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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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.

Death by Chocolate – Hitler’s Camouflaged Bomb Plot


A big thanks to Katie for bringing this story to my attention. I majored in WWII History at uni, and my waist line currently majors in chocolate, so this is the perfect topic for me to discuss.

Newly uncovered WWII documents reveal that the Nazis were plotting to assassinate Winston Churchill with a bomb disguised as a chocolate bar. The plan was to coat the explosives with a thin layer of dark chocolate and then package them as ‘Peter’s’ branded chocolate bars. The idea was to have them smuggled into the War Cabinet’s dining room where Churchill and other important members of parliament would often meet. The device was designed to explode seven seconds after being unwrapped, killing everyone within a few metres of the sweet and sugary impact. The theory behind this plot was to exploit the Prime Minister’s weakness for chocolate.

1920’s Peter’s chocolate bar wrapper. Photo courtesy of The Candy Wrapper Archive.

Unfortunately for the Nazis, it wasn’t just their chocolate that was foiled. British spies discovered the plot and quickly warned one of MI5’s most senior intelligence chiefs – Lord Victor Rothschild. He proceeded to alert the nation and advised them to look out for exploding candy bars. He even had an illustrator friend, Laurence Fish, draw up pictures of the bars so he could distribute them amongst the public. Interestingly, Fish’s wife found the correspondence between her husband and Rothschild in 2009. The letter was dated May 4, 1943 and was marked ‘secret’. It detailed the German plot and supposedly included a rather poor drawing of the device by Rothschild.

Suffice to say, with the plot made public, there were no chocolate bombs exploding in parliament.

A little research on my behalf also revealed that chocolate wasn’t the only item that the Nazis were planning on using to disguise explosives. German saboteurs also utilized tinned plums, throat lozenges, shaving brushes, batteries, wood, and my personal favourite – stuffed dogs. I can’t imagine how the latter would even work.

I’d like to finish by thanking everyone who contacted me after my Darrell Lea article. It was incredibly touching and I very much appreciated it.

Have a lovely Thursday!

Darrell Lea – An Employee’s Tale


As a young girl Saturday was always shopping day. Each week, three generations of Jones women – my nan, my mum, and my little self, would head off to Shellharbour Square. It’s a Stocklands now, but I don’t think I’ll ever call it that.

Our morning would consist of browsing the stores, putting a dollar in the Salvation Army box and buying the weekly groceries. I of course hated the latter task. Food is supposed to magically appear in the cupboard, right?

After spending half an hour in Coles (I, ever the brat, would complain loudly for the entirety), we would FINALLY finish the shopping and sit down for a snack. Coffee for mum and nan, a lemonade spider for me. Remember, these were the days before seven year olds were fed sushi and baby chinos.

I would always eat lightning fast and then have to wait for them to finish – rather impatiently of course. You see, my favourite part of the day was still to come. Eventually I would drag them away, only barely allowing a short pause for the bill to be paid.

I could smell it already.

Grasping mum’s hand, I dragged her through the centre, closer and closer to my childhood Nirvana.

We were almost there…just…a bit…further.

And there it was.

Sandwiched between two forgettable stores was every child’s dream. With its bright decor, shiny packets and the delicious mixed scent of liquorice and chocolate, there was no mistaking where we were.

Darrell Lea.

Caramel Snows – one of my favourites

It didn’t matter that I was there every week, it never failed to delight me anew each time. I would gaze around in wonder, not understanding how so much happiness could be contained in one place. The shop ladies knew us by name, and would always call me over with a wink and smile for a little taste test. I thought they had the best job in the world.

Mum would roll her eyes but also smile as she picked up some liquorice for herself and a little chocolate frog or a jar of Bo Peeps for me. Nan preferred the dark chocolate ginger. Eventually mum would say that it was time to go and that I should let the ladies get back to work. How she ever managed to drag me away I’ll never understand.

Little did I know that I would grow up to work for the company that is so firmly entrenched in the memories of my childhood. It happened about two years ago, not long before Christmas. I was handing out resumes around Miranda Fair, but wasn’t having much luck. I had all but given up, and was wandering around aimlessly when I saw Darrell Lea in the distance. I had nothing to lose, so I mustered as much confidence as possible, strode in and introduced myself to the manager. I was hired on the spot.

Mum laughed for about ten minutes when I told her the news. She referred to it as chocolate coated fate.

I’ve held several different positions since then – Christmas Casual, 2IC, Store Manager, and now I’m a Corporate Consultant at our head office. One could say that I’ve had a finger in many pieces of proverbial Rocklea Road. What I’ve found most remarkable is that no matter what position I’ve been in, I always hear from people who have had incredibly similar experiences to myself – The childhood memories, the weekly visits, the way that the company has permeated each living generation of their family.

The lesson that I’ve learned is that my family isn’t unique when it comes to our Darrell Lea experiences, and I absolutely adore that. It’s incredible. Inspiring. Beautiful.

The most touching story I ever heard was when I was managing the Hurstville store. I was busy packing shelves when a lovely old lady shuffled in and asked for a carton of coffee creams. As I began ringing up the sale she explained how these were husband’s favourite. Unfortunately, he had died four years previous. They had been together for over five decades. Every year since he had passed she would buy the creams on his birthday, sit down in his favourite chair and eat them whilst reflecting on their life together. I’m not ashamed to say that my eyes welled up on the spot, and they still do whenever I think about that story. I hope that she will be able to buy them next year.

You see, Darrell Lea is more than just a retailer – it’s something that has been an integral part of Australian family life for 85 years. It was created by a family for families. How many other companies can genuinely claim that?

In my time there I’ve heard hundreds of people comment on how Christmas, Easter, Birthdays and every other special occasion wouldn’t be the same without Darrell Lea. Evidence of this has can be found in the outpouring of love and support that the company has received over the last five days.

I’m not sure what the future holds for Darrell Lea, but I have hope. I believe in the magic that it has woven into people’s lives, including my own. All I can say is that I’m optimistic. I hope that the next generation of Australians will be popping into stores to ask when the Christmas Puddings/Coconut Roughs are going to arrive, and to suggest that we sell them all year round.

Thank you to everyone who has been supporting us with both sales and kind words over the past week. You have been an inspiration to us all, and we are incredibly appreciative. I believe that your support is what will secure the future of Darrell Lea for years to come.