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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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01.23.07

Chatter of the Lambs

Food History


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Did you ever wonder why in English most meats get two names? You can thank the Norman Conquest (1066). Old English gave us sheep, cow, and pig, and the French-speaking Normans added their terms to the language: mutton, beef, and pork. Lamb is the only animal in this group that has a single name for both the creature and the prepared flesh. That’s because lamb is the only one that doesn’t come from either French or English. It’s Old High German. More »

01.10.07

Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum

Bartender, Pour me a Drink: Alcohol and Spirits, Food History


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There are few other phrases that so quickly conjure images of pirates riotously celebrating another Caribbean conquest as that hearty “yo ho ho.” But why rum? Quite simple, really—because, beginning in the 1600s, the Caribbean (or West Indies, as the region was then known) was all about sugar, and what better thing to create from sugar by-products than rum? But rum was more than just a nice way to blind oneself at the end of a successful day of pillaging. For a few hundred years, it was a surprisingly important part of international economics, politics, and events. More »

12.27.06

How Sweet It Is

Food History


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“What’s in a name?” Well, sometimes a good bit of confusion—take yams and sweet potatoes, for instance. If you’re in the U.S. and you’re calling something a yam, odds are you’re talking about a sweet potato, in which case, you’re wrong. Sweet potatoes are members of the morning glory family. Yams, on the other hand, are the tuberous roots of climbing plants of the genus Dioscorea. The two are entirely unrelated. Yet in parts of the U.S., the habit persists of calling sweet potatoes yams. More »

12.14.06

Favoring Curry

Food History


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A homonym, also sometimes called a homograph, is a word that is spelled identically to another word but has both a completely different meaning and a different origin. Homonyms generally have separate listings in the dictionary. Good examples include compound, bark, and mail. Another is curry; to curry your horse is completely different from currying your lamb. The first curry comes from the Middle English word currayen, and means to prepare or to clean the coat of a horse. The second one most likely comes from the Tamil word kari, a little lingo British soldiers picked up in Ceylon. (There is some debate on this; a northern Indian gravy called khadi and a cooking dish called a karahi are also contenders, but most scholars, including Alan Davidson, have thrown in with the Tamil word kari as the origin, as has Webster’s Dictionary. Then there are those who think English got the word a few hundred years before the British went to India, pointing out that curry and the French word cuire, to cook, are not entirely dissimilar. I don’t mind bucking trends, but this time, I’m going with the most common scholarship and saying it’s from kari.) More »

11.27.06

Salt of the Earth

Food History


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Though historically, pepper may have been viewed as the spice of life, salt was life itself. Cassiodorus, a Goth administrator in the 5th century AD, wrote, “It may be that some seek not gold, but there lives not a man who does not need salt.” Every cell and all the fluids of the body contain salt. All neural activity requires sodium, and salt is essential to muscle movement. In arid lands, salt was and is as important as water for survival. (In fact, one is in greater danger of dehydration for want of salt than for want of water.) And animals are as dependent on salt as humans. More »

10.24.06

Getting Your Goat

Food History


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goat

Goat is among the most commonly eaten meats in the world and was among the first animals to be domesticated, along with (though possibly predating) sheep and dogs. (New archaeological discoveries regularly cause “firsts” to leap frog back and forth over each other, with the pig possibly having been earlier, depending on which end of the date ranges domestication actually occurred, as well as on definitions of domestication. But suffice it to say, goats were among the first, going back to around 9000 BC.) More »

10.19.06

Nuts About Pecans

Food History


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pecan

Hot dogs and baseball are familiar icons, but if you’re talking about true all-Americans, you might want to include the pecan. Pecans are indigenous to North America—and the fossil record seems to indicate that pecans were here before humans were. More »

10.16.06

What’s Your Beef?

Food History


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“Eating beef,” one Japanese historian wrote, “is a sign of an advanced state of civilization.” I’ll buy that. But then I’m a big fan of beef—and the evidence shows that I’m not alone in this. More »

09.25.06

A Roe by Any Other Name

Food History


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caviar on toast

When Shakespeare’s Hamlet said of a play he’d seen, “‘twas caviar to the general,” caviar was barely known in England. Familiar only to gourmets and royalty, it was a fitting metaphor for something the masses could not readily appreciate. Some things have changed during the 400 years since the bard penned those words. Today, refrigeration permits the shipping of this Epicurean delight far from the seas where the roe are harvested. It also permits the use of less salt in the processing. But caviar is still a rare treat that speaks to us, as it did to Shakespeare’s melancholy prince, of sophistication, good living, and scarcity. More »

