What does German Chocolate Cake, French Toast and White Russians Have in Common?


Hello food history lovers!

Today I intend to answer a question that has been plaguing mankind since the dawn of time. A question that perplexed the likes of Gallileo, Socrates and Plato. A question of such magnitude, that I almost fear answering it.

What does German Chocolate Cake, French Toast and White Russians have in common?

Three seemingly unrelated consumables. All delicious. All fairing from different corners of the Earth. What could possibly link them?

The answer?

None of them were invented in the countries that grace their names.

Are you terribly shocked and appalled? That’s a natural reaction. I’ll give you a moment to fetch your smelling salts…

Recovered? Excellent. Let us then move onto the exploration of the origins of these three individuals and how each of them acquired their incredibly misleading names.

 

This, in actual fact, needs to get in me immediately

German Chocolate Cake

The roots of this rich and delicious mistress can be traced back to 1852 when an American by the name of Sam German developed a brand of dark baking chocolate for Baker’s Chocolate Company. The product, German’s Sweet Chocolate, was named after him.

In 1957, the original recipe for ‘German’s Chocolate Cake’ was sent into a Dallas newspaper by a local homemaker. The recipe utilized German’s dark baking chocolate, and it became quite popular. General Foods, which owned the Baker’s brand, took notice and distributed the cake recipe to other newspapers across the country. Sales of Baker’s Chocolate is said to have increased by 73% and the cake itself became a national staple. The possessive form, ‘German’s’, was dropped in subsequent publications, which resulted in it being referred to as ‘German Chocolate Cake’. The outcome? The false impression of a German origin for the dessert.

Nom nom, French Toast

French Toast

French toast existed long before France was established as a country. The exact origins of French Toast are unknown, but it’s unsurprising that humans developed the recipe quickly, given that it is traditionally made out of stale bread. Bread has been a staple of most cultures since food preparation first began. Coupling this with a rejection of food wastage (which is really only something that is acceptable in modern society), it’s unsurprising that man had to find a way to make stale bread palatable.

The earliest reference to doing this dates back to 4th century Rome, in a cookbook attributed to Apicius. This style of toast was called Pan Dulcis. The Romans would take the bread and soak it in a milk and egg mixture, and then cook it, typically frying it in oil or butter.

This practice of cooking stale bread became common throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. In fact, the name for French Toast in France is “pain perdu”, which literally means “lost bread”. There are some that still insist that French Toast  originated in France, however, it’s interesting to note that before the French called it “pain perdu”, they called it “pain a la Romaine” (Roman bread).

So why is this clever concoction attributed to the French? One theory is that it’s reminiscent of French cooking before the invention of proper refrigeration. It’s said that many of their rich, heavy and creamy sauces were created to hide the fact that the meat or fish in the dish was, or was very nearly off.

Me thinks this would go quite well with the German Chocolate Cake

White Russians

This origin story is quite short, and most definitely sweet.

The White Russian is the sister cocktail of the Black Russian – a drink concocted from vodka and coffee liqueur. Both initially appeared in 1949 and were invented Belgium Bartender  Gustave Tops. Black Russians transform into White Russians with the simple addition of cream. Neither drink is Russian in origin, but were named due to vodka being the primary ingredient. It is unclear which drink preceded the other.

 

 

BOOM! That’s the sound of knowledge bombs blowing up everywhere. I do love a good debunking, so I naturally loved writing this post. In closing I pose this question – Do you know of any other food names that are misleading or outright incorrect? I’d love to hear about them.

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The Last Meals of the Damned: Part Two


A few months ago I published a post on the last meals of criminals on death row. It was rather dark and macabre, and for that reason I’m doing it again! That and the fact that it was the most keen my boyfriend has ever been about reading my blog.

Philip Workman – Possibly Innocent?

Philip Workman

Philip Workman was convicted of the murder of a police office that occurred during a failed robbery of a Wendy’s in Tennessee.

