Food Facts & Lore, Monday Magazine

This Week in Food History – 10/23/2017

Did we mention October is National Cookie Month? Cookies may have been the inevitable flight of fancy of early bakers whose custom it was to bake a handful of batter to ascertain the temperature of the oven prior to baking an entire cake. Early American tinsmiths began making cookie cutters in the 1700’s. It is estimated that we Americans consume over 2 billion cookies each year, and spend well over $500 million annually on Oreos alone. Cookie jars made their appearance in American kitchens during the depression of the 1930’s, when an increasing number of women made cookies at home rather than purchasing them from a baker. The practice of shaping cookie dough into a log, refrigerating it and then slicing it into individual cookies for baking predates the fridge. Earlier, these were known as “Ice Box Cookies.”

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

October 23 is National Boston Cream Pie Day – The Boston Cream Pie is a variation on the early American Pudding Cake. Yet it is not pudding; and it is not a pie. This dessert appears when pie tins were still more readily available than cake molds, and this is the reason for the pie reference. The Parker House Hotel, in Boston, is credited with creating the first Boston Cream Pie in 1856. It was originally known as Parker House Chocolate Cream Pie. The Boston Cream Pie became the official Massachusetts dessert in 1996, outranking close contender of equal popularity, the Toll House Cookie. Though the chocolate chip cookie became Mass’ official State Cookie.

October 24 is Bologna Day – If you grew up in the 1960’s, you probably remember looking forward to lunchtime for a tasty baloney sandwich, or to baloney and mashed potatoes for dinner. Bologna was around long before this. While its namesake is a town in Italy, it first appeared in the German-settled Mid-West and Pennsylvania. Bologna was an affordable alternative to fancy cuts of meat and traditional sausages, and thus a true life-saver during the Great Depression of the early 1900’s as well as during both World Wars. As you might imagine, it was an entirely natural meat at the time, made of pork, beef or turkey, and various commercially discarded, yet nutritious, organ meats and fats.

October 25 is Greasy Foods Day – Grease, fat, tallow and lard. Almost sounds like a rant, and today this would probably be one against poor dietary habits. But even just a short 100 years ago, fat, like bologna, was a true-life saver. Today, it adds richness and depth of flavor to many dishes. A friend recalls watching in disbelief, as a child, when her Irish-Acadian grand-mother savored “Graisse the rotie” with pure delight, both elbows on the table. That is, fat scooped out of the roasting pan and spread, generously, on a thick slice of bread. The term, “Grease” comes from Latin, “Crassus,” and French, “Graisse,” meaning fat or thick.

October 26 is National Pumpkin Day – Early pumpkins did not have the perfect, jovial round shape we know today. They looked more like squash. Early Native Americans knew the pumpkin inside and out. Not only did they roast the seeds, but they consumed roasted pumpkin strips also. They made bowls and other containers out of hollowed out and dried pumpkin shells and wove pumpkin flesh into mats. These bowls and mats were traditional currencies when trading with early European settlers. Both the pumpkin and squash were instrumental in developing agricultural traditions in America. One of these is known as the “Three Sisters” method, whereby squash or pumpkin are planted along with corn and beans. Corn provides a trellis for the beans; the bean roots nourish the corn with nitrogen and the squash help preserve moisture in the soil by providing shade. Turns out that Jack O’ Lantern has good reason to smile.

October 27 is National Potato Day AND National Beer Day – Did you know? Hops belong to the family Cannabaceae. Yup. That. Precisely. First US President George Washington included a daily quart of beer as part of his continental army’s rations. The oldest known recipe for beer is attributed to the Sumerians, 4,000 years ago. Our 3rd President, Thomas Jefferson, introduced French fries to the American table when he had his chef serve them at a White House dinner. The potato was the first vegetable to be grown in space during a 1995 study to test the technology that would provide sustenance for future space colonies. The white potato is related to petunias, tobacco, eggplant and tomatoes. The sweet potato is in the same family as the morning-glory.

October 28 is National Chocolate Day – The earliest evidence of a word relating to “Chocolate” dates back at least 4,000 years. To be exact, “Cocoa,” the name for the plant and its beans, comes into usage first and up to the 19th century. The Aztec made a drink from the cacao plant. It was bitter and imbued with medicinal properties. The Aztec also used cacao beans as currency. A turkey cost 100 beans. In 1828, a Dutch chemist came up with a way to separate cacao fat and chocolate liquor to create a chocolate powder. This was the first step toward solid chocolate. In 1847, English chocolate maker Joseph Fry discovered he could add the melted cocoa fat back into the mix to create a moldable paste. The chocolate bar was born.

October 29 is Oatmeal Day – Oatmeal is a type of porridge, but porridge is not oatmeal. Oatmeal is made with rolled, cut, ground or crushed oats exclusively. Porridge is made with any type of crushed grain. Our friends the Romans and the Greeks knew all about oats which, oddly enough, they considered to be unfit for human consumption. However, they served it abundantly to their livestock and horses. Because of the natural fats in oats, processing must occur immediately after harvesting lest they go rancid. This is the reason oats were seen as an uninteresting weed that could not be readily stored for later use. For this reason, also, oats were the last grain cereal to be domesticated, sometime around 1,000 BCE, Europe.

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