St Patrick’s Day Special – The Origin of Guinness


A vintage Guinness Advertisement used in the 1950s – 1970s

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Food History Lovers!

To celebrate this amazingly booze sodden day, we’re going to be incredibly stereotypical and borderline offensive by looking at the origin of Guinness.

What if I were to tell you that someone wanted to make beer in order to improve the health of the unwashed masses? It’s okay if you’re laughing at this notion. In fact, I’ll even give you a moment.

Finished? Great.

As laughable as this idea is, it’s actually quite true. Furthermore, in the 18th Century, it made perfect sense. This was a time when no one understood micro-organisms or how disease is spread. People routinely drank from the same water in which they dumped their garbage and sewage. As a result people died, and this made nearly everyone avoid water entirely. Instead, they drank alcoholic beverages. And no, you should not take this as a sign to start polluting your own water in order to justify drinking alcohol for hydration.

Popular spirits such as gin were being consumed en masse. Because of the high alcohol content, this resulted in a significant rise is violence, poverty and crime. To help heal society, some turned to brewing beer. It was lower in alcohol, the process of brewing killed the germs that made the water dangerous, and it was nutritious. No, really. Furthermore, the art of beer making was respected and honoured, and those who did it were considered to be do-gooders. Monks brewed it, Christians brewed it and aspiring young entrepreneurs like Arthur Guinness brewed it.

At the age of 27, Arthur Guinness had achieve far more than I probably will in a lifetime. In 1752, his Godfather Arthur Price, the Archbishop of Cashel, bequeathed £100 to him in his will. In true entrepreneural  fashion, Guinness invested the money and in 1755 bought a brewery at Leixlip, just 17 km from Dublin. This venture into the world of brewing was clearly successful, because in 1759 Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease on the St. James Gate Brewery for £45 per annum. Ten years later, Guinness first exported his ale to Great Britain.

Guinness’s sales soared from 350,000 barrels in 1868 to 779,000 barrels in 1876. In October 1886 Guinness became a public company, and was averaging sales of 1,138,000 barrels a year. This was despite the brewery’s refusal to either advertise or offer its beer at a discount. Even though Guinness owned no Public Houses, the company was valued at £6 million and shares were twenty times oversubscribed, with share prices rising to a 60% premium on the first day of trading.

The Guinness Brewery

Clearly, Guinness has remained successful today, but this isn’t all that the company has been know for over the years. Guinness has also been dedicated to being a company that has the interests of common people in mind. This is evident in Arthur Guinness’ reason for starting the company – to help improve health. This charitable ideal has lived on. Throughout the centuries, Guinness has continued to prove that they don’t just want to make a profit, they want to make a difference. They started by paying better wages than any other employer in Ireland. Then they decided they should provide an entire slate of services to improve the lives of their workers. With the passing of decades, they became one of the most generous, life-changing employers the world had ever seen.

Guinness also showed unparalleled upport for the war effort. During World War II, the company promised every British soldier a bottle of Guinness with his Christmas meal. However, there was a problem. Their manpower was depleted because so many of its workers were serving in the military. Despite this setback, they were determined to keep their promise. The brewery operated around the clock, but there simply weren’t enough employees. Clearly the generous spirit of the company had been passed on though, because retired workers showed up to volunteer their time. They were then followed by workers from competing breweries. By Christmas, every soldier had his pint.

Deeds like these are prominent throughout the history of the Guinness company, and are just as inspiring as some of the family members themselves. One heir received five million pounds for a wedding gift, but then moved with his new wife into a poor neighborhood to draw attention to the poverty in the land. We don’t hear about many other heirs doing this in the media.

Given the generous nature of the Guinness company, it is hardly surprising that its beer has become synonymous with St. Patrick’s Day. Sure, it’s Irish, so of course it’s going to be consumed in vast quantities on a day that celebrates Irish culture and heritage. However, I think that the symbol Guinness  offers is far more significant than that. Guinness is a beer that from its very conception was being brewed as a benefit for others. It’s a symbol struggle, national pride and overcoming adversity. As such, I urge you all to have a pint of Guinness today, not as an excuse to  get wasted whilst wearing green, but in honour Arthur, and all those who use the resources at their exposal in order to help others.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

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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!

