Choctoberfest: The Origin of the Brownie

Happy Choctober, everybody! You’re right, it *is* way better than Ocsober.

For the entirety of this month I’ll be posting chocolate-centric articles for your reading pleasure.

Disclaimer – Delicious History will in no way be held responsible for any severe chocolate cravings resulting from the reading these posts.

Without further ado, let’s kickoff Choctoberfest with a much beloved favourite – The Chocolate Brownie. I highly recommend that you pause for a moment to get yourself a glass of milk to accompany this.

A original 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book

The name ‘brownie’ first appeared in the 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, where it describes molasses cakes baked individually in small tins. For those who are unfamiliar with molasses, it’s a kind of syrup that comes from the beating of cane sugar, grapes or sugar beets. Personally, I’ll stick to the chocolate variety of brownies. Thanks for asking though.

The origin of the  brownie is thought to be American and to derive its name not only from the colour, but also the elfin characters featured in the popular stories and verses by author Palmer Cox. The Eastman Kodak Brownie camera was also named after these elves.

Unfortunately, like so many food explorations here at Delicious History, the exact origin of the chocolate brownie is shrouded in myth. There are in fact several legends involving how they came to be:

– A chef mistakenly added melted chocolate to a batch of biscuits
– A cook was baking a cake but didn’t have enough flour
– A housewife in Bangor, Maine was making a chocolate cake but forgot to add baking powder. When her cake didn’t rise properly she cut and served the flat pieces.

The latter tale is the most widely circulated and is even cited in Betty Crocker’s Baking Classics and John Mariani’s The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink.

The earliest published recipe for chocolate brownies appeared in the Boston Daily Globe on 2 April 1905. It read:

BANGOR BROWNIES. Cream 1/2 cup butter, add 2 eggs, 1 cup sugar, 2 squares of chocolate (melted), 1/2 cup broken walnuts meats, 1/2 cup flour. Spread thin in buttered pans. Bake in moderate oven, and cut before cold.

Culinary historians have traced the first appearance of the brownie in a recipe book to the 1906 edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, edited by Fannie Merritt Farmer. This recipe is an early, less rich version of the brownie we know, love and nom today.

The second recipe for brownies, appearing in 1907, was in Lowney’s Cook Book. The recipe added both an extra egg and additional chocolate to the Cooking-School recipe, thus creating a richer brownie. She named the recipe Bangor Brownies. This of course assists the origin theory of the housewife who forgot to add the baking soda.

The original 1907 recipe publication of Bangor Brownies

The use of the terms ‘Bangor Brownies’ or sometimes ‘Boston Brownies’ continued into the 1950s. It also took until the Roaring Twenties for brownies to become a national staple.

It goes without saying how popular chocolate brownies remain today. Any self-respecting dessert queen has a killer recipe in her repertoire, and you can find them in most cafes and bakeries. Suffice to say, they have come a long way since first being made with molasses…

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Eggs Benedict – The Breakfast Food of Champions

I strongly believe that the greatest example of human advancement is breakfast foods. A controversial statement, I know. For those who would argue that advances in technology, infrastructure and medical research are more worthy candidates for this honour – I’m afraid that you’re terribly misguided and need to spend some serious time reflecting on your life.

So, why am I of this opinion? Think about it – sweet AND savoury flavours are socially accepted norms at the breakfast table. You simply cannot beat that.

I’d have to say that my favourite breakfast concoction is Eggs Benedict. Why? Because I’m not a commy bastard, that’s why.

As per usual, there are conflicting accounts of how this magically delicious meal came to be. Here’s a couple of the more interesting ones:

The earliest account of the Benedict comes from the 1860s.  Credit is given to Delmonico’s Restaurant – the first restaurant/dining hall to be opened in the United States.  A regular patron of the restaurant, Mrs. LeGrand Benedict, was bored with the menu and asked the chef,  Charles Ranhofer, whether there was anything new he could cook for her. He suggested poached eggs on toasted English muffins with a thin slice of ham, topped with hollandaise sauce and a truffle.

I wish being a demanding bitch resulted in getting a delicious breakfast dish named after me. I suppose having a name such as ‘LeGrand’ would help.

Ranhofer went onto include a recipe for Eggs Benedict in a cookbook that he published in 1894. He called it ‘Eggs à la Benedick’, and had by this time removed the truffle from the list of ingredients.

The Lovely Katie took a photo of the delicious looking Eggs Benedict she had over the weekend. As you may notice it includes spinach. I knew I wasn’t crazy…

1894 seems to be intimately intertwined with the history of the Benedict, because it’s from this year that my favourite account of its creation hails. This story first appeared in an issue of the New Yorker from 1942, and was based on an interview with one Lemuel Benedict, a retired Wall Street broker.

Mr. Benedict claimed that he was dining at the The Waldorf one morning whilst suffering from a particularly nasty hangover. In order to combat his ailment he ordered “some buttered toast, crisp bacon, two poached eggs, and a hooker of hollandaise sauce” The Waldorf’s chef, Oscar Tschirky, was so impressed with this invention that he put the dish on his breakfast and luncheon menus. Are you at all surprised that the Benedict may have started out as a therapeutic hangover cure? Me either.

