This Week in Food History – 10/09/2017

Pretzels are among the most peculiar treats and their history is as uncommon as their shape. October is National Pretzel Month. Today, we are familiar with the soft, warm, twisted dough we love to dunk in mustard, and this version is closest to the original. The name is German, but they were first called “bracellae,” from the Latin for “little arms.” There is good reason for this. 7th century Italian monks probably made the first Pretzels. Crossing the arms was the traditional posture at times of prayer. You see where this is going. And yet the story is far more twisted than this. We found a fascinating article on History.com. Go to it… and come back!

Meanwhile, here are this week’s food & beverage highlights… 

October 9 is National Moldy Cheese Day – While 7th-century Italian monks were baking Pretzels (see above), a Roquefort, France shepherd accidentally created the first Blue Cheese when he left his bread and cheese in a cave; or so the legend goes. The mold penicillium was present in the cave and found the forgotten lunch to be an excellent place of residence. Of course, this implies someone returned to the cave, found the moldy cheese and was curious enough to taste it. It takes up to 6 months for a good Blue Cheese to mature. The mold grows in tiny air channels, from the inside out. This network of oxygen-filled veins is essential. Modern techniques consist adding refined mold directly in the milk and inserting oxygen in the cheese through hollow needles.

October 10 is National Angel Food Cake Day – What came first, the Angel Food Cake or the cake pan? Well, in this case it appears that the latter was the inspiration for the fluffy and light confection we love to douse with sweet sauces and mountains of strawberries. The Pennsylvania Dutch introduced the cake mold to the American kitchen, a much essential implement for the creation of the light, egg-rich cake. In fact, references to the angelic dessert begin showing up soon after the introduction of the Dutch cake pans. As for the recipe, it provided a delicious way to use up egg whites.

October 11 is National Sausage Pizza Day – Please forgive us as we indulge in a bit of a “Picture if you will” adventure on this one. Sausage, it turns out, is the most oft requested additional topping on otherwise sausage-less pizzas. The Margherita is at the top of the list. Picture if you will, fresh tomato, homemade Mozzarella, fresh garlic and basil; an already deeply aromatic flavor extravaganza. Sausage is the ultimate finishing touch. We dare you to manage to save even a single slice for later. Sausage and pasta go hand in hand as well, like say, sausage and green peppers with onions over linguine. This mixture makes a deliciously decadent sub too, by the way. Hop on over to the JPD Menu to continue this sausagelicious adventure.

October 12 is National Gumbo Day – Gumbo is a traditional Louisiana Dish, and a pot-pourri of flavors and origins. Roux, the flour and oil or fat-based thickener and essential ingredient, is of French origin. The name, “Gumbo,” is the West African name for okra. For this reason, okra is believed to be an original ingredient, though most modern recipes omit it entirely. The remaining ingredients (red and green bell peppers are common), suggests influence by local tribes such as the Choctaws. There is virtually no economic barrier for Gumbo; the poor and wealthy have their own versions. Today, we are familiar with chicken or seafood Gumbo, but the spectrum of ingredients varied widely in the 1800’s, including ham, bacon and beef. Prior to this, it was typically served with corn meal mush. Rice is the accompaniment of choice since.

October 13 is National Yorkshire Pudding Day – What, pray tell, distinguishes Yorkshire Pudding from most other puddings? The method. Ancient puddings were meat-based, boiled and the consistency was closer to sausage than to what we expect of a pudding today. Yorkshire Pudding is a Northern-England dish consisting of egg, milk, flour and hot meat drippings; usually beef. It was developed as a means to make delicious use of fat drippings when roasting meat. The original Yorkshire is always made in a large, shallow pan and served as an appetizer, cut into wedges, prior to the main course. The first recipe appears in “Art of Cookery,” a 1747 publication that enjoyed continued popularity for over 100 years in England and America.

October 14 is National Chocolate Covered Insects Day – If you’re into nutritional value, you’ll be happy (perhaps) to know that ingesting 100 grams of grasshoppers would supply your body with 20 grams of high-quality protein and only about 6 grams of fat. By comparison, you’d gain an additional 9 grams of protein with 100 grams of sirloin, but you’d also add 15 grams of fat. It’s a toss. In Thailand, fried bugs are served with beer. That almost sounds better than chocolate. Scientists observe that cultures that rely heavily on plant crops for food and fodder tend to see insects as unappealing invaders rather than as additional sources of food. With Halloween around the corner, this is good food for thought… and creative treats.

October 15 is National Roast Pheasant Day – Wouldn’t “Feasant” with an “F” taste just as good? The Pheasant is a native of Asia; more precisely from the Caucasus region, between Asia and Europe. The Ancient Greeks called it Phasianos. A river Phasis may have inspired the name. Pheasants were first brought to North America in 1773, but most did not survive the journey. A later shipment, in 1881, brought 60 birds overseas to Washington, and then by open road to Oregon. Most survived. These are known as Chinese Ring-Necked Pheasants, and you are most likely to find their descendants on your plate today.


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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