Food Facts & Lore, Monday Magazine

This Week in Food History – 07/24/2017

Last Week, we started telling you about our sources for this weekly food exploration. As promised, here is one more resource among our favorites: The Food Timeline. This one can be a bit “dangerous” if you are an avid consumer of history and facts. Simply put, it is easy to get lost on the Timeline, and very satisfyingly so. We love this saying at the very top of the page: “Most foods are not invented; they evolve.” So true. The Food Timeline offers a detailed account of the beginnings, evolution and social history of nearly every imaginable food or dish. We especially love the alphabetized index. You don’t need to be writing a paper or an article to savor this food history database. It is written to suit every palate. We’ll share another favorite resource next week. For now…

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

July 24 is National Tequila Day – It all begins with Pulque, a fermented beverage the Aztec made with blue agave, a succulent plant native to tropical America. They cultivated the plant in the early 13th century. Pulque was also known as “Nectar of the gods.” Incidentally, they referred to cocoa as “Fod of the gods.” The Conquistadors, who arrived in the Mexico area by 1519, had run out of brandy. The Aztec introduced them to Pulque; the Conquistadors introduced the Aztec to the art of distilling. A new beverage was created. A little over a century later, the village of Tequila became an important trade center for the drink that would soon be known by this place-name.

July 25 is National Hot Fudge Sundae Day – Tequila is not the only pleasure we owe to the Aztec and the Conquistadors. The Aztec also consumed a beverage made of cocoa. The Conquistadors found it too bitter, so they added honey and other natural sweeteners. Sweet chocolate inspiration in the making! The use of cocoa itself is traced back to 1400 BCE Honduras. The first hot fudge sundae was created 3,300 or so years later, in 1906, by Clarence Clifton Brown at a Hollywood Boulevard ice cream parlor in LA. The hot fudge was provided on the side, to apply according to taste.

July 26 is National Coffee Milkshake Day – Picture if you will, Chicago, 1922. The Walgreens chain was rapidly becoming a fixture, as well as being famous for its signature chocolate malt beverage. Employee Ivar Coulson had a special knack for the soda fountain and often tried innovative mixtures. Coulson added ice cream to the original ingredients, milk, malt powder and chocolate syrup, thus instantly setting the tone for a stunning and timeless treat. The electric blender was invented that same year. Serendipity at its best.

July 27 is National Crème Brûlée Day – The name is French, but food historians point out that custards in general were consumed all over Europe in the Middle ages, so their origin is unclear. The French name is fitting, and we could leave it at that. However, the English might object. In the 17th century, students at Trinity College, Cambridge, created a custard with a burnt cream topping, garnished with sugar and elegantly finished with the college crest burnt into said sugar. It was called, “Trinity Burnt Cream.”

July 28 is National Milk Chocolate Day – As we’ve seen before, chocolate was a coca beverage before it was ever a solid candy. In truth, we added milk to chocolate, not the other way around. Some attribute the brilliant idea to physician and naturalist Sir Hans Sloane (1660 – 1753), who was also an avid collector of objects from around the world. He came across cocoa while in Jamaica where he noticed that sick children regained their vitality upon ingesting a cocoa, spices and water mixture. He concluded that milk might contribute added nutritional value. Notice that he lived to the age of 93, a rare feat in his time. The Cadbury Brothers commercialized the “potion” in 1820.

July 29 is National Lasagna Day – A lasagna recipe was found in a British cookbook dating back to the late 1300s. For this reason, some argue that the dish may in fact be a Brit concoction. Of course, we all know that lasagna is Italian. Only problem is, the name comes from the Greek, “laganon,” a word used in reference to flat, layered dough strips. There is substantial evidence that the lasagna we know today was indeed inspired by the Greek dough, but it was very much an Italian creation originating in Naples, during the Middle Ages. The structure of the dish is not happenstance; it was meant to feed a crowd on very special occasions.

July 30 is National Cheesecake Day – Cheese molds (the form, not the fungi) dating back 4,000 years were discovered on the island of Samos, in Greece. There is evidence that honey sweetened cheese “cakes” were served to athletes during the first Olympics, in 776 B.C.C. Nearly 2, 650 years later, in 1872, a New York dairy farmer attempting to replicate the smooth Neufchatel cheese of France came up with the process that gave us cream cheese. The American cheese cake was but a small stretch of the imagination away. Arnold Reuben, famous for his signature sandwiches, is also credited with creating NY Style cheesecake.

Thanks for reading. Liked what you learned here? Please share it. Also visit 158 Main and JPD on Facebook and See you here next week for more historical nibbles…