The Origin of Margherita Pizza


Hello all! Welcome back after such a long hiatus!

As you may have noticed, today’s topic has absolutely no relation to Christmas or Holiday eats. Never fear, there will a festive themed post before the 25th. More importantly, there will be a Mayan themed post on Friday. If we survive, of course.

In the meantime, I thought we could take a peek at the origin of Margherita Pizza. I have always rather enjoyed this story and am arrogant enough to assume that you’ll share my convictions.

Foods similar to pizza have been prepared since the Neolithic Age. In fact, records of people adding other ingredients to bread to make it more flavourful can be found throughout ancient history.

  • In Sardinia, French and Italian archeologists have found a kind of bread baked over 7,000 years ago. According to Professor Philippe Marinval, the local islanders leavened this bread.
  • The Ancient Greeks made a flat bread called Plakous, which was flavored with toppings like herbs, onion, and garlic.
  • In the 1st century BCE, the Latin poet Virgil refers to the ancient idea of bread as an edible plate or trencher for other foods in his epic poem, The Aeneid.

In short, evidence clearly suggests that the origins of pizza can’t be pinpointed to a single place or time. However, there is one particular historical tale that is attributed with making pizza the sensation that it is today.

In 1889, Queen Margherita of Savoy, and her husband, King Umbero I, were taking a royal tour of Italy. This was only a short 29 years after the unification of the country. Throughout their travels, Margherita had noticed a a great deal of peasants eating large, flat bread with colourful toppings.Curious, the queen ordered her guards to bring one of these so called ‘pizza breads’.

MP

Margherita Pizza – a delicacy that’s literally fit for a Queen

The Queen loved the bread and would eat it every time she was out amongst the people, wich caused some consternation in Court. It was unseemly for a Queen to dine on peasant food. Naturally, Margherita didn’t care, because she was a bitchin’ queen who had just discovered pizza.

However, the Queen’s love for the bread was legitimized when a famous pizza maker, Raffaele Esposito, created a pizza topping in honour of the Queen. It was garnished with tomatoes, basil and mozzarella cheese in order to represent the Italian flag. He of course named it the Pizza Margherita. Legend also has it that he was the first to add cheese to pizza, which means that we’re all obliged to worship him as our deity from now on.

There is contention to this origin story. It wouldn’t be Delicious History if there wasn’t. Descriptions of a similar pizza recipe can be traced back to at least 1866 in the book “Customs and Traditions of Naples.” The author describes the most popular pizza toppings of the time, which included one with tomato and basil, often topped with slices of mozzarella.

Whatever the real origins of this pizza recipe are, it can be firmly declared that Esposito’s creation for Queen Margherita was the one that made it popular. Since then, it has grown into one of the most recognisable symbols of Italian food culture in the world, as well as a staple in the lives of most university and college students. All hail, Queen Margherita!

Next time – We talk about some Mayan staples to celebrate the end of the world.

WWII Ration Week: Day Two


Day Two started on a somewhat less healthy note than Day One. Whoops. Let’s have a look.

Breakfast
Bacon Buttie
Tea

Lunch
Leftover ‘Everything In’ stew
A piece of wholemeal bread
Tea

Afternoon Tea
Mandarin
ANZAC Biscuit
Tea

Dinner
Bacon and vegetable pastie

One may think that I’m getting sick of eating the stew by now, but it’s quite the contrary. Admittedly, as a young woman who is usually only cooking for herself, I’m quite used to preparing meals to last over several days. Besides, the stew has only gotten more delicious with each passing day

My only other real observation for the day is that I’m quite sure that I’m going to have no problem with making my meat, vegetables and fruit last me for the entire week. To be honest, I highly doubt that I even eat 1.1kg of meat in an ordinary week. What I’m discovering is that it’s the butter and oil that are going to be the biggest issue during the last few days. As such, I’ve been saving as much drippings as possible.

One other quick issue is the fact that I work for a chocolate company and have had to be incredibly resilient about samples. In case you were wondering, adults were allowed 90g of sweets during the rationing period.

In closing, here is my recipe for the bacon and vegetable pasties I made tonight. They were incredibly tasty, and a lot less time consuming to make than I originally anticipated. The only downside is that I only have roughly a quarter of my butter ration left. As you’ll notice, I had to get a bit creative.

