Thanksgiving Special: Get Stuffed

ImageI’ve heard some argue that when stuffing (also known as dressing, although that is a hotly debated topic) is done right it can be the highlight of a Thanksgiving meal. With so many delicious food options, this may be a somewhat controversial viewpoint. What can’t be denied though is that humans have thought that stuffing was a damn good idea long before the first Thanksgiving or the discovery of the New World.

The exact origin of stuffing can’t be exactly pinpointed. However, I would imagine that the practice has occurred ever since people have been ripping the entrails out of carcasses. Many seem to have forgotten that stuffing is supposed to be on the inside of an animal, not in a baking dish next to it.

The first written record of stuffing fares from the Roman Empire in a cookbook titled De Re Coquinaria. It contained recipes for a variety of stuffed animals; including hares, pigs and chickens. For the most part the stuffing consisted of a variety of vegetables, spices, nuts and herbs, as well as spelt and organ meat. It of course wasn’t called ‘stuffing’ at the time, in fact that word didn’t appear in print until about 1538. Prior to this, it was mostly referred to as farce which came from the Latin farcire which meant ‘to stuff.’ By the Victorian era, the word ‘stuffing’ became a little too crass for 19th century sensibilities and was thusly referred to as dressing instead, which we of course know is still used today interchangeably.

It can’t be known exactly when stuffing became popular in America, however, written evidence shows that it was a Thanksgiving staple by at least 1836. It’s more than likely that it has been utilised far earlier though, after all, there was already a long historical tradition of the practice. Also, you gotta stuff a bird with something. What we do know for sure is that different parts of the nation adapted the dish early on in order to incorporate local flavours. For example, in the Boston area oyster based stuffings are incredibly popular. One of the earliest printed recipes is from the 1832 Cook’s Own Book which instructed “Fill your chickens with young oysters cut small, truffles, parsley and spices, and roast them.” Comparatively, New England stuffing at the time tended to incorporate chestnuts, and often continues to today. In the South, cornbread based stuffing is the way to go, although they tend to refer to it as the aforementioned dressing.

There’s no evidence to show exactly when stuffing left the animal cavities and became a side dish onto itself. However, it could be argued that it at least became widespread during the early 1970s. This was due to the the release of Ruth Siems’ Stovetop Stuffing in 1972 by General Foods, which is now known as Kraft Foods. It was quick, convenient and tasty, and therefore was an instant hit. Today, over sixty millions boxes are sold every year at Thanksgiving time. As an Australian, I still don’t quite understand the idea of a roasting pan full of stuffing. As a historian, I think I’m obliged to examine the matter by making a huge batch for this years Friendsgiving I’m attending. All in the name of research, of course.

Thanksgiving Special: A Shortcrust History of Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin-Pie-ImageIf you’re in the USA you’re undoubtedly getting ready for one of the biggest feast days of the year – Thanksgiving. Perhaps your thoughts are already being filled by the delicious delicacies that you’ll be treating yourself to. Turkey, stuffing, mac n’ cheese, green bean casserole and of course – pumpkin pie. It may surprise you discover that this Fall dessert, whilst delectable, wasn’t found on the tables at the first Thanksgiving. Nor did it originate in the New World. In fact, it’s far more of a modern day staple for Turkey Day.

Evidence suggests that pumpkins originated in South America over seven thousand years ago and overtime also became native to New England. It’s believed that Native Americans traditionally prepared pumpkins by cooking them in slices over the hot coals of their fires. The vegetables began being exported to England and France during the Tudor period and the versatility of them were quickly recognised, including using them as a filler.

Pumpkin pies as we know them today were developed in the mid seventeenth century in France. Renowned chef Francois Pierre la Varenne created a recipe for a pompion torte – a pastry crust with a sweet pumpkin filling. Similar recipes began appearing in English cook books by 1675, one of the most notable being Hannah Woolley’s The Gentlewoman’s Companion.Meanwhile, it took 150 years for Varenne’s creation to begin appearing in American cookbooks, and it was only then that the pies began become a common item at the Thanksgiving table.

However, despite this beloved pie not being present at the first Thanksgiving in 1621, the vegetable itself certainly was. Pilgrims had brought pumpkin recipes with them on the Mayflower that were sweeter than that of the the Native Americans. In fact, they served a kind of pudding at the iconic dinner which involve hollowing out a pumpkin and filling it with milk, honey and spices. It was then baked in hot ashes.

Regardless of the pie’s origin, it continues to be a staple at American Thanksgiving dinner tables today, as well as a symbol of the Fall season in general. With that it mind, you should probably go and have a slice.

The Origin of Chopsticks

Although it may seem odd, chopsticks are designed to be convenient for eating rice. Unlike the fluffy long grain rice that most Westerners are accustomed to, traditional Asian rice is a short or medium grain. The starch levels in these varieties create a more sticky and clumpy texture that’s easier to pick up with chopsticks.

Welcome to the second Delicious History Prize Post. Today’s topic was chosen by the lovely Aaron Podmore as a reward for donating to the podcast project.

