This Week in Food History – 09/11/2017

September is National Potato Month. The Romans don’t get credit for this one; the Inca cultivated potatoes way back around 8,000 BCE. However, by now we see a pattern emerging: conquerors are often the ones who “borrow” and propagate food and traditions. The potato is no exception. Spanish Conquistadors brought the potato back to Europe in 1536. Cultivation was well-established along the northern coast of Spain within the same century. Potatoes subsequently made their way to Ireland in 1589, thanks to Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh never cultivated the spud himself, presumably due to is less than sedentary lifestyle. Indeed, he was at once politician, explorer, spy, poet, writer and soldier. There’s more to this story, if you are curious. Explore HERE… and come back!

Meanwhile, here’s what’s happening in the realm of food highlights this week…

September 11 is National Hot Cross Bun Day – In 16th century England, hot cross buns were sold year-round by street vendors and bake shops. It is said that a monk was inspired to use thinly rolled dough to add a cross-shaped motif to buns he was baking once upon a Good Friday. The connection with the Easter Holiday was immediate and extremely popular. And it caught the attention of Queen Elizabeth I who, in 1592, decreed that hot cross buns must henceforth be sold only on occasion of Christmas, Good Friday and burials. Anyone caught baking them privately at other times would have them confiscated and donated to the poor.

September 12 is National Chocolate Milkshake Day – Hmm, this is definitely a recurring food holiday theme. What say you to giving it a trivia twist? And an unexpected one at that! Did you know, the cast of the original Planet of The Apes movie was hooked on milkshakes. The reason was almost purely practical. The complex masks and makeup simply did not permit them to ingest or chew regular food. In truth, this was not an altogether bad choice at all, for in addition to being a good source of calcium, milkshakes provide vitamins B2 and B12, vitamin A, healthy fatty acids and protein.

September 13 is National Peanut Day – “What makes the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich?” The Huffington Post asked this very important question in a September 2014 survey. 80% of participants went straight for the crust, stating that it must not be removed. 56% like theirs with smooth peanut butter. 54% indicated white bread makes the best PB & J sandwich. 36% insisted on strawberry jam and 31% opt for grape. Meanwhile, turns out Elvis liked his with bananas. What say you?

September 14 is Eat a Hoagie Day – You may have heard that the hoagie owes its name to its 1880’s Hog Island, Philadelphia, origins. While historians can verify this claim, some folks who are well versed in the local lore point out that it was not uncommon at the time for someone to observe, “Only a hog could eat that thing!” or something to that effect. The richly cold cuts and cheese draped Italian loaf sandwich was popular among the workers of nearby shipyards and factories who purchased them from street vendors. The Boston Grinder and New York Hero share a similar history and equal popularity. In all cases, Italian immigrants inspired the feast.

September 15 is National Linguine Day – A good pasta dish would not be the same without tomato sauce, not unless you lived in 5,000 BC China, that is, the time and place when grains were initially smashed with rocks and combined with water to make a malleable dough. By about 500 BC, the Etruscans were enjoying their own “pasta dishes.” Pasta noodles made their appearance on Italian tables in the 1100’s, thanks to Marco Polo, though some dispute “who done it.” Tomato sauce comes into the picture much later, as tomatoes are native of South America. Spanish Conquistador Hernando Cortes is credited with introducing them to Europe in 1519. Linguine means, “tongue.”

September 16 is National Guacamole Day – It would appear Cortes had a knack for initiating food trends, though he likely was not aware of the consequences of his finds. In addition to tomatoes, as mentioned in the previous segment, avocados were among the South American delicacies he brought back to Spain in 1519. As for guacamole, it is an ancient, traditional Aztec dish, so Cortes would have brought this tradition back to the Old World along with the fruit. The first commercially cultivated avocado tree was planted in California in 1871. California produces roughly 90% of the avocados we consume in America.

September 17 is National Apple Dumpling Day – Italians say gnocchi and ravioli; in the Jewish tradition, they are known as Matzo balls; in China, it’s wontons. Dumplings take many shapes and names, but the concept is ancient and universal. Written references to dumplings appear in the early 1600’s, but since soups and stews have been staples of peasant and royal tables for thousands of years, food historians agree that dumplings evolved naturally as a simple way to extend a dish with few, regionally available ingredients. For the wealthy, this would have represented an indulgence; it was a welcome hunger quenching treat for the lower classes.


Thanks for reading. Liked what you learned here? Please share it. Also visit 158 Main and JPD on Facebook and See you here next week for more historical nibbles…

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