Butter Creek runs nine miles through the rolling fields of southern Illinois, fifty miles south of St. Louis. Coincidentally, it runs into Nimemile Creek, a tributary of the Kaskaskia River, which six miles south runs into the Mississippi. The nearest place to eat in this bucolic setting is the Farmer's Table Restaurant in Evansville, six miles north.
fingerling potato, n.--A variety of potato that produces small tubers about the size and shape of a finger or sausage. They're not merely small standard potatoes. A dozen or so varieties of fingerling potatoes are grown. The best-known is the Russian banana, which has a pale, yellowish-brown skin and a moist, smooth interior like that of a creamer. Other varieties are drier and flakier, like baking potatoes. Fingerlings can be cooked in all the usual ways, from boiling to baking. They're significantly more expensive than standard potatoes, and so are usually served whole instead of mashed or cubed, where the shape and size don't matter.
Food At War
On this date in 1862, General Benjamin "Beast" Butler, heading the Union occupation of New Orleans, ordered all captured women to be turned over to him for his pleasure. These were bad times, but falling early in the Civil War proved to be a good thing for New Orleans, which was not burned and looted the way many other Southern cities were. Antoine's and several other restaurants continued to operate.
Meanwhile, on the very same day in another branch of the Federal government, the Department of Agriculture was founded by an Act of Congress. Celebrate the day by driving by the USDA's interesting Art Deco building in City Park at the corner of Wisner and Robert E. Lee, and recall that almost all our food starts with farmers.
Speaking of farmers, it's the feast day of one of their many patron saints. Isidore The Farmer lived in Madrid in the eleventh century. His story is that, because he was criticized by fellow farmers for letting his work go while he attended Mass, a cadre of angels came and plowed his field. He's also the patron saint of cattle ranchers.If you have a steak today you can say it's in homage to Isidore.
Food In The Air
Ellen Church, the first stewardess on an airliner, made her first working flight on this date in 1930, from San Francisco to Cheyenne. This sounds like a joke, but it's true: she served a meal of fruit salad, chicken, and bread rolls to the passengers. What's wrong with the name "stewardess" that we can't use it anymore?
Food And The Environment
Today in 1908, American governors met with Theodore Roosevelt at the White House. They issued a declaration that conservation measures for the environment were needed. It was the first official recognition that the natural richness of America was not immune to profligate use. Here we are a hundred years later and we still haven't learned this. Today's despoilment: the creation of dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico right off our shores, as a result of the gross overuse of fertilizers in the Corn Belt.
Inventions In Taste
Listerine was registered as a trademark for a mouthwash today in 1923. The funny thing about mouthwash is that it makes orange juice drunk immediately afterward taste worse than the mouthwash itself.
Today is allegedly National Chocolate Chip Day. My wife and daughter will go for that. For the past couple of years, my daughter's breakfast has been a couple of large, gooey, freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies. If she's in a hurry, sometimes she just eats the dough. I don't know how she can stand it. Chocolate chips from the major manufacturers are actually of pretty good quality chocolate, but they're coated with a thin layer of edible wax, which is what makes me use other forms of chocolate for things like chocolate mousse.
Amy Chow, who won gold and silver in the Olympics for the US in 1996, was born today in 1978. . Katherine Anne Porter, author of Ship of Fools, was born today in 1890. She said, "It's a man's word, and you men can have it." . Classical composer Arthur Berger was born today in 1912. . Wavy Gravy, peace activist, clown, Woodstock performer, and counterculture icon in the 1960s and beyond, was born today in 1936 (as Hugh Romney). Australian athlete Lisa Curry-Kenny was born today in 1962. She's an swimmer and an Ironwoman contender, married to an Ironman. (The mind boggles.)
Words To Eat By
"All my wife has ever taken from the Mediterranean—from that whole vast intuitive culture—are four bottles of Chianti to make into lamps, and two china condiment donkeys labeled Sally and Peppy."--Peter Shaffer, British playwright, born today in 1926.
"Great reviews are the worst. They mislead you more than the bad ones, because they only fuel your ego. Then you only want another one, like potato chips or something, and the best thing you get is fat and bloated. I'd rather just refuse, thanks."--Chazz Palminteri, actor, born today in 1951.
I always thought that ‘stick-jaw’ was toffee. I was right, but only partially. It seems that before it was toffee, stick-jaw was a pudding. Not a delicious pudding, but a pudding whose sole purpose was to occupy space in the digestive system and provide calories – especially to those living in institutions of various kinds. It was apparently ranked alongside scrap or resurrection pie as the bane of the nineteenth century boarding schoolboy’s life.
