Food Facts & Lore, Monday Magazine

This Week in Food History – 05/29/2017

Ah June! Take your pick. It’s National Dairy Month, National Iced Tea Month, National Seafood Month, National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month, National Turkey Lover’s Month, National Steakhouse Month and we’re probably skipping a handful. How are National Food Holidays created anyway? Food Holidays are proclaimed by state and municipal governments, or they are signed into law by the President. Of course, you can count on a good measure of prompting from marketing companies too. In any case, they provide inspiration for gathering around the table and for fun projects with the kids, and there is surely nothing wrong with that.

Meanwhile, here are this week’s noteworthy Food highlights… 

May 29 is National Coq Au Vin Day – In traditional farming, a good breeding rooster was allowed to live well into old age, at which time it was slain and slow-braised in wine to overcome the toughness of the meat. The result was a rare delight. The following words, referring to Coq au Vin and translated from a 1913 French publication (L’art de Bien Manger – The Art of Eating Well), illustrate this perfectly: “There is no greater pleasure than to wander through the small and large towns of our central and south-western provinces. In those corners… of old France, one is poorly housed; but, I concur, generally well fed. It is a compensation.”

May 30 is National Mint Julep Day – The original Julep is several centuries old. It was an Arabic drink called Julab, consisting of water and rose petals. It was lightly and pleasantly scented and most refreshing, and often believed to enhance the very quality of life. Trading routes and regional customs influenced the recipe depending on the plants at hand. A Mediterranean variation used mint instead of rose petals. In the US, this particular version gained in popularity when it was made the official drink of the Kentucky Derby in 1983.

May 31 is National Macaroon Day – The original macaroon likely dates back to Renaissance-time Syria (1300s – 1500s), an important almond producer. Almond meal and honey provided a delicious and aromatic paste that could be sculpted into various shapes. These fanciful confections were exported throughout Europe during the Crusades. The first “modern” recipe for macaroons was probably brought to France in the early 1500s by the pastry chefs of the Duke of Orléans (later to become King Henri II) and his spouse, Caterina de Medici.

June 1 is National Hazelnut Cake Day – There is somewhat of a dispute regarding the origins of the hazelnut. 1st century Roman philosopher and naturalist Pliny insisted they were a product of Damascus, Syria. However, 5000-year old Chinese manuscripts refer to one of the few sacred foods provided by the gods for the benefit of humans: hazelnuts. For their part, the Roman people honored fertility by burning hazel wood torches at wedding ceremonies. We’ll settle this once and for all: hazelnuts are ancient, delicious and divine. Eat cake.

June 2 is National Rocky Road Ice Cream Day – Do the names Dreyer and Edy ring a bell? Dreyer was a German immigrant who started making ice cream in California in 1906. Edy was a candy maker. They partnered and opened an ice cream store in Oakland. Ice Cream sales dropped after the Great Depression (1929 -1939). Dreyer did not give up. He added walnuts and tiny marshmallows to their chocolate ice cream. This was an overnight sensation and it is believed to have marked a turning point in the industry, and prompted the inspiration for innovation and variety.

June 3 is National Egg Day – In the Middle Ages (5th to the 15th century), religious leaders and physicians warned that consuming a meal before dinner time was a clear indication of gluttony, and therefore to be avoided. Only children, laborers and the elderly were exempt from this belief. 17th century English medical writer was of a different opinion. He suggested poached eggs with salt, pepper, vinegar, bread and butter for breakfast. Learn more on Bon Appétit.

June 4 is National Cheese Day – Therefore, smile. We turn to one of our favorite Fricassée of Words post from February 2014 for this one. The first recorded instance of the words, “Say cheese!” can be found in a 1943 article appearing in The Big Spring Daily Herald, Texas. The title reads: Need To Put On A Smile? Here’s How: Say ‘Cheese.’” Read on: Say Cheese.

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