 

Marshmallows – An Australian Bush Fire Special


For all of my international readers that aren’t aware, New South Wales has been issued with a Catastrophic fire danger level for tomorrow. Temperatures are set to be around 41 degrees celsius (roughly 106 degrees farenheit) and this kind of weather almost always ends in disastrous bush fires. As a distraction, I thought that I could use our impending doom as inspiration for a fire-centric post on marshmallows. Whipping out a bag during a bush fire wouldn’t be my highest priority, however, under SAFE circumstances there’s nothng wrong with cooking those babies under a nice NON-CATASTROPHIC flame. Mmm, survivalicious.

The Marshmallow Plant

Now, I hope you’re sitting down and have your smelling salts handy, because I’m about to drop a knowledge bomb on you all. Marshmallow is actually derived from a plant. That’s right, it’s organic and not a purely factory produced diabetes inhibitor. The Marshmallow Plant, or, Althaea Officinalis, is native to the wet marshy regions of Europe and West Africa. Hence the name. Greek physician Dioscorides advised that marshmallow extracts be used in treating wounds and inflammations. During the Renaissance, extracts from the plant’s roots and leaves were used for medicinal purposes, namely as an anti-inflamatory and soothing agent for sore throats.

The modern marshmallow confection is a mid-19th century French Invention and was a cross between a medicinal lozenge and a bonbon. Originally, the plant’s root juices were combined with eggs and sugar and then beaten into a foamy paste. The plant extracts were later replaced by gelatin, which still gave the candy its signature pillowy texture and, given its ready availabilty, allowed for quicker, less labour intensive production.

Original Campfire Marshmallow tins

It’s unknown when people first began roasting marshmallows over a fire. However, the product Campfire Marshmallows have been popular in the USA since 1917, when the Imperial Candy Company introduced the delicious treats with packaging that recommended roasting the product over fires.

But what about S’mores? Although this treat isn’t particularly popular in Australia, it would be doing the history of marshmallows an injustice to exclude them.

For those who are unaware, S’mores consist of a roasted marshmallow and a layer of chocolate sandwiched between two Graham Crackers. The name is a contraction of the phrase “Some More.” While the origin of the dessert is unclear, the first recorded version of the recipe can be found in the 1927 publication “Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts.” The recipe is credited to Loretta Scott Crew, who reportedly made them by the campfire for the Scouts. It is unknown whether the Girl Scouts were the first to make S’mores, but there appears to be no earlier claim to their origin or invention. Although it is unknown when the name was shortened, recipes for “Some Mores” are in various Girl Scout publications until at least 1973.

So there you have it folks, just a few little historical snippets about marshmallows. I hope that all of you who are currently in Winter run straight to a fire to roast one. In the meantime, us Australians will continue running from any sign of fire.

New Years Traditions – The Twelve Grapes of Luck


Happy (almost) New Year, everybody!

All over the world people are getting ready to ring in the New Year. If the line at my local supermarket is anything to go by, a great deal of the celebrating will involve consuming an almost offensive amount of food.  Good times!

Here in Australia, we don’t really have any specific food traditions associated with New Years, unless of course alcohol counts as a food group. It does, right? This made me wonder whether other nations celebrated with specific food. After a bit of research, my question led me to Europe.

The Twelve Grapes of Luck is a Spanish New Years tradition that dates back to 1895. It consists of eating a grape with each chime of the clock at midnight. Anyone who manages to consume all twelve grapes before the last chime strikes will have twelve months of prosperity and good luck.In some areas, it is believed that the tradition also wards away witches and general evil. Nautrally, this is an incredibly difficult feat to concur. Most people end up with a mouth full of grapes that they’re trying to choke down between fits of laughter.

So how did this tradition come to be? Surely it must be ancient and sacred. Not exactly.