Ingredients

Pastry

1 cup flour (I used wholemeal)
3 tsp baking powder
1 large pinch of salt
6 tbs of butter (I substituted dripping for 3 tbs)
Herbs and pepper, to taste
Water, to bind

Filling

You really can use anything you like, but I used:

1 rasher bacon, diced
1 small potato, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 large mushrooms, diced
1 zucchini, diced
1 small onion, finely chopped
Mixed herbs (I used parsley and chives from my garden)

Method

Preheat your oven at 200°C

Pastry

Sift the flour into a bowl and add the baking power, salt and any herbs you may like to add

Rub in the butter, or any substitute that you’re using

Bind the mixture with water. I recommend using a small amount of time, as to not get the mixture too wet

Divide the pastry into 4 pieces and roll out each one into a circle

Filling

Cook the carrots and potatos until medium soft

In a separate pan, cook off the bacon. Keep the drippings.

Add the rest of the vegetables and your herbs until cooked. Add the bacon back in.  I also added a gravy effect by stirring in some  of my leftover stew broth with flour.

Put the mixture in the middle of each pastry circle

Wet the edges of the pastry with just a little bit of water. I recommend using your fingertips

Pull over one side of the pastry and press the edges down. I also used a fork to make an edging effect.

Prick the top of the pastry and brush with a small amount of milk

Cook for 25 – 30 minutes, until crisp and golden

Eat!

WWII Ration Week: Day One


Welcome to Day 1 of my WWII Rationing Week. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I highly suggest you read this post.

Let’s start by looking at what I consumed throughout the day

Breakfast
– Porridge made from whole grain rolled oats and sweetened with sultanas
– Tea

Morning Tea
– Grapes
– Tea with milk

Lunch
– ‘Everything In’ Stew.
Essentially this was chuck steak and whatever vegetables I felt like. This is a great and easy dish because it’s designed to use up whatever leftover vegetables or meat you have in the fridge.
– A piece of wholemeal bread.

Afternoon Tea

– Homemade ANZAC Biscuit
– Tea

Dinner
– Leftover stew
– A piece of wholemeal bread.

I think Day 1 went incredibly well. This is hardly surprising considering that I had a lot of supplies to work with. However, I did ensure that I stayed in a ‘waste not, want not’ mindset in order to make life a little easier later in the week. Here a few ways in which I did this:

– The chuck steak that I used for my stew had an incredibly high fat to meat ratio. As a cheaper cut this is hardly surprising. Instead of throwing away the fat-riddled meat, I kept it, along with my vegetable cuttings to use for stock later in the week
– I also kept the drippings from when I fried the steak. This is going to be quite important later when I start running low on butter and cooking oil

Yesterday I mentioned that I don’t use a great deal of butter or sugar and claimed that I would have absolutely no problem with them being rationed.

Wrong.

You may have noticed that I mentioned making ANZAC Biscuits. They turned out incredibly well, however, they also made me fly through roughly half my butter and sugar rations for the week. As such, judging from some of the other dessert recipes I want to try, I’m only going to have enough for one more sweet treat. I will also need to get a little more creative when ordinary recipes call for butter.

To finish off today’s entry I thought I would share my ANZAC Biscuit recipe with you. For all of you non-Australian or New Zealanders, these biscuits became popular with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACS) during WWI. They were renowned for their durability and long life,  which was perfect for families to send to soldiers fighting over the other side of the world.

My poorly photographed ANZAC Bicuits

Ingredients

1 cup flour
(I used wholemeal. This was the standard fare during WWII)
1 Cup sugar
(I used brown because it’s what happened to be in my cupboard)

1 cup desiccated coconut
1 cup rolled oats
125g butter/margarine
1 tbs golden syrup
(I used maple syrup. I will justify this because it’s what I had in my cupboard and it therefore saved me having to go and buy a whole other product. Although this may take away some authenticity, it’s adhering to the practice of making do with what one had in order to save money)
2 tbs boiling water
1 tsp bicarb soda

Method

Mix the flour, sugar and coconut together

Mix the syrup/treacle and butter together and warm gently until thoroughly mixed.

Mix the boiling water and bicarbonate of soda together and add to the syrup/butter mixture and mix in well

Add the wet mix into the dry mix and bind together

Drop teaspoons of the mixture onto a lightly greased tray or parchment paper and cook for 10 minutes at 180C, or until golden brown all over

Remove and leave to cool for 10 minutes before placing on a wire rack to finish cooling

Eat!

