Tea is all the hype in Britain

1610 saw the introduction of tea to Europe by Dutch tradesmen, but it wasn’t until 1658 that it first entered the British market.

An ad from the Mercurius Politicus, the precursor of the London Gazette, on Sept. 30, 1658  reads:

That excellent and by all pysitians approved China drink called by the Chineans Tcha, by other nations Tay, alias Tee, is sold at the Sultaness Head, a Cophee-house in Sweetings Rents, by the Royal Exchange, London.

Over the next 100 years tea became the drink of choice in the country. Even so, a third of a skilled worker’s weekly wage could only buy a pound of the cheapest tea.

Heavy taxation was the cause for the price hike; in mid-18th century, tea tax had reached 119%. This led to a black market as tea smugglers took advantage of the high demand by mixing fresh product with used tea leaves or other substances, unbeknownst to buyers.

Only when the tea tax was reduced to 12.5% in 1784 did tea smuggling finally end.

The social ritual we know today as afternoon tea is said to have been started in the early 1800s with one person: Anna the 7th Duchess of Bedford. She choose to have tea in the late afternoon as dinner in fashionable circles was often served around 8pm.

And in case you’re wondering how that Epic Tea Time has evolved to this day, here’s Alan Rickman’s interpretation:

References:
Tea in Britain.” Accessed 30 September 2012.
Food and Drink.” Accessed 30 September 2012.

The Most Interesting Food Truck in the World

You might recognize the “Most Interesting Man in the World” tagline, but did you know it’s now being adopted for Dos Equis’ food truck launch?

The beer maker will be serving up mobile food in various cities from August to October, staying in each city for about 10 days.

If you hail from the following cities, you should check it out

Chicago, August 21-30
Dallas, September 12-22
Houston, September 12-22
Miami, September 12-22
Phoenix, September 12-22
San Diego, October 3-13
San Francisco, October 3-13

It’s not just an excuse to try out another food truck, because this isn’t just another food truck.

Dos Equis is going to try to top all other food trucks with their “Most Interesting” take on regional delicacies, including chicken feet, silkworm, grilled kangaroo, alligator tail, and jellyfish.

And if you have any questions about the inspiration for the dishes, talk to the culinary ambassadors that will accompany each of the food trucks.

 

References:
Dos Equis Traveling Food Trucks Will Serve Alligator, Jellyfish & Kangaroo.” Accessed 28 August 2012.

Humble beginnings

In 2008 we saw the rise of the food truck, and it became a fixture of our culinary world almost overnight. Today the idea of gourmet creations coming from chefs working inside vehicles isn’t as tough to comprehend as it might have been in the 1990s or 1980s.

But I’m interested in going further back. I want to look at how food trucks have evolved in the 20th century.

So join me on this visual tour into the humble beginnings of the food truck.

1880s

We start in the 1880s (I know, not the 20th century, but it adds perspective) when the food truck was quite archaic. In the American prairies, as communities of brave souls expanded westward, chuckwagons, as they were called, would joined crews of roundup camps to guarantee they had some sustenance during the day.

The picture below is of a chuckwagon joining a roundup camp in Wyoming. It had one specific purpose, and its basic setup can vouche for that. No eye-catching marketing here!

20th Century

Here’s a lunch wagon in New York, 1908. This definitely looks like a precursor to our food trucks nowadays, but it definitely brings to mind all the advantages that came with living in a major city at this time.

And just to emphasize my point, here’s a chuckwagon in Texas in 1912. Doesn’t look a whole lot different than the one from the 1880s.

And yet, look at how different (dare I say more modern?) this Los Angeles fruit truck looks in the 1920s, only 8 years later. Fruit vendors parked on the city streets and sold their produce straight from the truck. Even today, LA fruit vendors choose to display their produce this way from their trucks.

Chicago in the 1920s also had lunch trucks serving meals to the public, but notice the differences between this truck and the one in New York in 1908.

Here’s another example of how technological advancements in food trucks did not simultaneously develop throughout the states. In New Orleans in the 1940s, waffles were still being served from horse-drawn trucks. (I wonder how good of a deal 4 hot waffles for $0.05 was back then)

And finally, here’s something that probably won’t surprise or shock you; in fact, I have a feeling we’ve all grown up seeing these. Here’s a 1951 peanut and popcorn truck from the Orange County Fairgrounds. The iconic popcorn truck in all it’s glory.

