Foodstuffs For Today
Tom Fitzmorris January 30, 2020 11:35 Almanac
Thursday, January 30, 2020
Kingly Eating. Croissants. Puff Pastry. Dime Food. Roll. Raccoon. The Beer Law. Waiter's Saint. Mayonnaise.
Today in 1649 England renounced the monarchy by beheading King Charles I. (And after he brought ice cream to Britain for the first time!) Parliament took over the government, which became a dictatorship under Oliver Cromwell. Nine years later, the monarchy would be restored. England has had royalty ever since, and they seem to like the idea. I wonder what it would be like to be a king. The food and wine would be pretty good, I imagine. Another good thing about being a king would be that you'd have many servants, who would cook and serve your food and (more important) clean up the kitchen for you. Today is the feast day of St. Adelelmus, the patron saint of domestic servants, butlers, and maids.
Today is National Croissant Day. Good croissants are difficult to make at home and just as hard to find in stores. Both of the little bakeries where I was getting excellent ones have perished. The exterior of a great croissant has a crust that flakes off in big curved pieces. The interior should be yeasty, buttery, and vaguely fibrous. And it should be at warm room temperature, the last vestiges of heat from the oven just coming off.
While the plain croissant is by far the most popular, there's a certain amount of interest in croissants filled with almonds and almond paste or chocolate. Some are baked with ham and cheese inside. And sandwiches are made of croissants, too. None of these strike my palate as improvements--although the almond version comes close.
There's a bit of anti-Islamic lore surrounding the invention of the croissant, but it doesn't appear to be true. The story takes place in several different places--notably Vienna and Tours--but it's always the same story: that the people of the city celebrated the defeat of the Muslin invaders by baking a pastry in the shape of a crescent. If that were true, why did we not make cakes with hammers and sickles on them when the U.S.S.R fell? In fact, nobody's quite sure how long the croissant has been made. It seems to be of relatively recent creation, inspired by the bakers of Austria. But even that isn't certain. We can talk about it over a croissant and coffee. The best croissants in New Orleans come from Le Boulangerie, Maurice's French Bakery, the Windsor Court Grill Room, and Hi-Do Bakery. My wife loves Levee.
Deft Dining Rule #750: Buttering a good croissant is like spreading rendered ham fat on a slice of bacon.
puff pastry, n.--A pastry which, when baked, shows many thin layers, with air gaps between them. It's made by rolling out a thin dough made of little more than flour and water. Butter (or lard or shortening) is spread over the dough, which is folded and rolled out to about the same thickness it had before it was folded. This is repeated many times, with rests for the dough between each rolling. After tenfold, the dough has over a thousand layers. The fat between the layers causes the get expansion in the oven. Puff pastry is probably a descendant of phyllo, which is made slightly differently. Croissants are made in much the same way, but with yeast added to the flour and water.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez: Always keep lard in the back of your mind when baking or frying. It's not good for you to eat often, but it sure is good once in awhile.
Coins And Food
Today in 1946, on what would have been his sixty-fourth birthday, the dime bearing the image of Franklin D. Roosevelt was released. It recognized his involvement in the March of Dimes, as well as the tremendous reverence in which he was held at that time. Dimes have never been used as much in New Orleans as elsewhere in America. This was blamed on the nickel payphone, which persisted for decades after the phones in other states were a dime. Even in this day, with pay phones nearly extinct, we Orleanians notice a large buildup of dimes in our pockets when we travel. The last significant restaurant dish that could be bought with a dime here was the Krystal hamburger, still ten cents in the late 1960s. However, the all-time best bargain for a dime was the martini served with lunch at Bacco. They instituted that for their tenth anniversary, and it has been much-copied since.
Roll, Arizona is in the southwest corner of the state, forty-five miles east of Yuma, about two miles off the I-8. It's in the middle of a vast area of former flat desert that has become fertile farmland, thanks to irrigation from the last section of the Colorado River before it goes, almost dry, into Mexico. The mainline of the former Southern Pacific Railroad runs right through the center of Roll, and if you take the Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Los Angeles, you will too. It's hot enough around there in the summer that you might be able to bake a roll without using an oven. Although there are fewer than ten structures in all of Roll, one of them is a restaurant: The Tamarack Cafe and Bar.
Food In The Wild
According to the Old Farmer's Almanac, raccoons mate today. About twenty years ago I ate my first (and probably last) raccoon meat. It wasn't bad, actually--better than possum, much better than nutria, not quite as good as armadillo. The raccoon backstrap was rather dark but tender enough. The cook seemed to know what it was all about.
St. Adelemus, who lived in Burgundy in the 1000s, is celebrated today. He was the abbot of a monastery in Spain. He was a servant in his early life, and so is a patron saint of butlers, maitres' d'hotel, and waiters.
Annals Of Food Legislation
The world's first pure-food law, and perhaps the first law ever to protect the rights of consumers, was Reinheitsgebot, decreed by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria on this date in 1516. Among other things, it required that beer be made of only three ingredients: malted barley, hops, and water. (Later, yeast--which naturally occurs on grain--was also allowed.) Many microbrewers, including the Crescent City Brewhouse here, still follow that law.
Food And Drink Namesakes
Former Congressman from New York, Floyd Flake was born today (appropriately, this being Croissant Day) in 1945. . . F. Vernon Boozer, a Maryland politician, first toasted life today in 1936.
Words To Eat By
"I always wanted to write a book that ended with the word 'mayonnaise.'"--Richard Brautigan, author of the novel Trout Fishing In America, born today in 1935.
"You may feel that you have eaten too much. But this pastry is like feathers. It is like snow. It is, in fact, good for you, a digestive!"--M. F. K. Fisher, speaking of a puff pastry.