Food Facts & Lore, Monday Magazine

This Week in Food History – 03/27/2017

Once upon a time, a charming Spanish young man prepared a flavorful dish of rice and vegetables for his beloved fiancée. The romantic gesture was the inspiration for the name of the dish we know today as Paella, since “para ella” means “for her” in Spanish. This, of course, is most likely a delicious myth. We owe the creation of the dish to laborers on the rice and vegetable farms of Valencia, in Eastern Spain. This has been one of the largest Mediterranean rice-producing areas since the introduction of the grain there over a thousand years ago. Farm hands prepared the improvised mixture as their mid-day meal, adding whatever vegetable was on hand and simmering the dish over a wood fire. Snails, rabbit and wild fowl may have been included as well. Valencia was an important trading port, and so spices such as saffron were probably on hand for added flavor. The meal was generally eaten straight out of the pan, which was passed from person to person. Each person used his own wooden spoon and so Paella has been dubbed “the most sociable” dish.

Today is National Spanish Paella Day. Other Noteworthy Food Celebrations This Week…

March 28: Something on a Stick Day – The images that come to mind range from sweet confections, such as Popsicles, to our spring-time favorite, kebab on the grill. Kebabs are 640 years old. The first record of meats being roasted on a skewer were found in Turkey and date back to 1377. However, the people of the area we know as China had been cooking on and eating right off wooden sticks for thousands of years before this. As for Popsicles, they were the accidental invention of 11-year-old Frank Epperson of Oakland, California, who had left a glass of water and powdered soda with a mixing stick out in the freezing cold overnight. He subsequently repeated the experience, much to the delight of his friends, and patented the confection in 1924. It was marketed as a “drink on a stick.”

March 29: National Lemon Chiffon Cake Day – Harry Baker was not a baker; he was an insurance broker. Nevertheless, he is credited with the invention of Lemon Chiffon Cake. There is no doubt the recipe ensured a sound future for the businessman turned gourmet pastry chef of the hour, for LA’s famous Brown Derby Restaurant and Hollywood stars were his top customers. He sold the recipe to General Mills in 1947. It was an overnight sensation after its publication in the Better Homes and Gardens magazine the following year.

March 30: Turkey Neck Soup Day – “Indeed, stock is everything in cooking…” Thank our friend Chef Escoffier, again, for these simple yet apropos words. We all know that broths and stocks may begin the same way, but they are not the same. Yet we may be at a loss to point out the difference. Impress your family over a good, homemade Turkey Neck Soup as you announce with confidence: Broth is any liquid that has had meat cooked in it. Boneless meat that is. This also applies to cooking vegetables in water. If you add bones, to extract their flavor and gelatin, you are now in the realm of stock.

March 31: Tater Tots Day – 1953, Oregon-Idaho border. Brothers F. Nephi and Golden Grigg, founders of the Ore-Ida company, ponder what to do with the leftover slivers of potatoes at their processing facility. Their signature French Fries were already famous. A bit of brainstorming and soon the potato bits and pieces were chopped up, mixed with flavorings and flour, mashed, log shaped, sliced and fried. 1965. H. J Heinz acquires the company… and Tots.

April 1: National Sourdough Bread Day – Sourdough bread uses wild yeast and naturally occurring lactobacilli bacteria. The process is ancient and originated in Mesopotamia. Sourdough was the common leavening agent in use throughout Europe well into the Middle Ages. In the 16th century, yeast from the process of brewing alcohol, notably beer, was collected and used in bread making. This leavening agent was called barm. Thus bakers had to rely on beer producers to create their own product until scientists devised a way to cultivate yeast. Baker’s yeast, also known as cultivated yeast, is a product of the 19th century.

April 2: National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day – The Ancient Aztecs and Incas roasted and ground peanuts into a paste. It would take three modern-day patents to develop peanut butter as we know it today. First, let it be noted that George Washington Carver, AKA the father of the peanut industry, identified hundreds of uses for peanuts ranging from chili sauce to glue. Meanwhile, peanut paste was patented by Canadian chemist Marcellus Gilmore Edson in 1884. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg patented the process for converting raw peanuts to peanut butter in 1895. The peanut butter making machine was patented in 1903 by Missouri physician Dr. Ambrose Straub.

You may also be interested in our Fricassée of Words exploring the expression “As Thick as Peanut Butter.”

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