Food Facts & Lore, Monday Magazine

This Week in Food History – 09/25/2017

We find it utterly suitable for this month to be National Breakfast Month. Don’t you? Right between summer and autumn, when mornings bring an invigorating chill (although, nature is not exactly following its own trends these days), the thought of a good breakfast is especially inviting. Of course, the breakfast cereal was an inviting proposition at some time, but it seems a full breakfast is in fashion these days, and rightly so. Did You Know, the first breakfast cereal was invented in 1863 and required overnight soaking to ensure it would be chewable by breakfast. Hmm, we’d rather contemplate a good omelette, Benedict or traditional eggs and toasts, thank you very much. Incidentally, take a peek at our BREAKFAST and BRUNCH menus.

Meanwhile, here are this week’s food & beverage highlights… 

September 25th is National Lobster Day – It’s a felony to steal a lobster pot. This is because the “lobster pot” is the trap used to catch lobster, it’s not an actual pot. Interestingly, the design of the lobster pot has not changed in over two centuries. Prior to this, lobsters were captured by hand. In fact, they were so abundant that the wealthy and poor alike used them as a main source of food. The wealthy considered it “the poor man’s chicken,” and some were ashamed to eat the same delicacy the lower classes could easily enjoy as well. There are many ways to cook lobster besides boiling. The Native American method sounds delicious. They wrapped lobster in seaweed and baked them over hot rocks.

September 26 is National Pancake Day – The history of pancakes begins in part, you guessed it, on the Roman and Greek tables of antiquity. Empires fall, but delicacies always carry on. A pancake is defined as a flat cake made from a plant-based batter and fried or baked. Based on this definition, it is certain that pancakes were consumed at least 30,000 years ago. The most stunning evidence, though more recent, was provided by Otzi, the Iceman, who was discovered in Northern Italy some 5,300 years after he set out on a gathering journey. His last meal included pancakes made of ground wild wheat cooked over an open fire.

September 27 is Corned Beef Hash Day – Corned beef hash is an American dish owing its name to France and Ireland, but though Ireland often comes to mind as a place of origin, that would be a wee bit off. For a long time, in Ireland, cattle were raised for the production of dairy products and for their strength as field work animals. Killing such a beneficial animal for its meat was out of the question, unless it was old. Also, owning cattle was a sign of wealth and a healthy cow or bull could be traded in for goods. Then, indeed, the meat would have been “corned” to preserve it. The term comes from the practice of preserving fresh cuts of meat in large crocks of salt kernels. “Hash” comes from the French word for “chopped.”

September 28 is Drink Beer Day!! – Did beer inspire agriculture or was it the other way around. Scholars and archaeologists still ponder the question to this day, but evidence strongly suggests that fermentation evolved from the production of grain crops, probably around 4,000 BCE. In other words, agriculture gave us beer. Malting is the first step in the brewing process, and this practice was in use soon after cereal harvesting began. Malting the grain made it more palatable. Sumerian texts dating to around 3,000 BCE refer to various beers, including barley beer. A common and delicious practice at the time included adding aromatic plants and honey.

September 29 is National Coffee Day – 11th-century Ethiopia. A goat herder discovers the coffee berry. Fast forward to 18th-century America. Green coffee beans are imported from the East Indies and purchased at the dry goods store. These are roasted manually in a pan over the wood stove. The process takes about 20 minutes, the brew is questionable, with stray grounds floating about. Egg shell and even fish were added to keep them down! Fortunately, the Archbishop of Paris, Jean Baptiste de Belloy, invents a two-tiered drip pot toward the latter half of the century. This changes everything. Interestingly, modern grinders often weaken the brew since they produce uneven grounds. The mortar of olden days yields a better brew.

September 30 is National Hot Mulled Cider Day – Wine was the first beverage to be mulled. The method, consisting in heating a beverage with added spices, herbs and fruit has been around since at least 5,000 BCE. Mulled wines were among the Romans’ traditional beverages. Of course, this means this tradition carried over to all cultures they encountered. Beverages were mulled to increase palatability and for their medicinal and hallucinogenic qualities. Wassail, a traditional Medieval England beverage is the first recorded mulled cider. The name is from Old English and Old Norse meaning “be you healthy.” It was confused during a festival intended to ensure an abundant apple harvest for the year to come.

October 1st is World Vegetarian Day – It also falls on a Sunday this year, which means Brunch at 158 Main. The word “Vegetarian” has Latin roots, but the ideology comes from Greek Antiquity; from famous mathematician Pythagoras, to be exact (580 BCE). And thus Pythagoreans were the first recognized vegetarians. They came into conflict with the Romans whose brutality toward animals was and remains legendary. However, even they would begin to shift their philosophy in favor of an animal-free diet by the 3rd century AD. Vegetarianism was a common practice of some Egyptian communities around 3,000 BCE, but almost strictly as part of religious beliefs. The shift to ethical and health concerns is attributed to the Pythagoreans.

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