February 10

The Catfish Boundary. Saccharin Man. Andouille. Chorizo. Sausage Mountain. Plimsoll. Grange Maker. Rockin' Dopsie. Elvis. Rum And Coca-Cola.

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras--19 Valentine's Day--6

Catfish Through History

The Treaty Of Paris, ending the French and Indian War, took effect today in 1763. Among its other effects, it created an international boundary between the British American colonies and Spanish Louisiana at Pass Manchac--where Middendorf's is now. I wonder what the ordeal of getting a catfish through customs was like.

Annals Of Food Research

Ira Remson, one of two scientists who discovered saccharin, was born today in 1846. Saccharin gets a bad rap, I think. It's the sweetest of all the common artificial sweeteners, and seems to do no harm to the body. Indeed, it appears that it goes right through you unchanged. It has an aftertaste, but the makers of Sweet-n-Low--the most widely marketed form of saccharin--balance it out with cream of tartar. That comes from wine. So you get a little wine in every pink packet.

Today's Flavor

It is National Andouille Day. Andouille is the finest form of smoked pork sausage. From the best butchers, it's made with chunks of pork filled out with a little ground pork and pork fat, plus a spicy seasoning mix that also includes a distinct amount of garlic. The final element is smoke, which is applied about as heavily as a barbecue sausage would get. Andouille is thought of as Cajun and its name is French. But the part of Louisiana most famous for it--the River Parishes, between New Orleans and Baton Rouge-- has a German heritage. I think that shows up in its texture. Andouille is usually sliced into thick coins about a half-inch thick before it's cast into the pot with the red beans, gumbo, or jambalaya (its favorite hangouts). It's also delicious all by itself, grilled until the skin is crunchy and served with some Creole mustard on the side. The great andouille comes from Wayne Jacobs in Laplace, the capital of Andouille Land. Cochon and Creole Country also make superb versions. I find Richard's the best of the supermarket brands.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Ricard is the brand name of an anise-flavored substitute for absinthe, brought into being after absinthe was banned in the early 1900s. Ricard is also a small town in upstate New York, halfway between Syracuse and Watertown, and ten miles east of the eastern shore of Lake Ontario. It's entirely rural, with open fields interspersed by patches of woods. Beaverdam Brook flows through the crossroads community. The nearest restaurant of note is You Guys Place, four miles west in Altmar.

Edible Dictionary

sour mash, n.--Everybody who's looked at the label on a bottle of Bourbon whiskey has seen the words "sour mash." Instead of finding out what it is, the typical (and understandable) reaction is to shrug one's shoulders, then knock back a shot of the stuff. Whiskey is made by fermenting grain (usually corn for Bourbon) with water and yeast. However, to keep the yeast and the process under control, some fermented grain from the most recent batch goes into the new batch. It's similar to the practice of using some of yesterday's yeast cake to begin a new batch for sourdough bread. The result is better consistency of flavor and the avoidance of off-flavors. People who learn this usually say "Hunh!" then forget about sour mash as they take another shot.

Dining Rule #382:

Never order a sausage in a strange place without first asking exactly what it is, or looking at it carefully. There is no worldwide body defining the contents of sausages.

Restaurant Namesakes

PlimsollToday is the birthday in 1824 of Samuel Plimsoll, for whom the Plimsoll Club is indirectly named. The club was near the top of the New Orleans World Trade Center at the foot of Canal Street for many years. It was originally a private club for people in maritime shipping. Enough special events have taken place in the Plimsoll Club's dining rooms that many non-members have dined there. Its kitchen, while not what I'd call one of the best in town, was quite capable of putting on an exceptional dinner. The view through the big windows overlooking the bend in the river added to the specialness of the place. The Plimsoll Club's logo is the mark (shown above) seen on the hulls of ships. It shows the lowest level the vessel can lie in the water, and therefore its maximum load-bearing capability. (The idea was the creation of Samuel Plimsoll.) The club is still in existence, with its facilities in the Westin Canal Place Hotel at the foot of Iberville. It still has a good view of the river from the eleventh floor.

Great Winemakers

Max Schubert was born on this day in 1905. He was the winemaker at Penfold's in Australia who created the most famous of all Australian wines, Grange Hermitage (now called just "Grange"). He is also given credit for turning Australian wine from making things like sherry to the production of world-class table wines. So lift a glass of Shiraz to his memory today.

Music To Eat/Drink By

Alton Jay Rubin-- better known as Rockin' Dopsie, one of the fathers of Cajun zydeco music--was born today in 1932. Food connection: "zydeco" is a corruption of the first two words of the French verse "les haricots sont pas salés" ("the beans aren't salty"). The line appears in some of the earliest songs in the zydeco style. He passed away in 1993, but his band, led by his son (who also calls himself Rockin' Dopsie) is still performing actively. The Andrews Sisters had a number one hit today in 1945 with Rum and Coca-Cola.

Food Namesakes

Two British writers had page one of their lives on this date: Charles Lamb in 1775, and James Suckling in 1609. . . Pro football player Joe Lavender hit the scrimmage line of life today in 1949.

Words To Eat By

"Pounding fragrant things--particularly garlic, basil, parsley --is a tremendous antidote to depression. But it applies also to juniper berries, coriander seeds and the grilled fruits of the chili pepper. Pounding these things produces an alteration in one's being--from sighing with fatigue to inhaling with pleasure. The cheering effects of herbs and alliums cannot be too often reiterated. Virgil's appetite was probably improved equally by pounding garlic as by eating it."--Patience Gray.

Words To Drink By

"Brandy and water spoils two good things."--Charles Lamb, English writer, born today in 1775.