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Hungry Magazine - All Things Tasty
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Feature Archive 'Food History'

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« Previous Entries

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06.28.09

Raspberries

Food History, Recipes


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When I was a child at summer camp in northern Wisconsin, I made the astonishing discovery that there were plants throughout the forests with fruit on them. Even though my family was keen on buying from local farmers, you had to drive to the farm, and you had to pay someone for the fruit (which was, by the way, already picked—not much charm in that for a child). But there I was, surrounded by fruit just waiting to be plucked from a gracefully arching branch. I could eat it any time I wanted—and it was free. This made me almost giddy with delight. While there were a few incredibly sweet wild blueberries, the most abundant fruit was raspberries. More »

06.20.09

Lemon

Food History


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When you think about it, the lemon is the only really important fruit that nobody actually eats. It’s one of the most popular flavors in the world, but no one sits down and bites into a nice, juicy lemon. But that’s not the only odd thing about lemons. More »

05.31.09

Chocolate

Food History


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There really is no good substitute for chocolate—but you couldn’t tell that to the creative Aztec forgers who found a way to create a cacao alternative at a time when the beans were a form of money. Fake cacao beans might have been harder to keep in circulation than forged paper money, however. More »

04.21.09

Give Me Some Sugar

Food History, Recipes


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Sugarcane has an often vague and definitely checkered past. Because there is now no wild sugarcane growing anywhere in the world, it is hard to pinpoint its place of origin, but most scholars think it originated in India, on the shores of the Bay of Bengal. From there, once its sweet secrets were discovered, it spread rapidly to Malaysia, Indonesia, Indochina, and southern China. More »

04.13.09

Beet It

Food History, Recipes


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If you say that you like beets, you were likely raised in the U.S. This is not because beets are exceptionally popular in the U.S., but rather because Americans are the only people who call them beets. Everyone else calls them beetroots. More »

03.19.09

Almonds

Food History, Recipes


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Though Prunus amygdalus is, as its name hints, a close relative of plums, as well as peaches, you’ll never eat this tree’s fruit. For this drupe (the technical name for fruit with stones, such as plums and cherries), life is the pits. Literally. The fruit of this native of southwestern Asia becomes leathery as it matures, and splits open when ripe, exposing the world’s most popular nut, the almond. More »

02.26.09

Ruling Rhizome

Food History, Recipes


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Helen of Troy may have been a great beauty, but spices have launched more ships. The world has pursued big, exotic flavors for almost as long as the world has eaten—and among big, exotic flavors, almost nothing surpasses Zingiber officinale, better known as ginger. Ginger was one of the “big three” spices (along with black pepper and cinnamon) for which everyone, for most of recorded history, wanted to get to the Far East. More »

02.15.09

The Name Game

Food History, Recipes


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What’s in a name? Well, if you’re a food item, it might be anything from a description of your appearance to a regional or historical association to an expected reaction. For example, ladyfingers looked to someone like long, female digits—though in Britain and the U.S. this sobriquet identifies narrow strips of golden cake, while in India it refers to okra. More »

01.14.09

Pass the peas, please

Food History, Recipes


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Pease porridge hot,
Pease porridge cold,
Pease porridge in the pot
Nine days old.

Most of us remember the old nursery rhyme about pease porridge, but some of us actually wondered what they were talking about. More »

01.12.09

Probative Cuisine

Cookbook Reviews, Food History


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My wife Holly and I began amassing a sizable and comprehensive cookbook collection right after we were married in 1970 starting with a simple paperback, Italian Home Cooking. After many pleasurable meals on Hester Street on the lower east side of NYC, we brought home a modest book whose cover, in retrospect, looked like an outtake from “Goodfellas,” when Joe Pesci’s character comes over to his mother’s house at three in the morning with two associates after a particularly hard night’s whack. The photo shows Momma all too eager to load the table with pasta, sausages, peppers, a woven straw covered fiasco of Chianti, and good fresh bread. More »

01.06.09

Open Sesame

Food History, Recipes


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While traveling through southern India, doing food history research (this is where most of the world’s great spices originated) and learning more about Indian cooking, I kept meeting chefs who would tell me how they added flavor to dishes by using gingelly oil. They tried to describe to me what it was, how it was pressed from a particular type of seed that was hard to describe, but was very small. When I asked what the English word was for it, they replied that gingelly was the English word. More »

