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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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Newer Entries »
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03.31.08

Mulling Over Millet

Food History, Recipes


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Most Americans, if they know the name of millet at all, will tend to think of it as birdseed, or, if they’re farmers, as pasturage. That said, in recent years, millet has begun to pop up in the American diet, generally sprinkled in some multi-grain bread (it adds a nice crunch) or even occasionally cooked as a grain, usually at some chichi place that uses arugula and balsamic vinegar a lot. But despite this lack of importance in the U.S., the group of grains known as millets are among the most important food grains in the world, coming in not far behind wheat and rice. More »

03.24.08

Onions

Food History, Recipes


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The allium genus includes some of my favorite purveyors of flavor, including garlic, shallots, leeks, scallions, and onions. It is hard to imagine cooking without these fragrant, vibrant plants. And in fact, no one has ever really had to, because wild members of the allium genus grow worldwide. That’s why, even though onions as we know them arrived with European explorers, we still ended up with Indian words that refer to a place where wild onions were causing a stink: the Potawatomi word checagou, which means “place that stinks of wild onions,” and the Menominee word shika’ko, which means “skunk place,” which actually referred to the smell of the wild onions. We’re not sure which of these words was the derivation of Chicago, but the point is, there were a lot of wild onions growing here long before domesticated onions made it over with European settlers. More »

03.17.08

Cucumbers

Food History, Recipes


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In the United States, when one speaks of “gourds,” the thing that seems to come most readily to mind is something inedible that shows up in centerpieces around Thanksgiving time. But the gourd family is large and varied, and it includes a number of very edible members, including melons, squash, and cucumbers.

Cucumbers are among the world’s oldest cultivated vegetables. Archaeologists have found evidence of cucumbers growing around human dwellings dating to 7750 BC.—and that places cucumbers pretty close to the dawning millennia of agriculture—at least until the next big dig finds something earlier, as seems to be the case these days, with increased interest in and research of early foodways. But at present, it looks like we’ve been intentionally growing cucumbers for nearly 10,000 years. More »

03.13.08

Salmon

Food History


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At one time, lobster was considered a pest, caviar was given away free in American bars, and salmon was so cheap that Charles Dickens wrote that salmon and poverty went together. In fact, only a few centuries ago, employee contracts contained clauses limiting the number of times workers could be fed salmon. Things change. More »

03.05.08

Chicken Salad’s Imperial Pedigree

Food History, Recipes


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Of course, before there was chicken salad, there had to be mayonnaise—today, perhaps the mostly widely used and least respected of France’s great sauces. There are a few stories about the creation of mayonnaise. The most common and widely accepted story is that it was invented in 1756 to honor the victory of French Admiral La Galissoniére and Louis François Armand de Vignerot du Plessis, duc de Richelieu, who had commanded the siege against the British at Port Mahon in Minorca. In whipping up a victory feast, Richelieu’s chef created a new sauce to celebrate the occasion. The sauce was dubbed Mahonnaise, in honor of the Duc’s victory at Mahon. This tale seems likely both because the date corresponds to the world’s initial awareness of the sauce, and because there are regions where the name is still pronounced Mahonnaise. An alternate version of the tale is that Richelieu’s chef simply took with him to France a sauce he discovered in Mahon. There is also a claim in some parts that mayonnaise is connected in some way with the town of Mayenne. However, whichever tale is true, mayonnaise as we know it was developed by the French. More »

02.26.08

Feeling Your Oats

Food History, Recipes


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Sowing your wild rice. Feeling your millet. Hmmm. Things are just not the same without oats, are they? Actually, in recent generations, oats have enjoyed a better reputation than they have occasionally had in the past. Now that it has been discovered that oats are incredibly good for you, with abundant soluble and insoluble fiber, they are practically revered. It was not always so. More »

02.08.08

Cloves

Food History


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How far would you go to prove a point? For Ferdinand Magellan, the answer to that question was “all the way around the world,” and the point he was trying to prove is where east becomes west. More »

01.10.08

Barley

Food History, Recipes


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The cultivation of barley pretty much dates back to the beginning of cultivation. Barley appears to have originated in the Ethiopian highlands up into southeast Asia, but had already spread out from its starting point by the time we first find it recorded in Egyptian hieroglyphics (around 5000 BC). It is listed on Sumerian cuneiform tablets that date to around 3500 BC, and was clearly being used in northwestern Europe by 3000 BC. Barley was identified as one of the “two immortal sons of heaven,” along with rice, in India’s Vedic literature, and it was listed as being among the five sacred cultivated plants of China by around 2800 BC. More »

12.06.07

Cashews

Food History


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Do you remember reading history or anthropology books that described how indigenous groups had learned how to make poisonous foods edible? Those reports always made me wonder what the learning curve was like and how hungry you’d have to be to try something a second time, after the first try burned, sickened, or killed someone else? More »

11.16.07

Talkin’ Turkey

Food History, Recipes


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Native Americans weren’t the only ones to get tagged as being from India. “From India” in French is “d’Inde,” and dinde (or dindon) is what the French still call turkey. In India, on the other hand, they call it peru, because that’s where they thought it was from. (Not a bad guess, given that the Portuguese had introduced potatoes and chilies from Peru, but still wrong—in fact, it appears that South America never had turkeys.) We call the bird “turkey” because the British either confused it with the guinea fowl, supposedly from Turkish territory, or got it first from Turkish merchants—we’re not sure which, but clearly, no one was identifying it with the Americas. More »

