Food Facts & Lore, Monday Magazine

This Week in Food History – 05/01/2017

May is National Salsa Month, Salad Month, Asparagus Month, Barbecue Month, Egg Month, Hamburger Month… the list goes on. Let’s feast. Picking one to highlight this week is difficult, but somehow the recent sound of lawnmowers and leaf blowers made us zero in on National Barbecue Month and the question: Why is it called “barbecue?” History takes us back well before Biblical times, but the word “barbecue” enters our language via a chance encounter between Christopher Columbus and the Arawak Indians of South America. They cooked meats by placing them on a greenwood grid hoisted on four poles over fire. The Spanish word for this contraption: barbacoa. Learn more on the National Barbecue & Grilling Association website.

Meanwhile, this week in the realm of food celebrations…

May 1 is National Chocolate Parfait Day – What is the perfect parfait? Depends if you’re in America or in France. The American Parfait consists in layers of syrups (often chocolate), fruit garnishes and ice cream. In France, home of the original Parfait, it consists in a whipped custard of ice cream and pureed fruit served in a tall glass. Garnishes of fruit or syrups are added on top, not layered within. In this sense, the French Parfait is closer to our Sundae and the American Parfait is… a sundae.

May 2 is National Truffles Day – Chef extraordinaire Auguste Escoffier no longer needs introductions on this blog. Truffles came to be under his very gaze, at least according to common stories. In the early 1900’s, while learning how to make pastry cream, an apprentice of his mistakenly poured hot cream over chocolate chunks, instead of pouring it on sugared eggs as he should. Intrigued, the apprentice discovered he could fashion balls from the mixture. The resemblance to the actual delicacy known as truffles was remarkable, especially after he rolled them in cocoa powder. The rest of the story was inevitable… and delicious.

May 3 is National Raspberry Tart Day – A pie may be a tart but a tart is not a pie. Or is it the other way around? A tart is an open pastry shell with only a bottom and shallow sides and containing a filling. A pie may have a top and bottom, only a bottom or only a top. Fillings may be similar in both pies and tarts, but here lies the main difference: The pie is sliced and served straight from the dish in which it is baked; the tart is often single-serve and removed from the baking dish before serving. While a tart dough may contain butter, the pie typically uses lard.

May 4 is National Orange Juice Day – The existence of orange juice is a good example of the concept of serendipity. It did not occur to anyone to commercialize the juice of the orange until around 1910 when an over-abundant crop demanded creative outlets. The railway system was completed around the same time and pasteurization had been in use for a few years. Fresh squeezed orange juice could stay fresh and healthy longer, and it could be sent to big cities for mass consumption. The stars had lined up and growers were able to save much of the crops from waste.

May 5 is National Hoagie Day – While there are several explanations for the term “hoagie,” one of the prevailing ones is that it was introduced by Italian Americans working at the shipyard known as Hog Island, in southwest Philadelphia, during World War II. It became known as the “Hog Island sandwich,” which evolved to “hoagie.” In Europe, this type of sandwich is known as a baguette or a ciabatta, after the type of bread used.

May 6 is International No Diet Day – We get the word “diet” from Ancient Greece. Sadly, we have lost most of its original meaning and intent. Today, we associate this word with food restrictions in an effort to lose weight. The Greek word “diaita” meant “a way of life.” Diet was all about lifestyle, not only what’s on one’s plate. Ironically, we also equate such Ancient civilizations with carefree feasts. Something to be said about truly embracing life rather than getting hooked on the details, perhaps. Ponder over a good meal with friends.

May 7 is National Roast Leg of Lamb Day – What is the difference between lamb and mutton? Raise your hand! “Lamb is from France and Mutton is from England,” offered one student, adopting the proper accent for each part of his statement. “Bha-ha-ha!” said another. But seriously… Lamb is a sheep that is less than a year old when slaughtered for its meat; Mutton is a sheep that is more mature, usually about 3-years old, when slaughtered. The meat of the first is leaner than the meat of the latter.

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