10.27.08

A Brief History of Mead, plus a Michigan Connection

Food History, Food Production


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mead

What do honeymoon romps, Norse dining halls, the mythical hero Beowulf, and a pain-relieving medicine have in common? And yes, it has more to do with the superficial excesses of booze and narcotics. As lore would have it, they all feature the world’s most ancient alcoholic beverage, mead, in some context. More »

10.27.08

All About Aspic

Food History, Recipes


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Tom Aspic

“Aspic” can refer to a specific type of snake (as in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, when a Roman guard notes, after Cleopatra is found dead, “This is an aspic’s trail”)—that is, an asp. It can also mean a savory jelly of meat or fish stock—ostensibly because the color of plain aspic is reminiscent of the color of the asp. (Mmm—snake-colored food—how appetizing.) More »

10.15.08

Leeks and Celts

Food History, Recipes


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Leeks

When King Henry says, in Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” that he will wear a leek in his cap, he is identifying himself with his Welsh subjects. The reason this created a connection is that, when King Cadwallader and the Welsh faced the Saxons in battle in AD 640, the Welsh soldiers identified themselves by wearing leeks in their caps. Leeks have been consumed for so long in Wales and other Celtic countries that some hypothesize that the British Isles are a possible point of origin. Other scholars say the Mediterranean is where they emerged. They were popular in Egypt and ancient Rome (Nero’s nickname was “leekeater”), the Chinese were praising leeks by 1500 BC, and leeks were being written about in Mesopotamia as early as 2100 BC. So wherever they started, they clearly were popular and on the move pretty much from the get-go. More »

09.10.08

Chile

Food History


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Chili Bunch

I think that Christopher Columbus said it best. When he wrote about his first experience with the New World delicacy, chile peppers, he described them as “violent fruit.” More »

08.18.08

Lettuce

Food History


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Ancient Greeks and Romans were the people most responsible for what we in the West view as “what’s for dinner.” They were the ones who added lettuce-based salads and desserts to a menu that had previously focused on just getting enough calories to survive. I’ve actually noticed in my travels that, in areas outside the cultural influence of Greece and Rome, these things don’t really exist. In Asia, they will put out a sliced orange at the end of a meal, because they’ve learned that American and European tourists expect something sweet, but it’s not part of the culture, and a nice tossed green salad is just not something you’re going to find on a traditional Oriental menu. More »

07.27.08

Cabbage

Food History


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cabbage.bmp

Cabbage is among the oldest of our cultivated vegetables. It has been high and low in the estimation of populations ever since it began being consumed. It was viewed as subsistence food in Ancient Greece (though not by Pythagoras, a vegetarian, who thought it a great treat). But in Rome, it was so much in demand that, for a long time, only the well-to-do could afford it. Pliny and Cato thought highly of it. So did Emperor Tiberius and Emperor Claudius. In fact, Claudius once had the Senate vote on whether or not corned beef and cabbage was the best dish imaginable, and as it was a favorite of Claudius, the Senate obligingly (and wisely) voted that it was, in fact, unparalleled. More »

07.22.08

The Man with the Golden Tongue

Food History, Food Literature Reviews


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In addition to Vernors ginger ale, Joe Louis, Nelson Algren, the MC5 and of course, the automobile, John King books might just be one of the greatest things Detroit has ever offered the world. Located in an old glove factory, this is the bookstore that a city like Chicago should have, but doesn’t. Located at 901 West Lafayette Street, it’s a four-story warehouse that sits a Kirk Gibson home run away from the rusting hulk of old Detroit Tigers stadium, housing 750,000-plus used books and mountains of kitschy and rare ephemera. The twenty-five years of accumulated dust and must, which channel the funk of a grandparent’s basement, draws book hounds, including Jay Leno and Teller of Penn and Teller, from the farthest reaches of the world. More »

05.22.08

Watercress

Food History


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The Greek general Xenophon and the Persian King Xerxes ordered their soldiers to eat it to keep them healthy. Louis IX of France (St. Louis) found it so delightful that he placed it on a coat of arms. During the 14th-century, it had an important place on the menus at the courts of England’s Richard II and France’s Charles VI. And I just picked some up at my local grocery store.

“It” is watercress. More »

04.30.08

Okra

Food History


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I find that most people are surprised to learn that there is a plant called the marshmallow. It grows in marshy areas and, like most mallows, has pretty flowers—though the flowers are not as showy or large as those of the related hibiscus and hollyhock. The marshmallow has a root that was at one time used to make a creamy confection, which has more recently found itself vaguely imitated by the sugar and gelatin puffs we now buy in bags. More »


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