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.

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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!

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?

So if you love food, history or my good self, please help get Delicious History into an iTunes store near you! If you also wouldn’t mind reblogging or sharing the project with your friends and other fellow history lovers, I’d be eternally grateful.

Simply follow the link below for more info or to make a pledge –

Delicious History Podcast Project

Thank you in advance for supporting Delicious History and for making this first year in the blogosphere truly amazing.

Ides of March Special – The Bloody Caesar Cocktail


A depiction of the Assassination of Caesar inside the Theatre of Pompe

Caesar:

Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry “Caesar!” Speak, Caesar is turn’d to hear.

Soothsayer:
Beware the ides of March.

– William Shakespare

Welcome back to Delicious History – the most alcohol friendly site for historical enquiry on the internet.

Today we’re going to be drinking learning about the Bloody Caesar Cocktail – a Canadian drink that is used to commemorate the assassination of Julius Caesar. This cataclysmic event fell on the March 15th, also known as The Ides of March. Before we get into the alcohol soaked portion of the post though, let’s have a quick look at what the Ides of March actually is.

During Caesar’s rule he established and instituted the Julian Calendar. This was both a precursor to our modern-day calendar, as well as an hilariously self-important move on the naming front. The Julian Calendar didn’t number days of a month sequentially from the first through the last day. Instead, it counted back from three fixed points of the month – the Nones (5th or 7th, depending on the length of the month), the Ides (13th or 15th), and the Calends (1st) of the following month. The Ides occurred near the midpoint, which was the 13th for most months, but the 15th for March, May, July, and October. The Ides were supposed to be determined by the full moon, thus reflecting the lunar origin of the Julian Calendar.

The Ides of each month were sacred due to its lunar association, however, the Ides of March was celebrated in particular due to also being a feast day. This feast was in celebration of Anna Perenna , a goddess whose festival concluded the ceremonies of the new year. The day was enthusiastically celebrated among the Roman people with picnics, drinking, and revelry. I think we need to bring this festival back.

The tone of The Ides of March dramatically changed when Caesar was assassinated in 44BC. That, along with Shakespeare’s infamous quote – “Beware the Ides of March” – have turned the once celebrated day into something to be wary of. This reputation has been aided by the fact that some incredibly significant historical events have taken place on March 15th. Some of these include –

1311 – Death of Pope Lucius II
1889 – A devastating cyclone hit Samoa
1917 – Tsar Nicholas II of Russia abdicates the throne
1937 – Death of H.P. Lovecraft (admittedly, this is more to do with a personal interest)
1939 – Germany invades Czechoslovakia

The Bloody Caesar Cocktail, in all its celery-salt rimmed glory

Although March 15 has become a day of historical wariness, there are some of have chosen to channel the ancient festival spirit – the Canadians. To commemorate the Ides of March, bars across The Great White North serve the rather delicious sounding Bloody Caesar Cocktail, a drink that is somewhat reminiscent of the Bloody Mary. The ingredients typically include:


-Vodka
– Clamato (a blend of tomato juice and clam broth)
– Hot sauce
– Worcestshire sauce
– A stlk of celery or a wedge of lime
– A celery salt rimmed glass
– A celery-salt rimmed glass

So, how did this cocktail come to be?

It was invented in 1969 by restauranteur Walter Chell in Calagary in order to celebrate the opening of a new Italian restaurant in the city. Chell said his inspiration came from Italy, recalling that in Venice, they served Spaghetti alle vongole – a dish containing tomato sauce and clams. He reasoned that the mixture of clams and tomato sauce would make a good drink. He was correct, because the Caesar quickly became a popular mixed drink within Canada, where over 350 million are consumed annually. In fact, annual Best Caesar in Town events are incredibly popular. For the 40th anniversary of the drink’s invention, people were  encouraged to create variants, some of which included glasses being rimmed with coffee grinds, the inclusion of maple syrup and the use of bacon-infused vodka. 

Today, the popularity of the drink, as well as its name, have given birth to its association with the Ides of March. Personally, I think that the Canadians have the right idea. Lets get March 15 back to its roots – by being a day of drinking and debauchery. In the Middle of Lent. Surely the Catholics won’t mind…right?

Have a safe March 15th, everyone. And remember – Beware the Ides of March…or at least have a drink to celebrate it.

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! 

A (Belated) Pancake Day Post


Nothing I could say would do this picture justice.

Welcome back, History Lovers.

After a bit of a hectic hiatus, I’m back to serve you up some of the most delicious food related tales from history.

My friend Sally wanted me to write a post on Pancake Day, and although it’s quite late, I’m still sticking to my word. In any case, pancakes are always worthy of examination so I doubt that anyone is going to get too upset over my tardiness.

Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday, is an annual event that falls 47 days before Easter Sunday. As such, the date varies from year to year and can fall anytime between 3 February – 9th of March. Pancake Day is of course the last day before the period of Lent begins, a time of strict abstinence that ends with Easter.