In Honour of Remembrance Day


Those of you who follow Delicious History on Twitter may remember that a few weeks ago I tweeted about Remembrance Day, which will fall next Sunday – 11/11/12.

This year I wanted to do more than just remember those who have endured the hardships war. I wanted to take it a step further by experiencing a small element of what they lived through.

I have done a great deal of research into the rationing and food restrictions placed on the Australian Home Front during WWII, and I can say that it certainly puts into perspective how indulgent and wasteful modern society is. As such, for the week leading up to Remembrance Day, I intend to live off these same rations and restrictions, utilize authentic 1940s rationing recipes, and to document the experience.

I am of course aware that this will in no way compare to the hardship and loss experienced by those who have actually lived through war. However, I thought that this small gesture would give me a more informed understanding and enlightenment into how their sacrifices enabled modern Australians to live such privileged lives.

I have done my best to be as accurate as possible when it comes to the rationing amounts per adult per week, although I’m sure that it won’t be 100% correct.

Here is a list of the foods that have finite restrictions that I will be utilizing over the next seven days:

Fresh Meat – 1.1kg
I have chosen bacon, chuck steak and sausages. The latter is due to the fact that sausages weren’t rationed, and the bacon and steak because they were cheaper and more readily available during wartime.

I should also mention that Spam was a common commodity during WWII, so I’ll be exposing my body to it in the name of historical enquirey. I haven’t tried it before, and I must say that I’m rather apprehensive/terrified. In addition, thinking about it makes Monty Python invade my internal monologue.

Sugar – 450g
I actually don’t have a great deal of sugar in my diet, so I can’t see this being much of a setback. However, I do plan on doing some baking so it’ll be interesting to see if any difficulties crop up.

Butter – 225g
Same as the sugar

Milk – 1.2L
Same as the sugar and butter, but to a somewhat lesser extent. I mostly use milk in my tea and coffee.

Cooking Oil – 50g
I’m unsure as to whether this is going to be much of an issue as yet. However, I do plan on utilizing the ‘save the grease’ principle of rationing which will help stretch my budget out.

Fruits and Vegetables
There were no ration restrictions placed on fruits or vegetables, however, they were subject to availability. In order to be as authentic as possible I ordered a seasonal fruit and vegetable box from Coles. I won’t know what I’m getting until it’s arrived and I will have to make do with whatever I get.

Flour and Bread
Again, these items weren’t rationed, but wholemeal was the standard fare so that’s what I’ll be using. My main challenge here will be with the bread. I can take a month to go through a single loaf and thus keep it in the freezer. I won’t have that luxury this week and will therefore need to think of creative ways to utilize the slices that start going stale. Afterall, one wasted nothing during wartime.

FYI, French Toast is out, because unless you had your own hens, you were only allowed one fresh egg per week.

Herbs
It was highly encouraged that people kept herb and vegetable gardens (known as Victory Gardens) to supplement their diets and to reduce the strain on food demand. Luckily I have a herb garden, which will come in handy when I need to jazz up relatively plain recipes.

Tea – 45g
Tea was in short supply during WWII due to the blocking of trade routes from Asia. I’m actually quite worried about this restriction, because I drink an obscene amount of tea.

I hope you all follow my little culinary adventure through history – as I said, I’ll be documenting it daily. I’m really looking forward to the experience and hope that it makes me more appreciative for what I have, and the sacrifices made to enable my relatively cushy lifestyle.

Choctoberfest Halloween Special! Trick-or-Treating


Welcome to the last Choctoberfest post of the year! In the spirit of Halloween I thought that we could finish up by looking at the origins of trick-or-treating. Although I’m aware that this doesn’t directly correlate with the realm of chocolate, I believe that enough kids get to chow down on it as part of their Halloween haul, so that’s good enough for me.

The trick-or-treat element of Halloween was born out of All Souls’ Day. This holiday was established by the Catholic church in the 10th century in order to honour and recognize all of the Christian dead.

Observed on November 2, All Souls’ Day was celebrated with Masses and festivities. The living prayed on behalf of Christians who were in purgatory, the state in the afterlife where souls are purified before proceeding to heaven. Through prayer and good works, living Christians could assist their departed friends and family move on into heaven.

