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.

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.

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.

The origins of custards and flan

Flan is one of my favorite desserts. It’s so creamy and fresh, sweet and vanilla-y; what more could you ask for on a sunny day? And in Los Angeles, it’s sunny 360 days of the year.

The name flan comes from the French “flaon,” which has been derived from “flado,” meaning flat cake in Latin.

The dessert I’ve grown to love is your basic Mexican dessert, where it’s considered “comida corrida” or “food on the run”. Essentially, it’s a sweet treat you can enjoy anytime of the day. Perfecto!

Flan first came to Mexico through the Spaniards. Not surprising. But did you know the custards that flan was created from stem all the way back to Roman times?

The Way of Custards

The first flado came about when domesticated chickens and the surplus of eggs they were producing prompted Romans to adopt a trick from the Greeks: mixing eggs with cream. These first custards were either savory or sweet, with the sweet recipes making great use of the region’s honey.

As the Roman Empire expanded, so did the footprint of custard dishes. The sweet versions remained a staple in European society well into the Middle Ages. The Moors began making dishes that included citrus and almond flavors, while the caramelized sugar was added by the Spanish. These custards are much more similar to what we now know as flan as far as ingredients and flavors are concerned.

In 1440 A Boke of Kokery (Book of Cookery) was published with 182 recipes, including one for a dish called “Custard Lumbarde.” Unlike the simple flan that I love, this British recipe is for a type of pie that includes pieces of fruit or meat in a sweet or spicy custard sauce. Look for the text and it’s translation in today’s English after the photos.

Original Text:
Custard lumbarde
Take good creme, and leuys of Percely, and yolkes and white of egges, and breke hem thereto, and streyne hem all þorg a straynour till hit be so thik that it woll bere him self. And take faire Mary and Dates, cutte in ij. or iij. and prunes, and put hem in faire coffyns of paast. And then put þe coffyn in an oven, And lete hem bake till thei be hard. And then drawe hem oute and putte the licoure into þe coffyns. And put hem into þe oven ayen. And lete hem bake til they be ynogh, but cast sugur and salt into þi licour whan ye putte hit into þe coffyns. And if hit be in lenton, take creme of Almondes and leve the egges. And the Mary.

In present day English:
Take good cream, and mix in leaves of parsley. Break the yolks and whites of eggs into the mixture. Strain through a strainer, till it is so stiff that it will bear (support) itself. Then take good marrow, and dates cut in 2 or 3 pieces, and prunes, and put them in nice coffins (pastry cases). Put the pies in the oven, and let them bake until they are hard. Then take them out and put the liquid into them, and put them back in the oven. Let them bake together until done, but add sugar and salt to the liquid when you put it into the coffins. And if it is in Lent, take cream of almonds and leave out the egg and the marrow.”

In 1475, an Italian cookery text elevated custards to the level of health food. I think we should go back to this way of thinking!

Custard at that time was believed to help those with liver, kidney and chest ailments, and was also thought to increase fertility. It was the eggs used in these dishes, praised for their benefits, that led to these associations.

In the late 19th century, American food companies seemed to adopt these ideas by marketing custards as health foods, particularly for invalids and children. Although their claims might have actually been born from marketing strategies rather than actual health concerns. Around this time cookbooks began carrying numerous recipes for quick custards, citing arrowroot and tapioca as the health ingredients.

By the 1930s these recipes became obsolete as companies made instant custard mixes available to Americans.

Flan, The Sweeter Cousin

According to Maquelonne Toussaint-Samat’s “History of Food,” Arabs are noted for inventing caramel. When they traveled and then settled in Spain, their caramel came with them.

Flan was born when caramel, one of the dishes most important ingredients in my opinion, was introduced to the custard dishes already being perfected in the region.

In France, flan is known as crème caramel.

And to complete this exploration into the history of flan and the custards that predate it, here’s an Interesting fact:

In 18th century Mexico City, monastery cook Friar Geronimo de San Pelayo wrote down a recipe that included caramelizing the sugar for the flan on a wooden paddle that was set on fire.

References:
A History of the Elegant Flan.” Retrieved 29 July 2012.
FAQs: puddings, custards & creams.” Retrieved 29 July 2012.
Flan.” Retrieved 29 July 2012.
Flavorful flan: Making Mexico’s classic dessert.” Retrieved 29 July 2012.
Jennings, Lisa. “Flan gone wild.” Nation’s Restaurant News; Feb 6, 2006; 40, 6; Alumni-Research Library. pg. 27.
Recipe for ‘custarde’.” Retrieved 29 July 2012.

The origins of pasta

Most Americans tend to think of pasta as an Italian food. And that’s not surprising as it is a popular cuisine in the nation and varieties such as lasagne, spaghetti and fettucini have become regular features in our diets. Yet a couple of countries have been involved in a heated debate, both claiming that pasta originated on their soil.

According to various sources, there is evidence that the earliest pasta being made was between 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, and its first producers were nowhere near the country we now know as Italy.

Instead these late Neolithic pasta-makers lived in and around what is now the small town of Qijiaping, China. Belonging to the Qijia culture, they lived along the Yellow River, and were agriculturally-based.

In 2000 scientists found and began excavating the archaeological site of Lajia, China, where a catastrophic earthquake followed by a subsequent flood left a Pompeii-like city eerily frozen in time.

According to a 2005 BBC report, those scientists found a ceramic bowl with 4,000-year-old noodles made of foxtail and broomcorn millet, or native domesticated grasses. The noodles highly resembled Lamian noodles, which are traditionally made in China by stretching the dough by hand.

Lajia

4,000-year-old noodles

You would think that would settle the issue, but it didn’t.

Instead in 2008 Chinese and Italian officials fought valiantly in a North Carolina court for the right to claim that pasta was invented on their soil.

While the Italians claimed the ancient Etruscans, who lived in today’s Tuscany, were cooking pasta in the 11th century, Chinese officials were not convinced as the pasta was baked instead of boiled. Who knew this was the defining characteristic for pasta.

The Italians replied with a description of what might just be the lasagne we know today from the 3rd century CE Apicius cookbook De re coquina. The Apicius collection of recipes takes its name from three gourmet, or food connoisseurs, by the name of Apicius, although none of them worked on the manuscript. According to an article recounting the legal battle, Marco Polo was credited for bringing what you and I know as pasta to Venice from Sicily.

Because wheat-based pasta is more prevalent and popular in today’s society than its rice-based equivalent, the jurors granted Italy the right to the claim. According to Alfonzo Fiorelli, the first pasta and tomato sauce recipe was invented in 1839, over 350 varieties of the food were created since the 19th century, and about 60 lbs. of pasta per capita are consumed annually in Italy.

References:
Errington, Jennifer. “Origins of pasta spark saucy debate.” The Davidsonian. Retrieved 17 July 2012.
Maolin, Ye and Houyuan, Lu. “The earliest Chinese noodles from Lajia.” Chinese Archaeology. Retrieved 17 July 2012.
Oldest noodles unearthed in China.” BBC. Retrieved 17 July 2012.
Qijia culture“.  Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 17 July 2012