Who needs important facts about food when you can spend your time with the weird stuff?
BOY, OH BOY!
Perhaps, like me, you believed that Chef Boy-Ar-Dee was similar to Betty Crocker, a fictional figure created by an advertising firm. Perhaps, like me, you thought the pleasant and avuncular face that graces the familiar cans of Italianish food is an artist’s rendition, an imaginative depiction of the sort of chef who would create circles of spaghetti and place them in a bright orange sauce.
Ah, but then you and I would be wrong.
Chef Boy-Ar-Dee (the company now spells it Boyardee) was a real person. Ettore Boiardi — called Hector by his friends who couldn’t pronounce Ettore — was born in Italy, where he lived until he was 16. After coming to America, he rose through the restaurant ranks to become an actual chef, first at the Plaza Hotel in New York and later at the famed Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, where he catered the reception for Woodrow Wilson’s second wedding.
Later, he founded the company that more or less bore his name. Though he eventually sold most of it, he stayed on as spokesman and part owner. Led by his name and genial personality, the company went on to become the largest purveyor of canned foods in the country.
(Almost) everyone loves gyros, the great Greek contribution to fast food: a spiced combination of lamb and beef, sliced right off the spit, served on warm pita with onion, tomato and tzatziki — that delicious, cooling sauce made of yogurt and cucumber, and maybe some fresh herbs.
But (almost) no one in America pronounces it right. It’s pronounced “YEE-rohs.” Also, the word is singular, as in “I would like one gyros, please.” Greek words often end in the letter “s,” but for obvious reasons when Americans see an “s” at the end of a word they automatically assume it is plural.
Julia Child was right.
She was right about many things, of course, including the best way to make boeuf bourguignon and a foolproof method for poaching eggs. But she was also right about her own personal kitchen design.
One highlight of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington is the re-creation of her famous kitchen. Everything is there, down to the smallest utensil, and it is placed exactly where it was in her real house in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The kitchen was designed by her husband, Paul, and it includes a couple of aspects that are enormously helpful to the serious cook. One, it uses open shelves — cabinets without doors — that make it efficient and easy to grab any pot you want. And also, the countertops on either side of the stove are stainless steel. It’s a perfect substance for a kitchen; impervious to heat and easy to clean. No wonder restaurants use it.
KEEPING DOCTORS AWAY
The practice of throwing rice at a wedding is harmless and fun, and it may have evolved from a tradition that was equally fun, but a little more painful. According to the U.S. Apple Association, wedding participants in ancient times used to throw apples at the bride and groom.
Now that you’ve pictured that for a moment, ponder this: Apples may also have played a role in bringing the happy couple together. According to the same organization, the game of bobbing for apples began with the Celts, as a fun way of predicting one’s future spouse. And in any apple-bobbing game of the time, the first person to successfully come up with an apple was thought also to be the first to marry.
HAMMING IT UP
Virginia ham, and Smithfield Ham in particular, is prized for its unique, robust and unmistakable flavor. But a pig is a pig, right? Why do pigs from Virginia taste better?
The difference is not in the pigs, but in what they eat. Pigs will eat nearly everything, a fact used by farmers who feed their pigs whatever happens to be on hand and inexpensive. Southeast Virginia, where the town of Smithfield is located, happens to be peanut country.
The farmers there feed their pigs peanuts, which, over time, adds a wonderful taste to the ham. One can only imagine the pigs do not complain. They are as happy as a pig in peanuts, wondering where they can find some jelly.