Food Facts & Lore, Monday Magazine

This Week in Food History – 06/05/2017

This week of Food Holidays may be the most decadent to date. Every day celebrates a sweet dessert. We don’t see a problem with that. Do you? Many believe that the only reason we crave sweets after a meal is that we are culturally trained to do so. This is true, in part, but there is a scientific reason behind our love of post-meal sweets also. Sugar helps us process some of the amino acids ingested during a meal, one of which, tryptophan, plays a significant role in maintaining serotonin levels that support well-being. We’re wired to crave sweets and that’s that. Ideally, this could be limited to fruits, honey and such, but who are we kidding here! Savoring the creative genius of dessert chefs is one of the unique pleasures of our kind.

Meanwhile, here are this week’s noteworthy, and decadent, Food Highlights… 

June 5 is National Gingerbread Day – “The first known recipe for gingerbread came from Greece in 2400 BC. Chinese recipes were developed during the 10th century and by the late Middle Ages, Europeans had their own version of gingerbread. The hard cookies, sometimes gilded with gold leaf and shaped like animals, kings and queens, were a staple at Medieval fairs… Queen Elizabeth I is credited with the idea of decorating the cookies in this fashion, after she had some made to resemble the dignitaries visiting her court.” Fascinating! Learn more on PBS Food.

June 6 is National Applesauce Cake Day – The first recipes for Applesauce Cake begin to appear in cookbooks during World War I (1914 – 1918). There is good reason for this. The recipe uses fewer eggs as well as less sugar and butter, all commodities in short supply at the time. In fact, advertisements promoted Applesauce Cake as a patriotic option. By the mid to late 1900’s, as we turned our attention to fitness and health, Applesauce Cakes became popular again due to their lower fat and cholesterol content.

June 7 is National Chocolate Ice Cream Day – Ice Cream existed long, long before the creemee machine was invented, sort of. Nero Claudius Caesar (AD 54-86) is said to have sent his subjects to fetch snow in the mountains. Fruits and juices were added for flavor. A few centuries before this, Alexander the Great (BCE 356-323) satisfied his sweet tooth with honey and nectar flavored snow. A recipe resembling sherbet was brought to Italy by Marco Polo (1254 – 1324) when he returned from the Far East. This may have been the initial inspiration for modern ice cream.

June 8 is Jelly-Filled Doughnut Day – We owe the first written reference to doughnuts to Washington Irving, the first American author ever to earn a living solely from his writings. In “A History of New York,” published in 1809, Irving writes, “…balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks.” This word, pronounced “ol-i-koo ks,” is American Dutch for “oil cakes.”

June 9 is National Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Day – Rhubarb was cultivated and used for medicinal purposes nearly 5000 years ago. By the way, it is a vegetable. In fact, spinach is a cousin. While some believe that sweetness determines whether something is a fruit or veggie, a more accurate rule of thumb lies in the seed. No seed; it’s a veggie. We instinctively associate rhubarb with sweet desserts, in spite of its tartness. In truth, that strawberry-rhubarb pie is a fruits & veggies pie. All the more reason to indulge, wouldn’t you say?

June 10 is National Black Cow Day – 1876. This is the year Pharmacist Charles Hires commercialized his Root Beer at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. 1893, Cow Mountain, Cripple Creek, Colorado. Gold mine and tavern owner Frank J. Wisner decides to add a scoop of ice cream to a glass of Root Beer to create a drink for children. Story goes, he christened it “Black Cow” as a sort of word play on Cow Mountain (also the name of his mine), black gold and the color of the beverage. Today, it is often called “Brown Cow.”

June 11 is National German Chocolate Cake Day – Rhubarb is not a fruit (see June 9) and German chocolate, and cake, are not German. Enter Sam German, an Englishman in the employ of Walter Baker & Company, Dorchester, Mass. In 1852, German created a sweeter and milder chocolate to use in baking. You see where this is going. The first published recipe for German Chocolate Cake appeared in a 1957 newspaper and is attributed to a Texas housewife.

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