Food Facts & Lore, Monday Magazine

This Week in Food History – 10/16/2017

Not only is October National Pasta and Pizza Month, but it’s National Popcorn Poppin’ Month also. Most delicious month of the year so far! What makes popcorn pop, anyway? Not all corn pops, by the way. The science behind popcorn is simple: There is a tiny drop of water inside each kernel. Heating the kernels turns the water to steam. This builds pressure within, pushing the hull to pop open to release it. Popcorn is not a modern invention. The Aztec popped corn to make ornaments and garlands, and archaeologists have found 4,000-year-old popped and unpopped kernels in ancient New Mexico settlements.

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

October 16 is World Food Day – Images of tables dressed with a buffet of appetizing selections from various countries may come to mind, but the true intention of World Food Day is to bring awareness to nutrition and efforts to end world hunger. World Food Day commemorates the founding of The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, in 1945. It is intended as an awareness day and an opportunity for world leaders to renew their commitment to achieve their common goal by 2030: Zero Hunger. Sustainable development is the chief underlying root of this grand vision.

October 17 is National Pasta Day – Marco Polo may have brought attention to pasta, but it existed long before he sailed the world. We’ve chatted about this on previous occasions, so let’s untangle a few uncommon pasta facts instead. The first written reference to pasta occurred in 1154. There are over 1300 different names for the various types of pasta that exist today. Can you guess the most popular types of pasta? Penne is #1, interestingly enough, followed by spaghetti and macaroni. On the other hand, the three most popular pasta dishes are Mac & Cheese, Lasagna and Spaghetti Bolognaise. Finally, it is absolutely true that properly cooked pasta will stick to a wall.

October 18 is Chocolate Cupcake Day – The name “Cup Cake” appears long before the individual paper cups we love to peel off the confection today. Some believe the name to be related to the manner of baking the small cakes, in individual cups. This is true, but not entirely accurate. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the amount of ingredients required to make a single cake influenced the name: 1 cup each of flour, sugar and butter. You can easily see how the Pound Cake acquired its name in a similar fashion. Individually packaged cupcakes became popular soon after WWI (1914 – 1918). Muffins were a well-established confection already and bakers used the muffin tin for the individual-portion cakes naturally. Another name for the muffin tin is, “gem pan.” Fitting, don’t you agree?!

October 19 is Seafood Bisque Day – The original “Bisque” first appears on the French menu in the mid-1600’s. “Bisque” means, “Crayfish soup,” and this is exactly what it was. In fact, the entire animal was used, including its pulverized shell. While the name is French, it relates to the Bay of Biscay, Spain. Earlier, quails and even pigeons were chief ingredients and crayfish was used as a garnish, along with cheese en croute; a sort of variation on today’s French Onion soup presentation. The American Rock Lobster is the crayfish du jour, but lobster bisque and seafood chowder differ in consistency. Bisque is creamy and smooth; chowder is chunky.

October 20 is Brandied Fruit Day – The origins of Brandied Fruit are not clear, but it is sensible to assume sea-faring travelers brandied fruit centuries ago as a means of preserving them through long voyages. The name, “Brandy,” comes from “brandewijn,” a Dutch word meaning, appropriately so, “burnt wine.” A question suddenly pops to mind: What is the difference between brandied fruit and maraschino cherries? Brandied fruit is marinated in Brandy made from fruit wine, but not usually from its own brandied juices. Real Maraschino cherries are marinated in their own brandied, or distilled, fermented juices. They are named after what they are, the Marasca cherry or Croatia.

October 21 is Pumpkin Cheesecake Day – Cheesecake: 2 LBS of cheese. 1 LB flour. 1 egg. Crush the cheese in a mortar. Combine with flour. Add the egg. Mix well. Make a loaf. Set it on leaves and cook over hot fire, slowly. This recipe dates to the 1st century CE. It is the only surviving document from Roman Politician Marcus Porcius Cato’s treaties on agriculture. Cheese cake was a common confection in Ancient Greece, a period beginning in the 12th century BCE. Pumpkins are native of South America and were already consumed there around the same time. There is little doubt the Ancient, food-loving Greeks would appreciate the modern-day combination!

October 22 is National Nut Day – 10,000 BCE: The oldest evidence of the use of walnuts as a staple food. In fact, Walnuts are the oldest known tree food. Cashews are related to poison sumac and poison ivy, but the poison is in the shell, not the nut. Americans spend over $800 million a year on peanut butter. Hazelnuts were once believed to provide a cure for baldness (said the same genius Greeks who invented cheesecake). Almonds have the richest content of vitamin E. This allows them to remain fresh for up to 2 years when stored in a refrigerator. Finally, lest we go nuts over this list, Macadamia nuts are the hardest to crack, requiring 300 PSI of pressure.

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