Aaron was interested in the history behind a wide array of eating utensils, but after some initial research I discovered so many interesting facts that I couldn’t possibly fit them all into one blog post. As a result, I’ve decided to start an entire series on the subject  in order to satiate both my and Aaron’s interest. Today we’re going to kick it off with a look into the origin of the chopstick.

Created roughly 5,000 years ago in China, the earliest versions of chopsticks were used for cooking (they’re perfect for reaching into deep pots full of hot water or oil) and were most likely made from twigs. It wasn’t until 400 AD that they began being used as utensils, which was due to a population boom across the country. Consequently, resources became incredibly scarce and cooks began to cut their food into smaller pieces. The bite sized morsels rendered knives obsolete, as there was very little left to cut. However, they were now perfect for eating with chopsticks. Thus, a trend was born.

The knife’s decline in popularity can also be attributed to the teachings of Confucius, who was a vegetarian. He believed that that they weren’t appropriate to eat with because they would remind eaters of warfare, violence and slaughterhouses. As he himself said, ”The honorable and upright man keeps well away from both the slaughterhouse and the kitchen.  And he allows no knives on his table.”

Within a mere 100 years, chopsticks had migrated to other Asian countries, such as Japan, Korea and Vietnam. One distinct difference between Japanese and Chinese chopsticks was that the former were made from a single piece of bamboo that were joined at the base. In addition, Japanese chopsticks were originally used solely for religious ceremonies. Regardless of their differences, chopsticks remained popular in both countries and are still the primary utensil of choice.

Can’t get enough historical chopstick trivia? Check out some of these awesome bonus facts:

– Silver chopsticks were sometimes used during Chinese dynastic times in order to prevent food poisoning. It was believed that they utensils would turn black if they came into contact with any life threatening toxins. Unfortunately for those engaging in this practise, silver doesn’t turn black when it touches the likes of cyanide and or arsenic. However, it most definitely can change colour if touched by garlic, onion or rotten eggs – all of which release hydrogen sulfide which reacts to silver. This would have undoubtedly led to some awkward situations and/or accidental executions. Whoops.

– Chopsticks are not commonly used in Thailand, which is a common Western misconception.

– The ruins of Yin provide both the earliest examples of Chinese writing as well as the first known chopsticks. They were a bronze set that were found in one of the tombs at the site.

– Korean superstition states that the closer to the tip that you hold your chopsticks, the longer you will remain unwed.

– In traditional Chinese culture,it’s poor etiquette to:

  • Spear your food with your chopstick.
  • Dig around in your food for a particular item. This is referred to as “digging your grave” and is considered extremely rude.
  • Tap your chopsticks on the edge of your bowl. This is what beggars do to attract attention.

Can you use chopsticks? Do you love them? Hate them? Do you feel superior to other white folk when you utilise them in an Asian restaurant? Tell me all about your chopstick adventures in the coments!

From Tudors to Turducken: An Engastration Tale

Greetings, food history lovers.

I’d like to start this post by thanking Sally Evans for choosing this topic and for her donation to the Delicious History Podcast Project! Part of her prize was getting to choose something for me to write about, and she definitely chose wisely. Now let’s explore the world of monster-roasts!

Engastration is the proper term that is used to describe the act of stuffing an animal into the insides of another animal, and then cooking it. A charming description, I know.

Arguably the most famous engastration creation is the Turducken – A de-boned chicken stuffed inside a de-boned duck, stuffed inside a de-boned turkey. The exact origin of the Turducken is debated, however, Louisiana chef Paul Prudhomme claims to have invented it and managed to secure a patent on the recipe in 1987.  It was then further popularised by American football commentator John Madden during the NFL. He also promoted it on Fox Sports by feeding it to the Thanksgiving Bowl winners.

Despite the three-bird feast being in the public eye for a relatively short period of time, the tradition of multi-bird and multi-animal roasts have a long history. This is unsurprising if one considers humanities love for playing God. Some historians claim that these roasts emerged during the middle ages, while others believe they can be traced back to ancient times.

Although there are literally hundreds of variations, today we’re going to be looking at some of the more notable edible monstrosities from history.

Tudor Christmas Pie – It actually looks quite palatable…from the outside

Tudor Christmas Pie

The Tudors are known for their overly gluttonous feasts, and their Christmas Pie certainly fits the mold. It consisted of a coffin shape pie crust that enveloped a turkey stuffed with a goose, stuffed with a chicken, stuffed with a partridge stuffed with a pigeon. The tradition of this extravagant pie lived on, and a similar recipe can be found in The Art of Cookery, which was published in 1747. It also became fashionable to serve these pies cold during the 19th century, which is something I think I would find rather hard to stomach.

Cooking these multi bird roasts inside a pie was a common practice at the time due to the use of fire for cooking, as opposed to ovens. If cooked on their own, the outer layers of meat would become tough and dry.