The dictionary describes stick-jaw as “a pudding or sweetmeat difficult of mastication’. To a schoolboy it was “pudding crammed down our throats to take away our appetite for the meat to follow.”
Sometimes it was a simple boiled pudding with the solidity and flavourlessness that only large amounts of suet and completely absent fruit (sugar, butter, eggs, spices) can provide. Often, like resurrection pie, stick-jaw pudding was made from scraps – in this case the scraps of bread accumulated over the course of the week.
Bread pudding, properly made, has a lot going for it of course. Here is a nice version from The Accomplished Housekeeper, and Universal Cook (1797), by T. Williams
A Bread Pudding.
Boil half a pint of milk with a little cinnamon, four eggs well beaten, the rind of a lemon grated, half a pound of suet chopped fine, and as much bread as necessary. Pour your milk on the bread and suet, keep mixing it until ocld, then put in the lemon peel, the eggs, a little sugar, and some nutmeg grated find. You may either boil or bake this pudding.
Quotation for the Day.
Books cannot always please, howver good
Minds are not ever craving for their food.
George Crabbe (1754-1832), The Borough Schools.
Today, August 30th …
Ernest Giles said of himself “ … though I shall not attempt to rank myself amongst the first or greatest, yet I think I have reason to call myself, the last of the Australian explorers.” He was certainly one of the most determined. Between 1872 and 1875 he led five expeditions into the central and western interiorof the continent, without receiving any official support or reward.
On this day in 1873, on his second expedition, it was the birthday of one of his companions, one William Tietkens. Naturally, the campsite for the night was named “Tietkens’ Birthday Creek”, and luckily a birthday dinner was caught.
“On reaching the camp, Gibson and Jimmy had shot some parrots and other birds, which must have flown down the barrels of their guns, otherwise they never could have hit them, and we had an excellent supper of parrot soup.”
Parrot soup is rarely pronounced “excellent”, except sometimes in situations of extreme explorer-hunger. In fact, documented evidence of parrot-for-dinner in any form is uncommon. Like parrot pie, parrot soup seems to have an existence more mythical than real, and what “recipes” do appear for it are usually in joke form. The Standard Aussie Outback Recipe for Parrot Soup is something along the lines of “place parrot in water with an old boot (or an axe-handle). When the boot (or axe-handle) is tender, throw away the parrot and eat the boot (or axe-handle)”.
Why is parrot-for-dinner uncommon? Are parrots hard to catch (or were Giles’ men terrible hunters)? Are the Angami tribe of Nagaland onto something in disallowing their children from eating parrot flesh for fear that they may develop the birds’ noisy chattery habits? Are parrots really tougher than old boots? Or do they simply taste awful? Have they never been attributed with aphrodisiac qualities?
A parrot-smuggling racket discovered on the India-Nepal border on 2005 was attributed to the demand from Chinese gourmets - suggesting some inherent culinary desirability (or was it the demand of feather fashionistas?). There will always be a proportion of consumers for whom desirability as a food is related to scarcity rather than palatability – a factor, no doubt, in the apparent popularity of flamingo tongues for certain Roman emperors.
Today’s Recipes …
There is a recipe for parrot in the ancient Roman collection attributed to Apicius (who is mysterious in his own right) – but the parrot seems an afterthought, an alternative to the perhaps more desirable flamingo.
Scald the flamingo [then remove feathers], wash and dress it, put it in a pot, add water, salt, dill, and a little vinegar, to be parboiled. Finish cooking with a bunch of leeks and coriander, and add some reduced must to give it color. In the mortar crush pepper, cumin, coriander, laser root, mint, rue, moisten with vinegar, add dates and the fond of the braised bird, thicken [strain] cover the bird with the sauce and serve. Parrot is prepared in the same manner.
[Slightly adapted from the Vehling translation of Apicius: “Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome.]
If flamingo and parrot are unavailable, or not to your taste, you can still enjoy the parrot theme with a thoroughly modern cocktail:
1 oz. Brandy (or Apricot Brandy)
1 oz. Pernod
1 oz. Yellow Chartreuse
Combine ingredients in a shaker filled with ice, shake and strain into a chilled martini glass..
Tomorrow’s Story …
Quotation for the Day …
Hunger makes you restless. you dream about food -- not just any food, but perfect food, the best food, magical meals, famous and awe-inspiring, the one piece of meat, the exact taste of buttery corn, tomatoes so ripe they split and sweeten the air, beans so crisp they snap between the teeth, gravy like mother's milk singing to your bloodstream. Dorothy Allison.