Meanwhile, I’m going to personally crusade to bring back the term ‘hooker’ as a name for crockery and containers.

“Honey, can you put the gravy hooker on the table?”

So kids, I have a bit of a confession to make. After many years of eating Eggs Bennie, I have only recently discovered that traditional recipes do not include spinach, despite the fact that I always seem to get it in restaurants. As many of you are probably aware, spinach is in fact a substitute for the ham or bacon, which renders the dish as Eggs Florentine. Despite the error of my ways, I stand firmly by the belief that the Benedict is greatly enhanced by the inclusion of spinach, and not just because it makes me strong like Popeye.

My discovery (and subsequent food-knowledge shame) inspired me to look up other variations of Eggs Benedict – and good lord are there a lot of them.  Enjoy the long and fascinating list!

  • Eggs Blackstone – adds a tomato slice. OUTRAGEOUS.
  • Eggs Florentine – As discussed,  substitutes spinach for the ham.
  • Eggs Mornay – Surprise, surprise, it substitutes the Hollandaise with Mornay sauce.
  • Eggs Atlantic or Eggs Hemingway – Substitutes salmon  for the ham. This is a common variation found in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. This variation can also be referred to as Eggs Royale or Eggs Montreal in New Zealand, and Eggs Benjamin in Canada. In Australia, I’ve only ever seen it referred to as  ‘Eggs Benedict with Salmon’. Yeah, we’re original like that.
  • Huevos Benedict – Substitutes either sliced avocado or chorizo for the ham, and is topped with both a salsa and hollandaise sauce.
  • Oeufs a la Benedictine – Replaces the ham with salted cod and the muffins with potatoes.
  • Eggs Hussarde – Substitutes Holland rusks (similar to melba toast) for the English muffin and adds Bordelaise sauce.
  • Eggs Sardou  – First served  in a New Orleans restaurant. Originally, it replaced the English muffin and ham with artichoke bottoms, topped with anchovy fillets.  On top of the egg and hollandaise sauce was a dollop of chopped ham and a slice of truffle. A more widespread version of the dish starts with a base of creamed spinach, substitutes artichoke bottoms for the English muffin, and eliminates the ham.
  • Artichoke Benedict – Replaces the English muffin with a hollowed artichoke.
  • Country Benedict – Replaces the English muffin, ham and hollandaise sauce with an American biscuit, sausage patties, and country gravy. The poached eggs are replaced with fried. This is also sometimes called Eggs Beauregard.
  • Irish Benedict –  Replaces the ham with corned beef.
  • Eggs à la Commodore – Poached eggs and béchamel sauce over pâté de foie gras purée spread on grilled buttered toast circles.
  • Portobello Benedict – Substitutes Portobello mushrooms for the ham. This is a popular alternative for Catholics observing the Friday Fast.
  • Eggs John Scott – Replaces the Hollandaise sauce with HP Sauce.
  • Eggs Maryland – Replaces the ham with crab cakes.
  • Waldorf Style Eggs – Replaces the English muffin with toast and is served with poached eggs, sautéed mushrooms and mushroom sauce.
  • Oscar Benedict – Replaces the ham with asparagus and crab meat. Also known as Eggs Oscar.
  • Eggs Billy – Replaces the English muffin with a lightly toasted buttermilk biscuit and the poached egg with fried.
  • Eggs Provençal – Replaces the Hollandaise sauce with Béarnaise Sauce.
  • Russian Easter Benedict –  Replaces the Hollandaise sauce with a lemon juice and mustard flavored Béchamel Sauce, and is topped with black caviar.

I’m willing to bet that there are an abundance of other variations out there. Do share if you have stumbled across any others!

Vintage Ads: Filet-O-Fish

I seem to be coming up with a lot of new segments lately. For example, ‘Tealicious History’ and ‘Last Meals of the Damned’. Well, I have another one for you. Wanna fight about it?

I’ve always enjoyed looking at old ads. I find them to be so revealing about the social and economic climates from whence they came. Plus, sometimes they’re incredibly politically incorrect, which is always fun and amusing.

I thought I’d start with a 1968 ad from our old friend McDonald’s:

I think the character name is stretching it a tad. Picture Credit: Waffle Whiffer via Flickr

The slogan ‘We do it all for you’ is rather telling in regards to McDonald’s desire to appeal to a wide demographic. They’re not prejudice, they’re happy to take EVERYBODY’S money.

The Filet-O-Fish was created in 1962 in Ohio. The area had a large Roman Catholic population, most of whom didn’t eat meat on Fridays, a practice that isn’t quite so widely observed today. The Catholic church, for the most part, only considers it to be obligatory during Lent.

In order to boost sales, the concept of a fish sandwich was created. Conveniently enough, it also appealed to pescetarians (fish eating vegetarians) and those with special dietary requirements. For example, the fish used in the sandwich is considered to be halal.

I hope you enjoyed our first vintage ad. I realise that it was quite short, and they will probably continue to be so. The good news is that it means I can easily publish more posts each week. Exciting stuff!