January 9

The Nutmeg State. Nutmeg. Mace. Campbell's Soup. Volare. Dagwood. Borlotti Beans. Soup Bean Creek.

Days Until

Mardi Gras--49 Valentine's Day--21

Eating Across America

Connecticut, The Nutmeg State, became United State Number Five today in 1788. The nickname commemorates a fraud. Nutmeg, a tropical spice, cannot be grown there. But it was expensive enough that some early Yankee con men carved nuggets of what looked like nutmeg from wood and sold it as such to anyone they could fool. The tradition lives on: now Connecticut's specialty is insurance.

Today's Flavor

In honor of the statehood of Connecticut, this is National Nutmeg Day. Nutmegs are the fruits of a small tree native to the East Indies. It's really two spices in one: the nutmeg itself, which looks like a pecan but smaller, and mace, which is a lacy covering around the nutmeg. Both are used in recipes. Mace has a more powerful aroma, but nutmeg has the more intense flavor. Indeed, a little nutmeg goes a long way, especially when used in a savory dish. Like what? Sneak a pinch into cream sauces and bechamel. You won't taste nutmeg, but you'll notice an improvement in the finished dish. Most of us have jars of nutmeg that should have been thrown away years ago. The old stuff has as much flavor as the grated wood that gave Connecticut its unlikely nickname. The best way to use nutmeg, of course, is to grate your own as you need it--if you can find the damn nutmeg grater.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez

No dish ever needs a little more nutmeg. You might think so, but what's happening is that you so seldom use the spice that you already put it in there.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine

Campbell's Soup was made a trademark by the Patent Office today in 1906. The first of their soups was tomato. . . In other food branding news, today in 1984, Wendy's premiered a strange new advertising campaign that added a new catchphrase to American speech: "Where's the beef?" The line was delivered by Clara Peller to a fellow octogenarian to express her disappointment with the product of a competing burger joint.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Nutmeg Creek comes tumbling down from the High Sierras into the Feather River, as the latter cuts a gorge through the mountains on its way into California's Central Valley. The creek ends at a spot about ninety-four miles north of Sacramento, and just above Lake Oroville, formed by a dam on the Feather. This is dramatically beautiful country, with Feather Falls not far from there. But the nearest dining is in the well named River Restaurant in Oroville, twenty-seven miles away.

Deft Dining Rule #239:

The world's most underrated combination of flavors is seafood with beans. Any kind of either tastes great together.

Music To Eat Vitello Tonnato By

Domenico Modugno was born today in 1928. The Italian singer had a Number One hit in the United States--in Italian, yet!--with a song titled Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu. It was better known as Volare. One of the most familiar songs in the world, it is heard in Italian restaurants everywhere. Spunto, a short-lived restaurant on St. Louis Street (in the building where Nola is now), played Volare at top volume every half hour. The waiters would go around the room warning that it was about to start, so as not to alarm the patrons.

Edible Dictionary

oolong tea, n.--A variety of tea midway between the green and the black teas. The degree to which it oxidizes gives it a color which some have called blue, although that's fanciful. Because it has flavor qualities of both ends of the tea-aging spectrum, it is one of the most popular and common teas from China. The unusual name (it's a Chinese word that means "dragon tea" for the way its leaves curl, like a dragon's tail) leads American drinkers to believe it's very exotic, despite its middle-of-the road character. It is highly regarded in China, and quite a few areas produce of oolong tea with flavors and aromas distinct to those places. All of this is subtle, requiring a calm frame of mind and mental focus.

Food In The Funnies

Today is the birthday, in 1901, of Chic Young, who created the Blondie comic strip. It's more about her husband Dagwood than Blondie. Dagwood is an iconic chowhound, although he doesn't appear to be an ounce overweight. His finest creation is an overloaded sandwich on a whole loaf of French bread. It contains every known foodstuff, including whole fish. Such things have come to be known as a Dagwood Sandwich. A few years ago news came of the development by New Orleans-based chain of Dagwood Sandwich Shoppes. There are a few of them around the country, but none here.

Food Namesakes

It's the birthday, in 1913, of actor Eric Berry, who appeared in the film Double Exposure, among others. . . Wally Mary Stiefel McBride Baker was born today in 1898. She was the oldest person in history from Delaware. She passed away in 2009 at 111 years old. . . Television personality Beth Troutman saw the Big Tally Light come on today in 1977.

Words To Eat By

"Richard Nixon committed unspeakable acts with cottage cheese."--Jay Jacobs, the former New York restaurant critic for Gourmet. It's Richard Nixon's birthday (1913).

Words To Drink By

Ho! Ho! Ho! To the bottle I go To heal my heart and drown my woe Rain may fall, and wind may blow And many miles be still to go But under a tall tree will I lie And let the clouds go sailing by ―J.R.R. Tolkien