Workman’s guilt remains controversial. Five of the jurors that convicted him have since signed affidavits renouncing either the sentence or the verdict. They cited both medical and ballistics evidence, unheard during the trial, that suggested the fatal shot was inconsistent with the bullets in Workman’s gun and were possibly accidental shots from other officers. Furthermore, one witness for the prosecution was found to have lied in his testimony.

Charges – Murder in the first degree

Execution – Death by lethal injection in Tennessee in 2007

Last Meal- Workman requested that a large vegetarian pizza be given to a homeless person in Nashville. Prison officials denied his request, but homeless shelters across the state received pizzas from all over the country in honour of his last request

Ronnie Lee Gardner

Ronnie Lee Gardner

Gardner was already on trial for the murder of a man during a robbery when he fatally shot an attorney in an failed escape attempt.

Charges – Two counts of murder in the first degree. He received life imprisonment for the initial murder and the death penalty for the second.

Execution – Death by firing squad in Utah in 2010.

Last Meal – Steak, lobster tail, apple pie, vanilla ice cream and 7-up. What I found cool was that he also spent his final hours watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

James Edward Smith – You remind me of a man…

James Edward Smith

Former Tarot card reader, Smith, like our previous two subjects, shot a man during a robbery attempt. Smith’s mother recalled that he was a loving and kind child until he began practicing black magic, voodooism and witchcraft.

Smith claimed to have participated in six ritualistic killings prior to his arrest. He also claimed that he had thrown the corpse of a one-year-old infant over a bridge after being beheaded as a sacrifice to a voodoo god.

Charges – Murder in the first degree

Execution – Death by lethal injection in 1990 in Texas

Last Meal – Smith requested a lump of dirt for a Voodoo ritual. His request was denied and he settled for a small cup of yogurt instead.

Lawrence Brewer – Ruined it for everyone

Lawrence Russell Brewer

A rampant white supremacist, Brewer and three other men offered a lift to a young black man who was walking home from a party. They proceeded to tie his feet with a chain and drag him behind the back of their truck. Eventually they decapitated the man and left him on the side of the road.

Charges – Kidnapping and murder in the first degree.

Execution – Death by lethal injection in Texas in 2011

Last Meal: Two chicken-fried steaks, one pound of barbecued meat, a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger, a meat-lovers pizza, three fajitas, an omelet, a bowl of okra, one pint of icecream, peanut-butter fudge with crushed peanuts and three root beers.

Brewer did not eat any of his epic meal, which resulted in the laws for last meals in Texas being changed. Inmates no longer receive a special choice. Dick move, Brewer.

That’s it for now, I’ll see you all next time. Have a happy Macbre Monday.

High Tea: A History


My loyal followers (Hi Mum) may remember that I hosted a High Tea over the weekend to raise money for Habitat for Humanity. It went splendidly and many traditional and non-traditional tasty treats were devoured by all. You will see that I have included some pictures in this post – all taken by The Lovely Katie.

I promised that I would accompany the event with a post on the history of High Tea, and here it is!

Your Humble Host

Today, High Tea is considered to be something one indulges in as a treat, or for a special occasion. At roughly $45 a pop, this is hardly surprising. Despite its current extravagant status, High Tea has a far more humble beginning.

The British tradition of High Tea began in the mid 1700s as an afternoon meal, usually served between 3 and 4 o’clock. It was designed for the working man and was taken standing or sitting on a tall stool, thus the term ‘high’. The meal would generally consist of tea served with cakes, scones, and even cheese on toast.

Gradually, this afternoon meal transformed into an important event on the social calendars of Ladies and Gentlemen.

Anna, the Duchess of Bedford (1788-1861) is credited as the creator of the official ‘teatime’ for the upper classes. During the middle of the eighteenth century, dinner changed from midday to what was considered a more fashionable evening meal. Due to the change in dining habits, the Duchess, and I expect many other ladies, became rather peckish in the afternoon. It should be noted that during this period only two main meals were eaten each day.

Scones by Beth!

Initially, the Duchess had her servants sneak her a pot of tea and a few “breadstuffs” when she became hungry. Clearly the Duchess tired of this and decided to adopt the European tea service format. So she wouldn’t have to eat alone, she invited friends to join her for afternoon tea at her castle. The menu centered around small cakes, bread and butter, assorted sweets, and, of course, tea.