The name ‘shrove’ is derived from the old word ‘strive’ which means ‘to confess’. During the Middle Ages, people would confess their sins on Shrove Tuesday and ask for absolution from God before the commencement of Lent.

So how did pancakes come to be associated with such an important and solemn Christian tradition?

As previously mentioned, Lent is a time when one would give up luxuries, particularly those of the culinary persuasion. Traditionally, eggs and butter were two items that used to be forbidden during the time of Lent as they were considered to be a luxury. It’s believed that pancakes were made in order to use up the leftover eggs and butter. In modern times, people tend to be more inclined to give up things such as chocolate.

A modern-day Pancake Race. I seriously would love to get in on this action.

One of the more amusing traditions surrounding Pancake Day is the Pancake Race, which began in Olney, England in 1445. The contestants, traditionally women, carry a frying pan and race to over a 415 yard course to the finishing line. The rules are strict: contestants must toss their pancake at both the start and the finish of the race, as well as wear an apron and a scarf. When men want to participate, they must dress up as a housewife, usually with an apron and a bandanna.

This tradition was born out of a story about a woman cooking pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. She heard the shriving bell summoning her to confession, which she was running late for. The cut off time was 12pm, so she ran to church wearing her apron and still holding a frying pan with a pancake in it. The result of this was a tradition that has now lasted for over five hundred years.

Some tasty Shrove Tuesday pancake variations from around the United Kingdom include –

Welsh Pancakes – Also known as Welsh Cakes or Light cakes. They are made with sour cream and buttermilk, spread with butter and then piled on top of one another. Sometimes, various ingredients such as fish, cheese, sugar or jam (not altogether, gross) are added between each layer and then the pile is cut into quarters.

Gloucester Pancakes – Made with suet, which gives them a rich and grainy texture. They are traditionally served with golden syrup.

Harvest Pancakes – Often served to the poor, they are made with a mild ale, powdered ginger, and chopped apples. They are then cooked in lard and given to farm hands.

Rich Pancakes – Large and thin, these are made made with cream, nutmeg, and dark sherry before being fried in butter and getting the hell in my belly.

But wait, there’s more! Check out some of the Pancake Tuesday variations from around the world –

France – Mardis Gras, which translates to mean Fat Tuesday/Grease Tuesday. The name refers to the last night of eating rich, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season. Mardis Gras is also the name of the carnival season in New Orleans, which also finds its roots in the preparation for Lent. Celebrations are concentrated for about two weeks before and throughout Fat Tuesday.

Brazil – Terca-feira Gorda, which also translates to mean Fat Tuesday. The Brazilians celebrate with a three day carnival that concludes on Fat Tuesday.

Iceland – Sprengidagur, which translates to ‘bursting day’. I don’t think that needs any further explanation.

Greece – Apocreas, meaning ‘of the meat’. The name is significant because its the last chance to eat meat due to being forbidden during Lent.

Yep, the solemn season of Lent was indeed born out of naked frolicking and drunken debauchery, also known as Saturnalia

I think that one of the most interesting facts about Pancake Day, and the Lenten season in general, is its origin. Despite being a Catholic holiday, its beginnings can be found in Saturalia,  an ancient Roman festival that honoured the God Saturn. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum and with a public banquet. This was followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a general carnival atmosphere that overturned societal norms. Naturally, the Catholic Church adopted the festival and turned it into a farewell to all things indulgent, as well as a season for religious discipline.

After much consideration and research, I have decided that despite my love of pancakes with maple syrup and bacon, I would much rather party on down with the Romans.

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 Origin of Birthday Cake


Yesterday was my birthday! This of course means a celebration that will last for several weeks, as well as a related post. It’s all very exciting.

In other amazing news, I won’t be posting for a couple of weeks because I’m going on a cruise to the South Pacific. I’ll be sure to come back with some great topics to write about, as well as a tan. Everybody wins! Anyway, without further ado, let’s learn about birthday cake!

As you may remember from my wedding cake post, the words for ‘cake’ and ‘bread’ were virtually interchangeable in early Europe. Unsurprisingly, the only difference between the two was that cakes were sweet.  In the 15th century, bakeries in Germany conceived the idea of marketing cakes for customers’ birthdays, as well as for their weddings. They were mostly used for the birthdays of young children and thus these celebrations were referred to as Kinderfest. It was during this time period that cakes began to be layered and laden with new ingredients in order to render them sweeter and less bread-like. These kinds of cakes were called Geburtstagorten by the Germans.

Mmm, cake.

During the 17th century, the birthday cake took on a more contemporary form. These elaborate cakes, which possess the same attributes of modern cakes (multiple layers, icing, and decorations), were only available to the very wealthy. However, as a result of the Industrial Revolution, birthday cakes eventually became proletarianized as materials and tools became more advanced and more easily acquired.