All Souls’ Day – lighting candles for the dead

All Souls’ Day is still celebrated today, particularly in Mexico,  where All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are collectively observed as “Los Dias de los Muertos” – The Days of the Dead.

So how does our little history lesson relate to trick-or-treating?

In medieval times, one popular All Souls’ Day practice was to make ‘soul cakes’ which were simple bread desserts with a currant topping. In a custom called ‘souling’, children would go door-to-door begging for the cakes, much like modern trick-or-treaters. For every cake a child collected, he or she would say a prayer for the dead relatives of the person who gave the cake. These prayers would help the relatives find their way out of purgatory and into heaven.I’m unsure of how the trick element came into this practice. Perhaps if a person didn’t hand over a cake they simply had to live with the knowledge that they were sentencing their loved ones to more time in purgatory? Harsh.

The children even had a soul cake song along the lines of the modern “Trick-or-treat, trick-or-treat, give me something good to eat.” One version of the song went:

“A soul cake! A soul cake! Have mercy on all Christian souls, for a soul cake!”

There is also some evidence of trick-or-treat type activities in Celtic tradition. On November 1st they would celebrate Sahmain, which translates to ‘Summers’s End’. Celts would dress up in ghoulish outfits and parade out of town in order to lead wandering spirits away. Additionally, Celtic children would walk door to door to collect firewood for a giant communal bonfire. Once the fire was burning, the revelers would extinguish all the other fires in the village. They would then relight every fire with a flame taken from the bonfire, as a symbol of the people’s connection to one another. This spirit of community is somewhat of a contrast to the children at my door this evening who were yelling for more chocolates to be put into their Halloween bags.

The main reason for celebrating Samhain was to honour the Celtic Gods, and there’s evidence that the Celts would dress as these deities as part of the festival. Like with All Souls’ Day, people would also go door to door to collect food to offer to their Gods. There may have also been animal and human sacrifices, however, the evidence that suggests this is not conclusive.

The Celts also  believed in fairies and other mischievous creatures, and the notion of Halloween trickery may have come from their reported activities during Samhain. However, another theory is that much like modern New Years Eve, people let go of their inhibitions, drank heavily and got into trouble during Samhain. As such, it’s possible that the trickery tradition may simply come from this spirit of revelry.

Like many religious festivities, these early trick-or-treating traditions morphed into a commercialized entity that is designed to make money. Alas, at least we know that this frenzy for candy did come from some rather fascinating historical practice.

I hope you’ve all enjoyed Choctoberfest as much as I have! And for my North American friends who haven’t started celebrating yet – Happy Halloween!

Choctoberfest: The Great Chocolate Chip Cookie Accident


Unlike so very many of the origin stories here at Delicious History, the creation of the Chocolate Chip Cookie isn’t disputed.

I’ll give you a moment to get over the shock.

Despite its lack of ambiguity, the invention of this tasty treat is quite an interesting little tale. So go ahead and grab a cookie and a glass of milk, and read on.

The creation of the Chocolate Chip Cookie is attributed to Ruth Wakefield, who invented it at her Toll House in Massachusetts. This was a very popular restaurant that featured home cooking during the 1930s. The restaurant’s popularity was not only due to the style of meals, but also Wakefield’s policy of providing diners with extra helpings to take home, as well as serving homemade cookies for dessert.

Ruth Wakefield: Hero

One of Ruth’s favorite recipes was Chocolate Butter Drop Do cookies, which I think sounds like some kind of dance. The recipe called for the use of baker’s chocolate, and one day Ruth found herself without the needed ingredient. She substituted it for a semi-sweet chocolate bar cut roughly into small pieces. However, unlike the baker’s chocolate, the chopped up pieces didn’t melt. They only softened.  This may have been an accident, but it certainly was a profitable one. The cookies were an absolute hit and customers began to ask for the recipe.

Conveniently enough, the chocolate bar used for the cookies had been a gift from Andrew Nestle. I’m sure you recognize the name. As the Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe gained in popularity, sales of Nestle’s semi-sweet chocolate bars also increased. As a consequence, Andrew Nestle and Ruth Wakefield struck a deal. Nestle would print the Toll House Cookie recipe on its packaging, and Wakefield would have a lifetime supply of Nestle chocolate. A fair deal? Perhaps not, but I like the sound of a lifetime supply of chocolate and being immortalized as the inventor of the Chocolate Chip Cookie.