This practice proved so popular that the Duchess continued it when she went to London, sending cards to her friends asking them to join her for “tea and a walking in the fields.” The practice of inviting friends to come for tea in the afternoon was quickly picked up by other society hostesses.

Fancy finger sandwiches served on my Nan’s silverware.

It was around this time that our old friend, and previously discussed, John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, had the idea of placing meat and other fillings between two slices of bread. Thus, the High Tea sandwich was created.

For the Leisure Classes, High Tea served a practical purpose, allowing Ladies and Gentleman the opportunity of a meal before attending the theatre, or playing cards.

As for now, well – it’s nice to at least pretend we’re classy every once and awhile, isn’t it?

Macarons by Aaron and Teabag Biscuits by Sally. Both were AMAZING.

In closing, here is a nifty little list on Tea Etiquette:

  • Pick up your cup and saucer together, holding the saucer in one hand and the cup in the other. Despite popular belief, it is not polite, nor traditional to raise your pinky
  • When stirring your tea, avoid making noises by touching the sides of the cup.
  • Never leave your spoon in the cup, and avoid sipping tea from your spoon.
  • Milk should be poured into the cup after the tea.
  • Lemon slices should be neatly placed in the teacup after tea has been poured.
  • Never add lemon with milk, as the citric acid will cause the milk to curdle

The History of the Macaron


Greetings, food history lovers!

Welcome to my first installment of  the High Tea Special that I promised in my Earl Grey post. If you may remember, I’m doing this in conjunction with a High Tea for Habitat that I’m hosting this Saturday.

Today we’re going to be looking into the history of the macaron – a magically delicious French biscuit that is typically filled with a rich ganache. Are you as excited as I am?

Macarons are typically known as being traditional French biscuits, however, evidence suggests that they actually originated in Italy and were introduced to France when Catherine de’Medici married King Henry II in 1543. When she moved to France, it is believed that she brought along her cooks and bakers and introduced a variety of pastries to the French.

If you haven’t heard of the name de’Medici, I highly recommend that you read up on them. They’re one of the original bad ass Italian crime families.

A delicious selection of macarons that I would dearly love to shove in my mouth right now.

Interestingly, the Italian origin of the Macaron can actually be found within the name itself. You may have noticed that it is incredibly similar to macaroni, and this is no coincidence.  To quote the Men in Black 3 ballad by Pitball, “To understand the future, you gotta go back in time.” As such, this etymology-rich section of the tale begins in 827 when Arab troops from Ifriqiya (modern Tunisia) landed in Sicily, establishing a Muslim emirate that introduced many new foods to Europe.

Along with lemons, rice and pistachios,  the Arabs also brought a rich repertoire of nut-based sweets, including almond paste candies wrapped in dough. Those familiar with macaron creation will already know that ground almonds or almond power are a key ingredient to the biscuits.

Another important Sicilian food tradition at this time was of course pasta, and it managed to merge with the almond tradition, resulting in foods with characteristics of both. Early pastas were often sweet, and could be fried or baked, as well as boiled. Many recipes from this period have both savory cheese and a sweet almond-paste versions. Their primary purpose was to be foods appropriate for Lent. For example, the almond pastry caliscioni had both almond and cheese variations, and was the ancestor of the calzone.

Out of this culinary morass arose the word maccarruni, the Sicilian ancestor of our modern words macaroni, macaroon, and macaron. We don’t know whether maccarruni came from Arabic or derives from another Italian dialect word. But like other dough products of the period, it’s probable that the word maccarruni referred to two distinct but similar sweet, doughy foods, one resembling gnocchi, and the other more like marzipan.

With the etymology lesson behind us, let’s fast forward to 1792. Despite the introduction of the macaron to France some two centuries earlier, it only gained fame when two Carmelite nuns baked and sold them in order to support themselves during the French Revolution. These macarons were a simple combination of ground almonds, egg whites and sugar. No flavours. No filling.