 

And just in case you need a refresher to remind yourself what year it is, here’s an infographic by Lindsey McCormack, offering more information about today’s food truck trend

References:
The Food Truck: A Photographic Retrospective.” Accessed 19 August 2012.
The Rise of the Social Food Truck.” Accessed 19 August 2012.

Too pooped to pop

Here’s a little tune by Cliffie Stone that took the 14th spot on the music charts on this day, August 20, in 1955:

And here are snippets of the lyrics that are worth mentioning:
Just layin’ here fryin’
Salt and butter’s ready
And the fire is hot
But seems like
I’m just too pooped to pop

And I ain’t playin’ possum
I’m too pooped to pop
And I do want to blossom
Don’t like the bottom
Want to get up on top

Iowa’s the state
That’s where I was born
I really truly came
From a fine ear of corn
My Mama and my Papa
Were a wonderful crop
You should have seen them
Blow up when they
Put they put them in the pot

I don’t know that watching your parents “blow up” will fill someone with that much pride, and I also don’t know that popcorn was born in Iowa…

The oldest evidence of popcorn was found in New Mexico’s Bat Cave, where about 6 of the 125 kernels were found to be partially or fully popped. They were dated to be about 5,600 years old, when agricultural cave dwellers inhabited the site.

One thousand year old popcorn grains and popped popcorn were found in Peru and Utah, respectively.

the Zapotecs’ main cultural center, the city of Monte Alban, Oaxaca

A Maize god with popcorn on its headdress was included on a funerary urn from 300 A.C.E. belonging to the Zapotec civilization, which lived in the Mexican state we know now as Oaxaca.

Popcorn was used as decoration, sustenance, and offerings to the gods by Native Americans throughout North, Central and South America.

After the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs and the English colonists’ introduction to native American foods, popcorn was steadily incorporated into European and American cuisine.

In his 16th century account, Franciscan priest Father Bernardino de Sahagun wrote about the Aztec’s worshipping the god who protected fishermen:

“They scattered before him parched corn, called momochitl, a kind of corn which bursts when parched and discloses its contents and makes itself look like a very white flower; they said these were hailstones given to the god of water.”

Colonists quickly adopted the popped corn as a breakfast food, often served with cream and sugar.

In modern times, the snack resurfaced as a favorite during the Great Depression, when struggling families could still afford the luxury of a $0.05 or $0.10 bag of popcorn.

References:
History and Legends of Popcorn, Cracker Jacks & Popcorn Balls.” Accessed 19 August 2012.
Popcorn: Ingrained in America’s Agricultural History.” Accessed 19 August 2012.

The Mother of French Cooking in America

I grew up like most other kids, waking up on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons, but unlike most kids, after cartoons I would watch my cooking shows.

So it was inevitable that I would learn about Julia Child, in all her splendor, at such an early age.

I mean she was a rock star in my eyes. She wasn’t afraid to use butter (but didn’t take it to a gross Paula Deen level), she would nonchalantly whack any piece of meat with her cleaver, but, most importantly, she was such a goofball, and I was hooked!

And I wasn’t the only one. Today we celebrate what would have been Julia’s 100th birthday.

I think we all know a bit about Julia, the woman who brought French Cooking to American homes with her co-authored cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and her television cooking shows, but here are a few things you might not have known about the woman I call the Mother of French Cooking in America.

Julia_Child-2012-hp

Did you know that Julia Child…

1. Worked with The Office of Strategic Services, which was the predecessor to the CIA. Some say she worked as a spy, and maybe cataloging highly-classified documents would fall under that position.

2. Was an inventor. During WWII she worked on developing shark repellant for underwater explosives, which were crucial in our fight against the German submarines.

3.  At 6’2, was the tallest student in her class at San Francisco’s Katherine Branson School for Girls, and was described by a friend at the time as being “really, really wild.”

4. Intended to become a famous woman novelist while attending Smith College, which claims Sylvia Plath, Nancy Reagan and Gloria Steinem as alumnae.

