March 3

National Cold Cuts Day

St. Joseph's Month. Pullman. Hake. Minnie The Moocher. Deli Meat Day. Salt Flat. Goldfish. Florida.

Days Until. . .

St. Patrick's Day--14 St. Joseph's Day--16

Sounds Like Candy, But Isn't

The United States Mint was established today in 1791. On this same date in 1835, Congress authorized the building of a branch mint here in New Orleans. It lasted until the Civil War. The building is still there, part of the Louisiana State Museum now, at the southeastern corner of the French Quarter.

Music To Dine By

Today in 1931, Cab Calloway recorded his biggest hit and theme song, Minnie The Moocher. She was a red-hot hootchie-cootcher, rhymed the song, which went on to note that "Each meal she ate was a dozen courses." Sounds like my kind of girl. What's a hootchie-cootcher?

Today's Flavor

It is National Deli Meats Day. Cured, smoked, and sliced deli meats range from the irresistible goodness of dry-cured hams, pastrami, salami, and deli-style roast beef to such unspeakable atrocities as luncheon meat and standard bologna. The gamut of goodness among hams alone goes from silky and mellow (prosciutto) to disgusting (ham roll).But things are looking up. Supermarket delis are adopting higher standards than twenty years ago. Their customers buy better deli meats if they're available, even at significantly higher prices. The only downside is, with limited space in the typical deli case, some cold cuts of old are becoming hard to find. Cured beef tongue, once universal in delis, is now seldom seen. How much longer will liver cheese be able to hang on?

Edible Dictionary

zarzuela, [zarz-WAY-lah), Spanish, n.--A fish stew, popular in the Catalan region of Spain, but all along the Spanish Mediterranean coast as well. It bears enough resemblance to bouillabaisse that it can be called a regional version of that French fish stew. Zarzuela is usually a bit spicy with red pepper, and includes numerous kinds of fish and shellfish, so that no one of them stands out. It's named after a kind of light musical theater in Spain since the mid-1600s, and still performed in a theater of the same name near Madrid. That kind of zarzuela is much like a television variety show, with many guests with equally many talents. The many different kinds of seafood used in cooking a zarzuela is reminiscent of that.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

All meats--hams and roast beef included--are easier to slice thinly and uniformly if they are ice-cold.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Salt Flat is a ghost town on the high plains of West Texas, with the towering Guadalupe Mountains in the northeast. It's well-named; lakes in the area dry up and leave salt deposits behind. A dispute as to who owned them led to a war among the settlers in the 1870s. The Texas Rangers were called in and settled it, but not until a dozen men had been killed. This is dramatic, wild desert country. The Salt Flat Cafe, the town's spot for dining since 1929, has closed in recent years, but we hear you can still get a decent burger at nearby Cornudas Cafe.

Deft Dining Rule #76:

If you ask a restaurant for a recipe and they refuse to share even a hint, it probably means that they're buying the dish ready-made and are just warming it up. This is a certainty if they respond to your request with, "If I tell you, I'll have to kill you or kill myself."

Annals Of Extinct Eating Fads

In the spring of 1939, one Lothrop Withington (he sounds like a freshman at Harvard, and in fact he was) swallowed a goldfish plucked out of an aquarium on a dare. For a few months, his feat was repeated at an increasing rate not only of frequency but in the number of goldfish swallowed. By the time the fad played out, a record 300 fish were eaten in one go. Then laws and medical advice slowed goldfish eating. What goldfish tasted like never came to light; most were swallowed whole.

Dining By Rail

George M. Pullman, the creator of the railroad sleeping cars that bore his name, was born today in 1831. The Pullman Company operated the sleepers and diners cars on almost every railroad in America until 1969. It set standards for service at a time when America was far from a country of gourmets. Pullman dining cars on the best trains equaled the food serves in all but the finest restaurants. I read a story once, for example, about a Pullman waiter's being dressed down for inserting the cocktail fork for a shrimp cocktail into the meat of a lemon wedge instead of just under the skin, as he was supposed to. All of this is only a memory now. Eating on Amtrak isn't horrible, but it's nothing special at all.

Food In The Movies

Today is the birthday in 1911 of Jean Harlow, the most unforgettable (because of her voluptuousness) character in the classic film Dinner At Eight. It's about a fabulous dinner with guests and conversations from hell.

Eating Across America

Today in 1845, Florida became the last state in the South to join the Union. It had been a Spanish colony until well into the 1800s. The dominant cuisine of Florida now, other than standard American, is Cuban, particularly in the southernmost part of the state. There's also a strong Greek presence around Tarpon Springs. And Southern cooking throughout the Panhandle. Lots of fine seafood resources, notably Apalachicola oysters, pompano on the Gulf Coast, and royal ruby shrimp and rock shrimp. Conch is a big deal in the keys. But the finest Florida food export is oranges, the best juice oranges this side of our own here Louisiana.

Words To Eat By

"Round a table delicately spread, three or four may sit in choice repast, or five at the most. Who otherwise shall dine, are like a troop marauding for their prey."--Archestratus, ancient Greek food authority and poet.

Words To Drink By

"Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one you have."--Emile-Auguste Chartier, French writer, born today in 1868.

Edible Dictionary

hake, n.--The fish known by this name in the Gulf of Mexico is related to cod, and is about the size of a speckled trout--one to two pounds, usually. While it's not a common food fish, when it does turn up on a menu it's worth ordering. Its flaky flesh is nearly white and rather soft, making it ideal for poaching or sautes, especially with sauces. It had a peculiar shape, with a tail that comes to a point and a continuous fin along its back and underside. It looks like a standard fish in front and an eel in the back. It turns up most often during shrimp season, when it's a by-catch in shrimp nets.

Annals of Corporate Food

The Systems and Services Company--known now as Sysco--went public today in 1970. Sysco is an enormous nationwide distributor of food, equipment, and supplies to the restaurant industry. In recent years it has extended its offerings to include the entire range of cooked, ready-to-serve foods to restaurants. Best customers: the chains, who value the consistency that an outfit like Sysco brings above creativity and seasonal cooking. However, Sysco and companies like it are making inroads even in traditional restaurants. Most people would be surprised how much of the food served even in expensive restaurants is prepared elsewhere and just being heated and plated. Some places serve almost nothing but. In the business, these are often called "Sysco restaurants."