Food Facts & Lore, Monday Magazine

This Week in Food History – 02/27/2017


Today is National Strawberry Day. Nothing fancy. Ah, but this little fruit has accompanied humans throughout history. Our more primate-like ancestors nibbled on it, naturally. Humans of later eras considered it an ornament rather than a delicacy, as evidenced by the writings of 1st century A.D. poet Virgil. Interestingly, the original strawberry was considerably smaller than today’s varieties, and also less palatable. The French brought the wild plants to their gardens by the 1300’s, but we owe today’s plump and delicious strawberry to English gardeners who began to work on developing new varieties in the early 1800’s. Incidentally, an American variety imported from Virginia was among the ones they used.

Other Noteworthy Food Celebrations This Week…

February 28: National Chili Day
Chili was a staple of the Ancient Mayan and Aztec cuisine. It is believed their version consisted in a base of beans served in a spicy tomato sauce. Chili con carne, or chili with meat, is said to me the Americanized version of a Mexican dish, but an obscure Mexican source defines it as “A detestable dish sold from Texas to New York City and erroneously described as Mexican.” It’s a matter of taste, of course, and food is a constant source of exploration and self-expression.

March 1: National Fruit Compote Day
The word “compote” means “a mixture.” It finds its root in Old French and Old English, in a word that today brings to mind a slightly different picture: compost. Common belief places the concoction of stewed fruits mixed together in romantic old kitchens of Europe and America. Historians note that cooked fruit is at least as old as the invention of the clay pots that would have been required to boil water. This dates compote to somewhere around 10,000 B.C.

March 2: National Banana Crème Pie Day
They say “Creme Pie,” we say “Cream Pie.” While the definition and recipe may be obvious, the controversy lies entirely around spelling. Crème is French for cream, as you probably know. And we can slip even further on this banana peel merely by mentioning that since most modern recipes include eggs, we should in fact call it a banana custard pie.

March 3: National Cold Cuts Day March
Bologna and salami are the most well-known cold cuts in the United States. Depending on your vintage, you may remember biting off the thin ribbon of plastic from around each slice of bologna. Simple pleasures! Americans consume well over $2 billion worth of cold cuts annually.

March 4: National Pound Cake Day March
“Pound cake. A Plain white-cake loaf whose name derives from the traditional weight of the ingredients: one pound of flour, one pound of butter, one pound of sugar, and one pound of eggs… Its first printed mention was in 1740 according to Webster’s Ninth, and it has remained a popular and simple cake to make to this day.” – Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink, 1999

March 5: National Absinthe Day
The noteworthy Absinthe demands a slight detour from our food focus. It was the muse of poets and a most controversial spirit. 19th century Parisian artists and writers lost their sanity to its poignant hallucinogenic abilities. It was eventually banned, in France as well as in America. It was made from the wormwood herb (Artemisia absinthium), anise and fennel seed. The flavor was likely quite irresistible. Ancient Egyptians used wormwood for stomach ailments.

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