10.18.07

Pirates Who Grill

Food History


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Piracy itself is ancient. The word pirate comes from the same Greek root as “peril”(which seems appropriate)—and you don’t get Greek roots like that without having been around for a long time. It seems likely that piracy in some form dates back to the beginning of transportation by water. There have been Ancient Greek, Roman, Phoenician, and Carthaginian pirates, post-Renaissance pirates, the Vikings, Chinese pirates, Russian pirates, Indonesian pirates, and of course the famously dangerous Barbary pirates—those Muslim marauders who swept out of ports across North Africa for a few hundred years. More »

09.13.07

The Spice World’s Fraternal Twins

Food History


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The ancient world was rife with mythic twins: Apollo and Artemis, Romulus and Remus, Castor and Pollux. But there is another pair of twins that, while eluding the ancients, once seemed almost as mythic as these legendary pairs—twins that engendered centuries of argosies and adventures. The fragrant, flowering evergreen tree known as Myristica fragrans is the mother of these twins. When the fleshy, peach-like fruit of this tree is mature, it splits open, revealing a brown nut surrounded by a bright red web. The web, or aril, is separated from the seed, and both are dried. The aril, which turns somewhat brownish as it dries, is the spice known as mace, while the dark, hard nut is nutmeg. More »

08.26.07

Oh, Cherry

Food History


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(with apologies to Steve Perry)

Taken at face value, Prunus might be assumed to have something to do with prunes. However, in actuality, all stone fruits are members of the genus Prunus. Of course, plums (and future prunes) are members, but Prunus avium and Prunus cerasus happen to be cherries. More »

06.28.07

Dates

Food History


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While a coconut palm may be the quintessential image of hot, humid, tropical landscapes, the inescapable image in hot, dry, desert landscapes is the date palm. (Have you ever seen a picture of a desert oasis that didn’t include a date palm?) In arid parts of the Old World, the fruit of the date palm is sufficiently important to actually be categorized as a staple. Desert Arabs often have little else to eat besides milk and dried dates. More »

06.20.07

Big Shrimpin

Food History


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In the 1500s, the largely Catholic Portuguese were sailing about and claiming large parts of the world for king and country. While away from home, many of them still observed the holidays and fast days of their religion. Four times a year, they celebrated Ember days, fast days when they were not allowed to eat meat. During these particular holidays (known as quatuor tempora or “four seasons”), a favorite dish was battered and fried shrimp. Japan did not have a lot of fried foods at the time the Portuguese arrived, and the Japanese were intrigued by these fried shrimps and adopted the technique of preparing foods this way. And, it is reasonably argued, this (the eating of fried shrimp during the quatuor tempora) is the most likely origin of both the Japanese cooking method and word tempura. More »

05.21.07

Mint: The World’s Herb

Food History


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As a kid, I loved Greek and Roman mythology. Lots of imagination, cool creatures (loved Pegasus), epic scale, adventure. I read everything I could get my hands on. I’m glad I did, because knowing mythology helps you understand about a third of what’s said in literature, and even gives you a leg up on language (procrustean, Herculean, harpy, and so on). But looking back, I am becoming increasingly aware of the fact that there are not a lot of cheerful myths. It’s pretty much an unbroken string of disappointments, deaths, kidnapping, suicide, human sacrifice, warfare, infidelity, cannibalism, evil monsters, and bloodshed. Even great heroes like Hercules die horribly. There are not a lot of happy endings. More »

05.07.07

Yes, Sir, Cheese my baby.

Food History


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Clifton Fadiman described cheese as “Milk’s leap to immortality.” In a way, cheese has in turn immortalized other things—how many towns are known primarily because of the famous cheeses that come from them (Cheddar, England, for example, or Gouda, Holland)? More »

03.20.07

Eh, What’s Up, Doc?

Food History


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In the summer, few wild flowers appear to be more common than Queen Anne’s lace. Small explosions of tiny white blossoms top slender green stalks of these delicate plants named for England’s Anne, who reigned from 1702 to 1714. The name suits the delicate appearance—and certainly sounds better than what the plant really is, which is simply a wild carrot. And not just a wild carrot, but a domestic carrot gone feral, because the Americas had no carrots before the first colonists brought along their cultivated varieties. So these are escapees and aliens. But that means that, while a few seeds snuck out of the garden and reverted to an original wild type, even our domestic carrots are introduced plants. More »

02.20.07

Magic Beans

Food History


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There really are magic beans. Not the fairytale magic beans that produce giant beanstalks, but beans that produce the very real and often necessary magic of waking us up, getting us going, clarifying our thoughts, helping us work, talk, cope, and get things done. In other words, coffee beans. More »

02.08.07

The Pursuit of Cod

Food History


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Cod is considered by many to be the world’s most important saltwater fish. It was certainly the first fish to become widely popular, consumed in large quantities since the Upper Paleolithic period. Nice flavor, white flesh, and flaky texture aside, cod historically has been valued because it has the wonderful quality of being easy to preserve. Simply by salting, and even by drying alone, cod could last for years. For millennia, salt cod or dried cod was the only fish available inland, away from the coasts, and it was one of the few foods that could be transported by ship during long voyages without getting moldy. It was at one time a nearly universal food, and was a staple in Scandinavia countries, the countries of the Iberian Peninsula, Africa, and North America. More »


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