Friday, May 2, 2008

Flaming Finish to a Fine Meal

After a fine meal of Pecan-Crusted Speckled Trout with Rum-Butter Sauce (pg. 204) followed with Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie (pg. 287), what could be better than a well-prepared cup of coffee to accompany that dessert? Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook offers a Cafe Brulot Diabolique on page 408. This coffee offers the diner a dramatic finish when the clove-studded lemon and orange peels are set aflame. When preparing this recipe, it's stated that "Because the flames from the burning alcohol typically rise at least 2 to 3 feet, this recipe should not be prepared on a stove with a low hood, nor in a kitchen with a ceiling lower than 8 feet from the floor."

Ian McNulty at writes:
"It ends up tasting like very thick, sweet coffee with the deep citrus and clove flavors mellowing the sweetness. . . It is especially popular as a finale to a big holiday meal, such as the New Orleans reveillon feast. . . It is also one of the most memorable ways to cap off a glorious New Orleans meal."
Coffee has a long history beginning around 850 CE when a goatherd named Kaldi noticed how lively his goats became after eating berries coming from a certain shrub in Ethiopia, according to Cultivation of coffee trees dates to around 1100 CE on the Arabian Peninsula. Arabs making the beverage referred to it as "qahwa" meaning a beverage made from plants. The first cafe opened in Constantinople in 1475. English coffeehouses became the birth place of tipping the staff. In order to speed one's order or improve one's seating, a cup was prominently placed with an accompanying sign that said, "To Insure Prompt Service."

Surprisingly, Lloyd's of London was born of a coffeehouse. Edward Lloyd opened a coffeehouse in London on Tower Street in 1688. According to Wikipedia's history of Lloyd's, the coffeehouse was frequented by merchants, shipowners and sailors who would discuss insurance deals among themselves. Later members of the insurance arrangement formed a committee called The Society of Lloyd's and moved to the Royal Exchange in 1774.

The first coffee plants were brought over from Europe in 1723 by a French naval officer by the name of Gabriel de Clieu who smuggled a seedling that he planted on the island of Martinique. By 1777 it had become a major crop for Martinique, where it would have been easily transported to New Orleans.

The Louisiana State Museum states that New Orleans is the number one coffee port in the U. S with it's 241,000 tons coming from 31 countries. In 1995, coffee shipped from New Orleans accounted more than a quarter of all coffee imported to the United States. As a commodity, it's second only to oil and more than 400 billion cups are drunk annually.

Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook states that flaming coffees came via French cooks and waiters in the early 1800s. This is a recipe that produces 10 - 12 1/4-cup servings. According to the cookbook, "If you have a large kitchen, your guests can gather 'round to enjoy seeing you recreate the loveliest of all Creole dining rituals." "Light My Fire: The Spectacle and Tradition of Café Brûlot" 2006
KoffeeKorner: "Coffee History" 03/30/00
Wikipedia: "Lloyd's of London" 03/30/08
Louisiana State Museum: "New Orleans and Coffee" 2002
photo courtesy of Kaleid, used under this Creative Commons license

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