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that we saw the creation of the modern-day macaron by Pierre Desfontaines. He was the pastry chef and owner of the Parisian café, Ladurée. He decided to take two macarons and fill them with ganache, and it was an instant success. Today, Ladurée continues to be at the forefront of macaron creation and distribution. No longer a humble almond cookie, the macaron has transformed into a versatile treat, coming in a variety of colours and flavours. With each new season, Ladurée pays tribute to its most famous creation by inventing a new flavour.

In recent years, macarons have gained in popularity world-wide. Any self-respecting and trendy cafe or bakery have them on offer. Ladurée itself has gone global, its most recent cafe opening in Sydney.

Before I finish, I should probably point out that macarons are not to be confused with macaroons. Let’s examine the differences

Macaron

The shells are often made of egg whites, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond powder or ground almond, and food coloring and usually filled with a flavored buttercream, ganache or jam.

A delicious chocolate Macaron

Macaroon
Macaroons also call for egg whites in addition to ground or powdered nuts or coconut. They look a little something like this:

A Macaroon – it looks just a tad different

In closing, I propose an important philosophical question – What is your favourite macaron flavour?

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! 

Famous Last Meals: Part Two


Last Month, I started a series on the last meals of the rich and famous. I’m very excited to continue this after such a long hiatus. My apologies for that by the way, work has been a bit of a nightmare. The good news is that I do in fact still have a job and am thus able to continue funding my internet connection and tea addiction.

With the explanations out of the way, let’s crack on, shall we?

Second Class Passengers of the Titanic
Death – 1912 from a rather pesky iceberg sitting in the middle of the North Atlantic.

In my previous post,  I discussed the rather extravagant final meal of the 1st class passengers. As it turns out, the 2nd class passengers did pretty well for themselves too.

Let’s take a peek at the menu:

Consomme
Tapioca
Baked Haddock with sharp sauce
Curried chicken with rice
Spring lamb with mint sauce
Roast Turkey with cranberry sauce
Green peas
Puree turnips
Boiled rice
Boiled and roast potatoes
Plum pudding
Wine jelly
Coconut sandwich
Ice cream
Assorted nuts
Fresh fruit
Cheese biscuits
Coffee

As far as last meals go, I must say that I’m rather impressed. I’ll be interested to see whether I can uncover the final meal of those in steerage for my next post.

Abraham Lincoln
Death – Assassinated by John Wilkes-Booth in the Presidential Box of Ford’s Theatre in Washington.

Before Old Abe’s literal final curtain (Sorry, I know that was bad), he dined at  the White House on Clear Mock Turtle Soup, roast Virginia fowl with chestnut stuffing, baked yams and cauliflower with cheese sauce.

Jimi Hendrix
Death – 1970 after taking 9 sleeping pills and choking on his own vomit. Delicious.

Uncontested rock God and Woodstock icon, Jimi Hendrix (despite is rather Rock n Roll style death) had a somewhat less than revolutionary final meal before his accidental overdose – a simple tuna sandwich.

JFK
Death – Assassinated in 1963 by a gunshot wound to the head that totally came from the School Book Depository and definitely not from the Grassy Knoll, despite what forensic and video evidence suggests.

JFK’s final breakfast was consumed at a meeting with supporters before his fateful Dallas motorcade. It was supposedly quite typical of the pragmatic President – orange juice, coffee, soft-boiled eggs, bacon, and toast with marmalade.

Hitler
Death – Suicide in 1945, alongside his mistress-turned-wife, Eva Braun. A shot to his temple was the method of choice, whereas his bride of less than 48 hours swallowed a cyanide capsule.

Hitler became a vegetarian after the suicide of his niece, Geli Raubal. On a side note, I highly recommend that you read up on that inappropriate train wreck of a relationship.

Despite often being caught eating meat, Hitler’s final meal adhered to his vegetarian diet. It consisted of a simple vegetable soup with mashed potatoes.

That’ it for now, kids. I promise that with my life settling down a bit there won’t be such large gaps in  between posts. I look forward to throwing more food related history at you soon.