5. Was fired from home furnishing company W&J Sloane’s Los Angeles branch for “gross insubordination.”

Quotes from Julia:

  • “I can’t stand those over-sanitary people.” In response to letters from viewers criticizing her for not washing her hands.
  • “I would rather eat one tablespoon of chocolate russe cake than three bowls of Jell-O,” Julia advised after hearing concerns about the high levels of fat in French cooking.
  • “The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.”
  • “The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appétit. ”

 

And finally, here is a great piece from Los Angeles-based illustrator Ann Shen, complete with fun facts about Julia:

 

References:
Cookbook Author Julia Child of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”-Biography.” Accessed 14 August 2012.
Julia Child.” Accessed 14 August 2012.
Julia Child: America’s French Chef.” Accessed 14 August 2012.
Julia Child Biography.” Accessed 14 August 2012.

Bread in Ancient Egypt

in all its splendor

I think most Americans take bread for granted. Sure all these carb-fearing diets don’t exactly give it the best reputation, but it’s still a food option people! And it has been for quite a few years.

Since 2,600 B.C.E. to be exact.

At least that’s what evidence tells us: that Egyptians were baking bread around this time, something they may have adopted from the Babylonians.

5,000-year-old bread

 

 

 

The Egyptians usually made their bread out of emmer wheat, which requires an intensive process to separate the chaff, or seed casings, from the grains of emmer without damaging the grain.

Despite their technological advancements, Egyptians had a hard time sieving out whole and partly-crushed grains, as shown in pieces of 5,000-year-old bread found in tombs.

Sidetracked: The Egyptians also struggled to keep their flour free from the grit of their quern emplacements, or wheat grinding stones, which this led to severe tooth decay. Even the ninth pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, Amenhotep III, suffered from this.

Check out this relief from the tomb of Ramses III, depicting his royal bakery:

Notice how many different types of breads they’re making. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as bread and beer were staples in Egyptian cuisine, regardless of which class you belonged to.

Egyptian breadIn particular, the animal-shaped breads are thought to have been used for sacrificial ceremonies. Maybe the Egyptians were more humane than the Aztecs? Or they just ran out of prisoners to sacrifice faster? I guess we’ll never know.

Bakers also made cone-shaped loaves that were used for daily offerings, which required hundreds of these to be made by temple bakeries.

more super stale bread, from an 18th Dynasty tomb

References
Bread in Ancient Egypt.” Retrieved 13 August 2012.
Hawass, Zahi. Silent Images: Women in Pharanoic Egypt. Accessed 13 August 2012.
The History of Baking and Pastry Cooking.” Retrieved 13 August 2012.

Egyptian peasant wine

We all know Egypt as the homeland of ginormous pyramids, epic dynastic families (Ptolemaic-pharaoh Cleopatra anyone?), and mummified cats, but did you know that a popular beat-the-heat drink was prominent among their peasantry?

That’s right, a “wine” made of lemon juice, dates and honey was their drink of choice.

Nowadays we just call this lemonade, but it’s still super badass!

Where did all these lemons come from?

pretty sure this is how lemons arrived in Egypt

Lemons were first discovered in the areas of Burma, China and Northern India, but they made their way to the Arab Countries, Iraq, Persia, and, most importantly, Egypt by 700 A.C.E.

The 11th century Persian traveler and poet Nasir-i-Khusraw left a chronicled description of life in Egypt under Fatamid caliph al-Mustansir, Diary of a Journey Through Syria and Palestine, in which he wrote:

From Aleppo to Tripoli is forty leagues, and, by the way we marched, we reached the latter city on Saturday, the 5th of Sha’aban (February 6th). The whole neighbourhood of the town is occupied by fields, and gardens, and trees. The sugar-cane* grows here luxuriously, as likewise orange and citron trees;** also the banana, the lemon, and the date.

Eat Well

Now it makes perfect sense that non-Egyptian countries had also included lemons in their culinary traditions, but unfortunately the earliest written evidence comes from Egypt, so they get all the credit for this one.

It wasn’t until the 6th century that lemonade was first introduced in France, and from there the glorious drink spread like wildfire.

So if you’re melting under an overwhelming summer heat, like I am, here’s a basic lemonade recipe:

1. Make a simple syrup of 1 cup each of sugar and water.
2. Juice 4-6 lemons, and combine with syrup.
3. Add water to the sweetened juice to your desired sweetness.

Reference
History of Lemonade.” Retrieved 9 August 2012.
History of Lemonade.” Retrieved 9 August 2012.

Mayans the first to see the light?

Hi guys!

I know that title is a bit general but I think we all know what I’m talking about right?

I mean, doesn’t realizing that chocolate can also be enjoyed as a food item and not just a drink constitute seeing the light?

