Food Facts & Lore, Monday Magazine

This Week in Food History – 06/26/2017

The Food Holidays seem to get weirder and weirder as we approach July. You’d think that most would revolve around the grill during the hot summer months, but we’re still waist deep in sweet desserts and beverages. Remember, it’s all about moderation. Though we believe that indulging, occasionally, is a fundamental right. What would life be without a few guilty pleasures? Meanwhile, June is National Iced Tea Month. Did you know that South Carolina is the only state that produces tea commercially? Not only that, but it is the first place in the US to produce tea at all, beginning in 1795. Iced tea grew in popularity thanks to the invention of the refrigerator (early 1920’s). The initial versions were usually in the form of liquor spiked punches.

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

June 26 is National Chocolate Pudding Day – You’ve heard of blood pudding. Well, brace yourself, this is the original state of the pudding. Indeed, it was not a sweet custard-like treat; it was meat-based and resembled sausage. By the 1840’s, when the average family had easier access to a wide variety of foods, the common “sausage pudding” was no longer a necessary staple. Custard powder was introduced around this time, and with it the incentive to get creative and give pudding a sweet turn.

June 27 is National Indian Pudding Day – Two weeks ago, we saw that German chocolate is not actually German. Along similar lines, Indian pudding is not a Native American invention, though their use of corn had something to do with it. Early colonists were used to various flour-based desserts, but there was no wheat or flour in New England. However, Native Americans did introduce corn and cornmeal to our table. Add butter, eggs, molasses and milk, all ingredients of European inspiration, and voilà!

June 28 is National Tapioca Day – The Tupi people occupied most of Central and Southern Brazil nearly 3,000 years ago. Tribes were still present when the Portuguese arrived. They were familiar with arrowroot, the root of a woody shrub they cultivated as a major food source. We get the name “tapioca” from “tipioca,” a Tupi language word that means “residue,” and “to squeeze out.” Tapioca is produced by extracting, or separating the starch from the root’s milky liquid (known as yar). While the starch provides a nutritious pulp, the liquid is poisonous and was used to make poisoned darts.

June 29 is National Almond Buttercrunch Day – Buttercrunch is toffee, but toffee is not Buttercrunch. Unlike classic toffee, an English candy made of plain sugar and butter, the true Buttercrunch is chocolate and crushed almond covered toffee, and it is an American invention. One of the most famous, commercialized version was launched in Tacoma, Washington in 1923. It bore the name, “Almond Roca,” fittingly borrowing from the Spanish for “rock” as the almonds used in the confection were imported from Spain.

June 30 is National Ice Cream Soda Day – The ice cream soda was the fortunate outcome of a serendipitous incident. Namely, someone ran out of cream for his popular carbonated water, syrup and cream beverage. That someone was Robert McCay Green. The incident took place in Philadelphia in 1874, during an exhibit. Bad timing? Not so. He cleverly substituted ice cream and did not miss a beat. In fact, it is said that the line at his booth grew almost instantly. There are other versions of the invention of ice cream soda, and many others claim the brilliant inventor title. Mental Floss offers an interesting overview HERE.

July 1st is National Gingersnap Day – It is believed that ginger has been traded longer than most other spices. It originated in Southeast Asia spread into Europe so promptly that it was widely cultivated in the Mediterranean regions as early as the 1st century C.E. It was valued for its medicinal qualities and is a recognized digestive aid to this day, even when served in a delicious cookie. Medieval Monks in Franconia, Germany, probably created the first ginger cookie, known as “lebkuchen” then. The earliest written recipe dates to 1296.

July 2 is National Anisette Day – While ginger may have been the most traded spice, Anise is the oldest known spice plant. Egyptians used it way back in 1500 B.C.E. It was used to ease upper respiratory ailments, sore throat and congestion. Today, anise is a common expectorant added to cough syrups. There is good reason anise and licorice taste alike. Licorice gets its flavor from the distilled oils of the anise plant. Anise liqueur, A.K.A. Anisette, combines all the delicious characteristics of the sweet plant, and then some. It was first commercialized in the early 1800’s, in Italy. We know it as Sambuca.

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