The tradition of placing candles on cakes can be attributed to the Ancient Greeks, who baked cakes to honour Artemis, the goddess of the moon. The theory behind the practice was that the light from the candles made the cake itself glow like the  moon. It is also believed that the smoke from the candles carried their prayers to the Gods. This tradition has survived to a certain extent today. We may not say a prayer when we blow out birthday candles, but most of us do still make a wish.

The earliest reference to the tradition of blowing out birthday candles was documented Switzerland in 1881. Researchers for the Folk-Lore Journal recorded various “superstitions” amongst the Swiss middle class. The following statement was recorded, ““A birthday-cake must have lighted candles arranged around it, one candle for each year of life. Before the cake is eaten the person whose birthday it is should blow out the candles one after another.”

I hope you have enjoyed our rather short and sweet foray into the history of birthday cakes. I  also hope that it will tide you over until I’m back in the country and have constant access to my precious internet. See you all in a fortnight!

 

The Wedding Cake: A History


Over the weekend I had the pleasure of attending the wedding of a couple of close friends from highschool. It got me thinking about wedding traditions, particularly the wedding cake. I thought that it would be interesting to explore the its origin, and how it has developed throughout history.

The original concept for the wedding cake can be found in the ancient Roman Empire. Unlike the sweet and heavily iced cakes of the 21st century, these were made of whole wheat flour. Although the preparation and decoration of the cakes was vastly different at this time, it still enjoyed the same attention and focus.

There are some curious wedding cake customs that are now long forgotten. Let’s just say that they are somewhat more eccentric than merely witnessing the newly weds cut the cake together…

For example, the aforementioned ancient bread cake was broken into small pieces over the bride’s head. Upon completing this ritual, guests would eat the pieces, as it was considered it to be a good omen. Can I just say that nobody better try this on my wedding day. I’m not getting up at 5am for styling just to have it turned into bread-hair.

From Medieval England, there are accounts of a custom that involved placing large amounts of sweet buns in front of the newly weds who would then attempt to kiss over the pile. If they were successful, it was considered as a sign that the couple would bear many children. This obsession with child-bearing also explains why fruit cake eventually became traditional at weddings – they were a sign of fertility and prosperity.

Always Impressive – The Croquembouche

Interestingly, the tradition of the sweet bun pile also unwittingly gave birth to a famous delicacy. It is said that a French pastry chef witnessed this custom in England and was inspired thusly to create the Croquembouche – a French wedding cake made out of a tower of profiteroles, topped with a halo of spun sugar. It was to become the signiature French wedding cake…as well as an elimination challenge in every season of Master Chef.

Around late 17th century, the wedding cake came to be known as the bride’s pie. Generally, they were mince pies made from sugary sweet breads. Every wedding guest was expected to eat a piece as it was considered both rude as well as extremely bad luck not to do so. A glass ring was hidden inside the pie, and it was believed that the female guest who found it would be the next one to be wed. This is of course reminiscent of the modern tradition of catching the bouquet.

Another interesting tradition from the 17th century was keeping a piece of cake under an unwed girl’s pillow. The custom was to break the cake into tiny pieces, which then were passed through the bride’s wedding ring. These pieces were then offered to the female guests to be placed under their pillows. By following this ritual, it was believed that they would dream of their future husband.

The 17th century also gave birth to the tradition of having two cakes – the bride’s and the groom’s. Personally, I was under the impression that this was a relatively new concept that allowed modern grooms to have a cake that wasn’t horrifyingly girly. Alas, it’s origins can be found in history.

A somewhat more…modern wedding cake.

Traditionally, the groom’s cake was a dark coloured fruit cake and was quite small in size. Comparatively, the bride’s was a simple, but large pound cake with white icing, which was used to symbolize virginity and purity.

It was during the 19th century that the groom’s cake began to disappear, as the bride’s was becoming more popular. This was largely due to sugar becoming more easily obtainable. However, this sweet commodity was still expensive and as such, only wealthy families could afford to have pure white icing. Consequently, it became something of a status symbol. This was proven only further when white icing was dubbed ‘royal icing’ after Queen Victoria used it for her own wedding cake.

The modern wedding cake, as we know it, originated from the wedding of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany. He was married in 1882 and his cake was the first in recorded history to be completely edible. It was baked in separate layers and contained very dense icing. When the icing hardened the tiers were then stacked together – a groundbreaking innovation that had never been used before. Modern wedding cakes still use this method, but because of their size, internal support is sometimes added to each layer in the form of dowels.

So there you have it, a very brief history of the wedding cake. I must say that I had a fantastic time researching this topic – there were far more interesting and quirky anecdotes than I expected. In light of modern cakes being so versatile, and more of a reflection of the couple’s personalities, it was fascinating to discover the origins and long dead traditions of yesteryear.

In finishing, I’d like to thank Ryan and Tara for being the inspiration for this post. I know you’re going to have a wonderful (and hopefully cake-filled) life together.

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!