I rest my case.

But most importantly, way to go Mayans! I dare not imagine what this world would be like if they hadn’t figured this out, but I bet it would be freakishly scary.

Sidetracked

This is my favorite Mayan:

my favorite Mayan, Rigoberta Menchú“Dr. Rigoberta Menchu Tum, a Guatemalan indigenous k’iche’ woman has demonstrated leadership at the forefront of the social struggle…was recognized when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, the youngest person ever to be bestowed with this honor.”

-from her foundation’s website

Ok, back to chocolate history! So this Monday a group of archaeologists, including Tomas Gallareta, announced that they had found traces of 2,500-year old chocolate on a plate they unearthed in the Paso del Macho site in Yucatan.

The find, which was first made in 2001, shows that the Mayans may have been making the precursors to what we know as mole, a chocolate-based sauce that typically accompanies meat dishes.

Others think the chocolate may not have taken such a central role in their dish, but was rather used as a garnish or a condiment.

Previously discovered traces of chocolate had been found in various archaeological sites but all were in drinking vessels. Drinks believed to be a luxury for the elite classes of the civilization.

Which makes this chocolate on a plate from about 500 B.C.E. a completely new addition to our food history.

Pretty sweet! Winking smile

References:
2,500-Year-Old Chocolate Discovery Suggest Mayas Used As Condiment.” Retrieved 7 August 2012.
How the Mayans ‘used chocolate as a sauce with their food’.” Retrieved 7 August 2012.

Fabian Garcia, capsicum enthusiast

Maybe you enjoy a little bit of salsa with your meal, or get a kick out of daring your friends to take a bite from the hottest chile you can find, but despite how much of a fan you think you are of chile peppers, I doubt you can out-fan Dr. Fabian Garcia.

You see, Dr. Garcia completely devoted his life to chile peppers.

The son of “humble” parents, Garcia was born in Chihuahua, Mexico in 1871 and became an orphan at an early age. At 2 years old his grandmother brought him to New Mexico, where he spent most of his time. At the age of nine he claims to have narrowly escaped an Apache raid.

Garcia became a horticulturalist and took on the position of first director of New Mexico State University’s Agricultural Experiment Station in 1914. He was only one of two people in the early 20th century to experiment with chile peppers. During this time he successfully produced the first reliable chile pod, from which came the hot Sandia pepper (pictured top right).

According to the university website, the first land purchase of 23.16 acres for what would become NMSU’s Fabian Garcia Research Center was made in 1906. Now spanning 41.10 acres, the Center in 1992 welcomed the addition of the Chile Pepper Institute, where Garcia’s work on chile peppers continues to this day.

Over the span of his career, which spanned more than 50 years, Dr. Garcia built the foundation for what is now New Mexico’s $400 chile pepper industry. He is known as the father of the U.S. Mexican food industry, and was inducted into the American Society for Horticultural Science Hall of Fame in 2005.

The Institute divides its work between preserving seeds of both cultivated and wild species of chile peppers, studying diseases that affect the plants, and furthering its position as a source for knowledge of chile peppers. This work led to the discovery of the hottest chile in the world, the Bhut Jolokia, and in 2006 the Institute received recognition from the Guinness Book of Records.

Interesting fact: In his 1846 survey of the cuisine of the people just north of Albuquerque, Chief Engineer of the Army’s Topographic Unit William Emory wrote, “Chile the Mexicans consider the chef-d’oeuvre of the cuisine, and seem really to revel in it; but the first mouthful brought the tears trickling down my cheeks, very much to the amusement of the spectators with their leather-lined throats. It was red pepper, stuffed with minced meat.” And according to an NMSU research report, it seems Garcia took note of this, stating that a milder chile would encourage the Anglo population to adopt the chile pepper in their cuisine.

References:
Albuquerque’s Food History is All About Chiles.” Retrieved 30 July 2012.
Coon, Danise; Votava, Eric; Bosland, Paul W. The Chile Cultivars of New Mexico State University Released from 1913 to 2008. Research Report 763. pg. 1
Fabian Garcia.” Retrieved 30 July 2012.
Fabian Garcia Science Center. Accessed 30 July 2012.
Pioneering NMSU father of U.S.-Mexican food industry enshrined in national Horicultural Science Hall of Fame.” Retrieved 30 July 2012.
The Chile Pepper Institute. Accessed 30 July 2012.