Food Facts & Lore, Monday Magazine

This Week in Food History – 02/13/2017


February 13: National “Italian Food” Day
Even to this day, Italian food remains one of the most popular ethnic foods in America. Italian immigrants arrived in the late 19th century. Italian cuisine was well established by the mid 20th century, particularly in New York City. In fact, Italian immigrants were among the many European laborers involved in establishing much of New York’s infrastructure, such as the subway tunnel under New York’s East River.

While spaghetti drenched with delectable tomato sauce, and large pizzas adorned with as many favorite toppings as one can imagine come to mind whenever Italian food is mentioned, One of the earliest dishes made popular by early Italian Americans was Chicken Tetrazzini: Chicken, mushroom, onion and garlic served over linguine or spaghetti in a butter cream sauce.

Other Momentous Happenings This Week…

February 14: National Creme-Filled Chocolates Day
Happy Valentine’s Day! And it appears we keep one foot in the 19th century for this National Food Holiday since the tradition of offering chocolates for Valentine’s Day is believed to have originated with a genius marketing move on the part of Richard Cadbury, in 1861. This is when he marketed the very first heart-shaped chocolate box. The rest took care of itself, deliciously so.

February 15: National Chewing Gum Day
Northern Europeans were already chewing birch bark tar (we can’t imagine) as far back as 9,000 years ago. Ancient Mayas chewed a substance called “chicle” to fight hunger and quench thirst. It was derived from a local tree. North American Indians chewed spruce resin, a practice adopted by European Settlers. The first commercial spruce tree gum was developed in the 1840’s by American businessman John B. Curtis. Within 10 years, he had established the world’s first chewing gum factory in Portland, Maine.

February 16: National Almond Day
Almonds were among the most prized ingredients on Ancient Pharaohs’ tables, both as is and as ingredients in grain breads. They are thought to have originated in Central Asia and China. Spanish Franciscan Padres brought the first almond trees to America in the 1700’s. It would take about a century before successful crops could be harvested. Today’s reliable varieties of almonds are the result of diligent late 19th century cross-breeding practices that made the plant more resilient to our climate.

February 17: National Indian Pudding Day
Indian Pudding is at least 600 years old. The English enjoyed a similar concoction called “Hasty Pudding.” It was a stove-top porridge made by boiling milk and wheat flour. Early New England settlers had ample access to cornmeal, rather than wheat. Corn is widely recognized as a staple of the American Indian menu, and thus New Englanders adapted the originally English version of their favorite dessert to the ingredients at hand.

February 18: National Drink Wine Day
This one speaks for itself… in moderation and in good company, please.

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