. An unlikely restaurant here--a pizza parlor--is named for him. The owner had a statue of Twain and a window to put it in, so he thought, "Why not?" Mark Twain's Pizza Landing makes several pizzas named for Twain's books.

Today's Flavor

It is National Mousse Day. The most popular mousse, of course, is chocolate. When I make that for my wife and daughter, they almost like me. A mousse is essentially a foam in a semi-liquid with enough density that it doesn't collapse. Not all are sweet; I've always found seafood mousses particularly interesting.

Deft Dining Rule #148:

If you want to impress someone with your eating skills, order a bowl of mussels. After you eat the first one with a fork, use half the shell to dislodge the next one, and eat it off the shell. Nest the empty shells into one another, and continue eating them with the shells as the only utensil. This will even get the attention of a Frenchman.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

When making chocolate mousse, add a tablespoon or so of strong coffee to the mixture of chocolate and eggs, but before the whipped cream goes in. Nobody will notice the coffee flavor, but they will note an added depth of flavor they can't quite explain.

Food In Science

Nils Dalén won the Nobel Price in Physics in 1912 for inventing a valve that turns gaslights on and off in response to sunlight. He also created the Amalgamated Gas Accumulator stove, devised in an effort to keep his wife from working so hard stoking their wood-burning stove. His new stove used fuel much more efficiently, and also radiated warmth into the kitchen. A big deal in cold Sweden, where Dalén lived starting this date in 1869.

Food Inventions

Today in 1858, John Landis Mason received a patent for the food-canning jar that still bears his name. His innovation was the threaded neck on the jar, and its tightly-sealed threaded cap. . . Two food-related patents came out on this day in 1875. One was for a machine used to crush oats into meal. It went to A.J. Errichson of Akron, Ohio. The other was a biscuit cutter, invented by African-American Alexander P. Ashbourne.

Food Namesakes

Actress Virginia Mayo was born today in 1920. . . Rob Grill, the lead singer for the 1967 rock group The Grass Roots, was born today in 1944. He sang Let's Live For Today, a hit on my junior prom night. . . On this date in 1776, Captain Cook began his final voyage to the South Pacific. . . Folk singer Brownie McGhee was born today in 1915. That's a rare double food name. Ghee is what they call clarified butter in India. . . John, Duke of Berry, was born today in 1340. . . British explorer Alexander Berry headed out into the world today in 1781.

Words To Eat By

"A banquet is probably the most fatiguing thing in the world except ditch digging. It is the insanest of all recreations. The inventor of it overlooked no detail that could furnish weariness, distress, harassment, and acute and long-sustained misery of mind and body."--Mark Twain, born today in 1835. Here are a couple more of his utterances on the subject of food: "A man accustomed to American food and American domestic cookery would not starve to death suddenly in Europe, but I think he would gradually waste away, and eventually die." "I know the look of an apple that is roasting and sizzling on the hearth on a winter's evening, and I know the comfort that comes of eating it hot, along with some sugar and a drench of cream. . . I know how the nuts taken in conjunction with winter apples, cider, and doughnuts, make old people's tales and old jokes sound fresh and crisp and enchanting."

Words To Drink By

"My rule of life prescribed as an absolutely sacred rite smoking cigars and also the drinking of alcohol before, after and if need be during all meals and in the intervals between them."--Winston Churchill, born today in 1874. He, too, has many quotable words on food and (especially) drink. Here are some more: "I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me." "My wife and I tried two or three times in the last 40 years to have breakfast together, but it was so disagreeable we had to stop."