Wakefield released a cookbook in 1936 titled Toll House Tried and True Recipes, which featured the original chocolate chip cookie recipe under the name ‘Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookies’.  The recipe can be found RIGHT HERE:

Ingredients

  • 2 ¼ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon soda
  • 1 teaspoon hot water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups semi sweet chocolate chips

Method

  • Sift flour together with salt and set aside.
  • Cream together butter and sugars. Add the eggs mixing until combined. Dissolve baking soda in hot water and add alternately with flour mixture.
  • Add vanilla and mix until thoroughly combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate for 36 to 48 hours. (WHAT!? I don’t want to wait that long for my cookies!)
  • Preheat oven to 190°C.
  • Scoop out rounded tablespoonfuls refrigerated dough and roll between hands into a ball. Place onto a parchment lined baking sheet and press ball down to flatten.
  • Bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Cool cookies on the pan for 2 minutes then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Choctoberfest: How Lindt Improved Chocolate Production…


…by being freakin’ delicious. End of story. Blog post completed. You can get back to your online shopping now.

That explanation isn’t adequate enough for you? Goodness, you’re all so demanding.

Sure, Lindt chocolate tastes amazing, and being one of the most successful chocolate companies in the world is a feat onto itself. Historically, however, Lindt gave a far greater gift to the world of chocolate. One of their inventions changed the way that chocolate was processed, which greatly improved its consistency, texture and taste. Before delving too deeply into this process, let’s take a quick peak at the history of Lindt…

It all began in a small pastry shop in Zurich in 1845. Confectioner David Sprüngli-Schwarz, and his 29 year old son Rudolf Sprüngli-Ammann dared to try something different – to make chocolate in the new fashion that was coming out of Italy – in solid block form. This was significant, because up until that point in time, people consumed chocolate almost exclusively as a drink.

The Lindt Chocolate Cafe – The Happiest Place on Earth

With the retirement of Rudolf Sprüngli-Ammann in 1892, the business was divided between his two sons. The younger, David Robert, received two confectionery stores under the name  Confiserie Sprüngli. The elder brother, Johann Rudolf, received the chocolate factory. In 1899, Johann acquired the chocolate factory of Rodolphe Lindt in Bern, and the company changed its name to United Bern and Zurich Lindt & Sprungli Chocolate Factory Ltd. This name should be becoming somewhat familiar now.

So why was Rodolphe Lindt’s factory so attractive to Johann? To answer that we’ll have to go back it up a bit.

Rodolphe Lindt was only 24 years old when he became a master chocolate  confectioner. In 1879 he purchased two fire-damaged factories and a few outdated machines. His intention? To manufacture a chocolate which would stand out amongst other products on the market. At that time, chocolate was a brittle, rough-surfaced and somewhat bitter substance that were laboriously pressed into moulds by hand.

Rodolph’s brother August was a pharmacist and had hypothesised that the moisture in chocolate paste, which crystallised with the addition of sugar, should be extracted during processing. August also suggested adding cocoa butter at the same time in order smooth out the conventional paste’s texture. Science + Chocolate = Sexy.

Eventually, the brothers developed a new kind of chocolate that was far superior to its predecessors. It had a dark and velvety matte gleam, an  enticing flavour, it moulded easily and melted on the tongue. They named it ‘chocolate fondant’, which translates to ‘melting chocolate’.

There are two conflicting tales regarding the development of the fondant.

Rudolphe Lindt – A bit of a Historical Hottie, and not just for his magical chocolate-making hands.

The first is that the brothers intentionally used their machines to stir the chocolate, uninterrupted, for three days and three nights.

The second is that they forgot to turn off their churning devices over the weekend. Luckily the result was delicious and revolutionary, as opposed to an unmitigated disaster. Regardless, Lindt’s discovery made a decisive contribution to both Swiss and Lindt chocolate’s international reputations.

The brother’s development came to be known as conching – a process of churning and stirring chocolate paste for long hours, with the addition of cocoa butter while the paste is being warmed by internal friction. A modern rotary conche can process 3 to 10 tonnes of chocolate in less than 12 hours.

So, thank you Lindt for improving the world of chocolate for us all, as well as continuing to be delectable 200 years later.

One final question – what is everyone’s favourite Lindt product?