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.

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.

Cockentrice

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.

 

Kiviak

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?

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.

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! 

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!