March 29

Wild Rice

Days Until. . .

French Quarter Festival--7 Easter --11 Jazz Festival--30

Today's Flavor

This is Wild Rice Week. Wild rice is indeed wild, but it's not really rice. Although it is now being cultivated, the plant is exactly as the Native Americans found it for centuries in the bogs in Minnesota. The long distance of its relation to true rice is obvious when you eat it. It has a nutty flavor more like that of oats or barley than rice. But, really, it has a taste all its own. It's most often served with game, and for decades any restaurant that served duck served wild rice with it. More often than not, wild rice in a restaurant is combined with regular rice, for the usual reason: wild rice is very expensive. It cooks quickly--just twenty minutes or so in a steamer.

Today is alleged by some sources to be National Lemon Chiffon Cake Day. Chiffon cakes are an American invention, and get their spongy, light consistency by incorporating beaten egg whites into the batter. Yawn.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Wine Hill is in southern Illinois, seventy-three miles south of St. Louis, Missouri, and seven miles northeast of the Mississippi River. It's a country crossroads town in the middle of rolling cornfields. The hill itself reaches 612 feet, which isn't nosebleed territory, exactly, but still about a hundred feet higher than the surrounding terrain. Despite the name, there is no evidence of significant vineyards anywhere nearby (although wine is grown in Illinois). The community supports a church but no restaurant. The nearest eatery is the Roadhouse, four miles west in Chester.

Science In Food

Biologist Charles Elton was born today in 1900. He was the first to use the term food chain, describing the deep interdependent relationships among plants and animals in nature, and how critical those relationships are to all living things. He thought of it as an energy flow, with plants taking up energy from the sun to produce food for herbivores which are then food for carnivores (to oversimplify the food chain a great deal).

Edible Dictionary

burgoo, n.--A pot-luck stew, traditionally made with whatever meats and vegetables are at hand. It has a long history in the Southeastern United States, particularly in Kentucky. Like barbecue, chili, and gumbo, the makers of burgoo can go on endlessly on how it should be made. For every person who says that squirrel meat (to pick an example) must be part of the recipe, another will decree that squirrel must never be used. Each will say the other doesn't know what an authentic burgoo really is. A common thread, however, is that several different meats go into the pot, and that it's simmer for a long time. Burgoo is not far removed from the hobo's mulligan stew. It's probably better read about than eaten.

Deft Dining Rule #233:

Dishes with colorful names are divided into two categories: the delicious and the terrible. There is no in-between. The very fact that it has an unusual name means the dish makes a big flavor statement.

Food At War

On this day in 1943--right in the middle of World War II--meat, cheese, and butter began to be rationed in the United States. The weekly ration for meat per person was 28 ounces. That was more of a hardship then than it would be now, because the American diet then was more meat-based. A large percentage of the American public now eats far less than 28 ounces of meat a week, by choice. Seafood eaters fared well during rationing. Fish and shellfish never were rationed, even though they were in shorter supply.

Roots Of Creole Cooking

Adrien de Pauger landed at what would become New Orleans on this date in 1721. He laid out the original street plan of the French Quarter. For his efforts he has a street named after him in the Marigny. A curiosity of a rough layout of his drawing is a note pointing to the block of Royal between Conti and St. Louis Streets. It says, "Good but expensive breakfast joint here."

Annals Of Soft Drinks

Today in 1886 druggist John S. Pemberton began advertising a new brain tonic and intellectual beverage (as he called it), made from kola nuts and containing a cocaine precursor. He named it Coca-Cola. He did not make much money with it, because before the stuff hit really big, Pemberton sold the formula to Asa Candler, who was the marketing genius.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

If you add Coca-Cola or anything like it to a recipe, you may be doing so just so you can say, "Oh, yes, I make my ham glaze with root beer."

Music To Eat With Your Man By

Today in 1918, actress and blues singer Pearl Bailey was born. "I don't like to say that my kitchen is a religious place," she said, "but I would say that if I were a voodoo priestess, I would conduct my rituals there." Pearly Mae was a frequent performer at the Blue Room of the old Fairmont Hotel here. In her honor the hotel named its twenty-four-hour restaurant after her. The restaurant outlived its namesake by a few years, but ultimately closed. After the Waldorf-Astoria arm of Hilton took over the old Fairmont and re-renamed it The Roosevelt, the space where Bailey's once was was turned over to Chef John Besh, who installed his Italian restaurant Domenica there.

Words To Eat By

"Food history is as important as a baroque church. Governments should recognize cultural heritage and protect traditional foods. A cheese is as worthy of preserving as a sixteenth-century building."--Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food Movement.

Words To Drink By

"Popularity, I have always thought, may aptly be compared to a coquette—the more you woo her, the more apt is she to elude your embrace."--John Tyler, tenth U.S. President, born today in 1790.