Fun Foodstuffs For Today

Tom Fitzmorris January 23, 2020 12:12 Almanac

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Euro-Wine In America. Tan Eggs. Confit Of Duck. Soup Bowl Creek. Pontchartrain. Victoria And Caroline. Red Bean Asteroid.

Annals Of Wine Marketing

On this date in 1862, the first European-variety wine grapevine cuttings arrived in California. Agoston Haraszthy, a native of Pest, Hungary, arrived in Sonoma, where he had a good deal of vineyard land, with about 100,000 vines. He had lots of problems, mainly because the endemic root louse called phylloxera was killing the non-resistant European vines. But ultimately his efforts brought him fame as the Father of California Winemaking. His winery, Buena Vista, lives on (in name, anyway) to this day.

Today is one of two days called the birthday of John Hancock, whose handwriting was so rococo that he has become almost the patron saint of elaborate penmanship. He became a fervent American revolutionary when one of his ships, carrying a full load of wine, was seized by the British. He was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence, as any schoolchild knows. The year of his birth was 1737. Hancock's birthday inspired the naming of January 23 as National Handwriting Day. As a long-time user of fountain pens that make bold strokes, I observe.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez: When you boil eggs, use standard (not expensive) balsamic vinegar in the boiling water. It will turn the shells a little brown, telling you at a glance which ones in the refrigerator have been boiled.

Food Calendar

Today is National Confit Of Duck Day. A confit of duck is made by cooking duck pieces--most commonly leg quarters--in the fat rendered from the duck skin. Originally, this was a way of preserving duck meat. After it was cooked, it remained in a jar with the fat and could hold up that way for months, without refrigeration. When it was time to eat it, the duck was broiled or baked, and the fat that saturates it makes it crisp on the outside, in sort of the same way bacon becomes when cooked in its own fat. Meanwhile, the inside of the dug leg becomes extraordinarily tender inside and almost melts in the mouth.

Obviously, this is a delicious item, and a great way to use the duck legs. Since the breast cooks at a different rate, many chefs now grill the breast and make a confit of the legs. If you're lucky, you get both on the plate. If not, you get one or another. (Thus the restaurant that used to serve a half duck may now be getting two entrees out of what used to be one entree.)

The local gold standard for duck confit has long been Gautreau's, which served the melt-in-the-mouth savory as an appetizer. Some other outstanding versions come from the Pelican Club, Lilette, Marigny Brasserie, and Muriel's. Also Boucherie. As good as a confit of duck is, even better is confit d'oie. That's the same idea, made with the geese raised for foie gras is made in France.

Delicious-Sounding Places

Soup Bowl Creek runs through a valley in the Coastal Range in California, eighteen miles west of San Jose, California. The creek is at about the 2500-foot altitude, on the eastern side of Cow Hill. These are steep, tree-covered volcanic mountains whose western flanks hold some excellent vineyards and wineries. But you'd never get up there except on a horse or maybe with an all-terrain vehicle. The nearest restaurants are a bunch of chains in Morgan Hill, eight miles away as the crow flies. Pinoy Lechon BBQ and Grill sounds good.

Edible Dictionary  

Pontchartrain, adj.--Around New Orleans, a dish described as Pontchartrain style is served with crabmeat scattered on top of the main item (usually a fillet of fish, fried or broiled). The crabmeat is typically awash in a simple brown butter or beurre blanc sauce. In the most ambitious versions, the crabmeat is jumbo lump or--even more spectacular--a whole small soft-shell or buster crab. The idea has long been favorite by waiters as a way of transforming a seemingly ordinary (but perhaps quite good) fish dish into something special, even though the addition of crabmeat to dishes is now very common.  The dish is named for Lake Pontchartrain, the source of many crabs. The lake, in turn, is named for Louis Phélypeaux, Comte de Pontchartrain,  who was the Chancellor of France under Louis XIV.

Deft Dining Rule #749: For an illustrative datum, the next time a waiter offers to top a dish with crabmeat, ask what the price difference will be. You will learn why this practice is so widespread.

Annals Of Royalty

The sixty-four years Victorian Period in England (and a lot of other places) came to an end with the death today, in 1901, of Queen Victoria. She was succeeded by her son, Edward VII. When he first addressed Parliament, he relaxed a rule that his mother had insisted upon in her presence, by saying, "Gentlemen, you may smoke." That dictum made him a hero in the cigar industry, one company of which named its best-selling line of stogies King Edward The Seventh.

Looking Up

Today in 1975, the asteroid Eros passed within ten million miles of the Earth, which is a close approach indeed. It is shaped like a red bean. 

The Saints

Today is the feast day of St. Bernard of Vienne, who lived in France in the eight century. He's the patron saint of farmers and animal herders. It's also the feast day of St. Emerentiana, of the third century. You ask for her intercession if you have a stomach ache. And it's also St. Urban of Langres Day. His intercession will save you from alcoholism. He's the patron saint of those who make wine barrels.

Food Namesakes

All the food names have to do with music today, for some reason. On this date in 1969, the rock group Cream released its last album, Goodbye. We had just discovered them, it seemed, and they were gone. . . Fats Domino and Chuck Berry (who has a rare double food name!) were among the first inductees into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, today in 1986. . . Jazz saxophonist Benny Waters was born today in 1902. . . Early blues singer Leadbelly was born today in 1888. . . Richard Berry, who composed the ultimate rock party song Louie, Louie, died today in 1997. . .  Mark Curry, a rap singer also known by a second food name Chop D.I.E.S.E.L., started complaining today in 1972.

Words To Eat By

"A well-made sauce will make even an elephant or a grandfather palatable."--Grimod de la Reyniere, author of one of the earliest French cookbooks.