Its origin can be traced back to the end of the 19th century where there was a bumper crop of grapes in Alicante – a southern Spanish province on the Mediterranean. Farmers were going to be left with an abundance of surplus grapes if they couldn’t convince people to buy them. The result was the promotion of eating twelve grapes to celebrate the twelve rings of the bell at New Year. Obviously, this practice caught on in Spain and is even celebrated in Mexico and within Hispanic communities in the USA today. It’s even possible to purchase cans containing 12 pre-peeled grapes for the consumers convenience. Clearly, this fabricated tradition was nothing short of marketing genius.

I hope you all have a delicious New Year. See you all next year!

A Very Tudor Christmas


Merry Post-Christmas, everyone!

Now, I know I’m at least two posts overdue and am therefore a very naughty blogger. I can assure you that I have a very good excuse in regards to the END OF THE WORLD post. I was melting down sugar to make salted caramel and it splashed up and burnt every finger on my left hand. It wasn’t pretty. I’m convinced that I’m going to have a rather obvious scar on my thumb.

As for the lateness of my Christmas post, I have no good excuse. I spent the day I had allocated to writing at a water park. I’d apologise if I didn’t have so much fun.

Anyway! Onwards, upwards and every-other-way-wards! Seeing as we’re still within the confines of the Festive Season, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the delicacies involved in Tudor period celebrations.  So, as you recover from your food and family comas, enjoy reading about just how damn long the Yule Tide season was celebrated in 16th century England. If you weren’t exhausted already, I can guarantee that you will be by the end of this.

Unlike in Modern society, Tudor Christmas celebrations didn’t begin until Christmas Day itself, which kicked off the 12 days of Christmas. That’s right, they partied and feasted for almost two straight weeks. No thank you.

The period leading up to the Christmas celebrations was (and still is) known as Advent, and it began on the fourth Sunday preceding December 25th.  Ironically enough, this was a time of fasting and prayer, as opposed to a time of scoffing tiny chocolates out of an Advent Calendar.

A traditional Christmas boar head being presented by a creepy 16th Century Colonel Sanders

Christmas during the Tudor times involved traditional foods, as it does today. For example, on most modern tables ones would find a leg of ham. A Tudor Christmas table was much the same. Just replace the pig with a boar and the leg with a head. Tasty. The boar head was the centerpiece of the table and an all round Christmas pièce de résistance.

Christmas Day wasn’t the most important day in the Tudor Yuletide calendar. That honour went to Twelfth Night, aka the twelfth day of Christmas. One of the most important items associated with the day was the Twelfth cake, and not only because it was the dessert.

Traditionally, a gold coin or ring was baked into the cake. The idea was that whoever found the prize within their piece would preside over the evenings festivities. If it was a man, he would be the King of the Bean, if it was a woman, the Queen of the Pea. These names originated from poorer households that couldn’t afford to bake gold into the cake, and thus used a pea or a bean instead. This tradition is still maintained in France, where a coin or a small gold figurine of the Christ child is baked into an almond tart.

Despite its importance to Twelfth Night, the exact nature of the Twelfth Cake remains a mystery. However, one source suggests that the main ingredients were flour, honey, ginger and pepper.

Due to the importance of Twelfth Night, it was often a political affair within the Royal Household. Those who were in favour with the Monarch often had the coin planted within their piece of cake. Often this included ladies in waiting or maids. The theory behind this was to prove that the King or Queen were happy to be upstaged by servants, thus demonstrating their kindness and benevolence.

Another Christmas tradition was that of wassailing. This was a fertility rite that was leftover from the Pagan days of Britain where one would toast fruit trees in order to encourage them to produce a good crop the following year. Every region had its own traditional Wassail beverage. Some of these included cider, ale or spiced drinks such as lambswool, a kind of beer that was served warm.

That’s it for our Tudor Traditions today, however, there will be a great deal more where that came from in the future. I hope that you all had a wonderful Christmas and that you’re still enjoying all of those lovely leftovers. As for me, I need to get my Yuletide loving butt to the gym before gravy and sugar start escaping through my pores.