Not satisfied with merely stuffing creatures into one another, the Tudors can also be attributed with combining animals for their feasts. The most famous is the cockentrice – a pig and a capon that are sewed together to create a new mythical beast. It was born out of Henry VIII’s uncontrollable desire to impress the King of France by throwing a £5 million on a literal meat feast. In addition to the cockentrice, the celebration also consisted of 2000 sheep, 1000 chickens and a dolphin. Because, y’now, that’s necessary.

A similar creation to this is the Helmeted Cock, which first appeared in medieval French cookbook Le Viandier de Tailleven. As opposed to sewing the two animals together, the capon rides the pig and is outfitted in the coat of arms of the honoured Lords who are present.

Rôti Sans Pareil

Translated to ‘Roast Without Equal’, this was created by 19th century French gastronomist Grimod de la Reynière. This testament to human will consisted of seventeen birds that were stuffed in the following order:

  • The Helmeted Cock
  • Giant Bustard
  • Turkey
  • Goose
  • Pheasant
  • Chicken
  • Duck
  • Guinea Fowl
  • Teal
  • Woodcock
  • Partridge
  • Plover
  • Lapwing
  • Quail
  • Thrush (not the disease)
  • Lark
  • Bunting
  • Warbler

Reynière even published the recipe for his creation in a volume of L’Almanach des Gourmands. Because obviously this is something that people would want to make on a regular basis, and clearly gives Jamie’s 15-Minutes Meals a run for its money.



This one isn’t for the faint hearted, nor the weak stomached.

Kiviak is a traditional winter food of Greenlandic Inuits that involves obtaining roughly 400 auks (a type of sea bird) and stuffing them into a seal carcass. In case you were wondering, this includes their feathers, beaks and feet too. Seal grease is applied in order to prevent spoilage and then the entire thing is covered by a large rock pie and fermented for 3 – 18 months. Once the carcass is unburied everything is consumed…raw.

Thanks for joining me on this exploration into the realm of culinary monstrosities! To finish, I’d like yo know if any of you out there have tried a Turducken or any other multi-animal roast. If not, would you be game?

Podcast and Other Fun News

Hi all,

I’m very excited to announce that the first episode of the Delicious History Podcast has landed! It’s about cookies! You can find it here on iTunes.

I’m also in the process of moving the blog over to a new home

All future blog posts will be available at the new site, but I will still be putting up links here during the transition period.

Thanks for joining me on this grand new adventure and don’t forget to subscribe to the new website and the podcast!

Passover Special – Matzo

Square matzo

Shalom, Food History Lovers.

This week you can look forward to a couple of articles thanks to it being the Easter season. We’re kicking it off with a Passover-centric post.

Matzo (also known as matzoh, matza, and matzah) is an unleavened bread that is traditionally eaten by Jewish people during the week-long Passover holiday. The Torah states that ordinary leavened breads, known as chametz, are forbidden during Passover. In fact, an entire household must be cleansed of any kind of bread or food that contain these kinds of grains. The punishment for eating chametz during Passover is called Kareth, also known as spiritual excision. This is one of the most severe punishments in Judaism and essentially means that one is cut off from their Jewiwsh brethren.

Matzo is important to Passover because of its symbolism. Passover itself is a commemoration of the Israelites escape from Egypt. In the book of Exodus, it says that the Israelites had to leave in such haste that they couldn’t wait for their bread dough to rise, therefore, when it was baked it became matzo. As such, the bread symbolises that haste. There are numerous explanations behind the symbolism of matzo.

The other symbolic reason for eating matzo is called lechem oni, “poor man’s bread.” It serves as a reminder to be humble, and to not forget what life was like in servitude. Also, leaven symbolises corruption and pride as it ‘puffs up’ the bread.

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s little Passover Special snapshot. Stay tuned for an Easter special later this week.

Did you enjoy this post? Would you like to hear it in your earbuds? If so, I humbly ask you to take the time to donate $1 to the Delicious History Podcast Project.Only $500 is needed make this dream a reality, and all donations over $10 receive a reward! 

The Delicious History Podcast Project

Greetings, Food History Lovers!

It was a year ago that I first started this blog. It’s been an amazing journey so far, and I’ve be fortunate enough to find that there are quite a few people out there who are interested in the tasty world of Food History. I now want to take the next step in sharing my food related historical tidbits with the world by creating a companion podcast to go with the website. I think it will be an fantastic way to build a larger following, as well as prove how fun and delicious history can be. Who doesn’t love a little food and humour with their education

Now here’s the tricky part. Thanks to a recent redundancy, I need your help you make this dream a reality. Podcasts need equipment, software, media hosting, artwork, and music – all of which need to be paid for. Because I can’t rely on the kindness of retailers to simply give me the resources I need, I’m hoping that some of my beloved readers can help me to get Delicious History onto the internet airwaves.The best part about pledging to the Delicious History Podcast Project is that every donation entitles you to a reward. That’s right, if we hit our target you not only get Delicious History in your earbuds, you also get a BONUS PRIZE. What’s not to love?

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