09.02.06

A-maize-ing

Food History


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corn

One thing we are all relatively certain about here in the U.S. is that European settlers learned about corn from American Indians. Right? Well, not really. What they learned about from the indigenous peoples of the New World was maize, not corn. Sound like double talk? Well, as it turns out, the word corn may not mean what you think it does, at least not if you’re an American. The term corn actually means the most important cereal crop of a region. Hence, wheat was traditionally the corn of England, oats were the corn of Ireland and Scotland, rye was the corn of northern Germany, and in South Africa, the grain known as Bantu corn is millet. The term can also mean small, hard seed, which is why the seed from barley is often called barleycorn. When settlers reached the New World, they called the grain grown most commonly by the Native Americans “Indian corn.” Which explains why, even though no one in Europe had seen maize before they reached the Americas, you see references to corn in older literature. Only in the United States is the word corn used to denote maize alone. More »

08.04.06

It’s All Greek

Food History, Podcasts


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gyro

This week we try something different, with a little reporting piece on the history of greek restaurant staples the gyro and flaming saganaki. Believe it or not, flaming saganaki, Opaa, and the whole theatrical production was invented in Chicago on Halsted St in the 1960’s at the Parthenon. The Parthenon also played a role in popularizing the gyro in Chicago by giving it away as sort of a free amuse course in the late sixties.

If you have Macromedia Flash installed, you can play the file right on this site, below, by pressing the play button. If not, download the file and play it on your PC or on an MP3 player here: Saganaki History

08.02.06

Pepper: King of Spices

Food History


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turkish spices

Istanbul’s famous Spice Bazaar, still pungent with spices today, was at the eastern end of the Spice Route.

The recorded history of pepper goes back farther than that of any other spice, with Sanskrit texts testifying to its use by the peoples of India more than 4,000 years ago. The Aryans of the Ganges valley were the first to export wild pepper, but the spice appears not to have reached the Mediterranean until the 5th century B.C. It was the first Oriental spice to reach Europe, and it was an immediate hit. More »

07.19.06

The Chicken or the Egg

Food History


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chickens

Descendants of chickens that escaped years ago during a tropical storm wander the streets of Key West, Florida.

A chicken in every pot was not first promised by American politicians but by a French king. Henry IV (Henry of Navarre) said, in the 16th century, “I want there to be no peasant in my realm so poor that he will not have a chicken in his pot every Sunday.” Nowadays, chickens outnumber humans worldwide, and just about everybody can boil up a bird once considered so sumptuous that it was forbidden for religious fast days. More »

07.05.06

The Seed of Life

Food History


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coconut

Tree of Life—it sounds somewhat mythical or mystical, but in many parts of the world, not only does such a tree exist, it exists in abundance. It is the coconut palm, that slender, graceful tree that is so much a part of our image of tropical paradise. While coconut is enjoyed worldwide, for approximately one-third of the planet’s population, coconut is a major food group. It is an essential part of the diet in West Africa, and coconuts and coconut milk are dominant ingredients in the cuisines of southern India, Southeast Asia, Malaysia, and the South Pacific. In many of these places, coconut milk holds a position similar to, and even more important than, that of cow’s milk in Western cultures. While most of us in the West think of coconut as a confection, it is important enough in the Eastern hemisphere to be considered a world staple and one of the planet’s most important food crops. More »

06.13.06

Orange You Glad You Know

Food History


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orangesThe room that surprised me most at London’s Hampton Court Palace was the orangery, a large, bright room lined with rows of small, healthy, carefully trimmed orange trees in beautiful, large, porcelain pots. I expected a lot of things in a palace, but not agriculture.

A few years later, I visited Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home in Virginia. I had seen pictures, so I knew what the main buildings would look like, but I was surprised to find, tucked behind some of the fabulous gardens, a magnificent orangery.

This was beginning to look like a trend.

The era of growing oranges indoors was, in fact, only one small segment of the long history of oranges, but the immense cost to which people went to construct these buildings hints at the astonishing popularity of the fruit. While there have been times when their fame was due almost as much to their scarcity as to their taste, abundance has only served to make oranges more popular. Today, oranges are considered to be one of the five or six most important fruits in the world. More »

06.06.06

London Calling

Food History, Travel


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london window display

The glories of the English table showcased at Fortnum and Mason.

I wonder sometimes why England has such a bad reputation for food. I’ve been going to England for decades, and I’ve only had one or two mediocre meals, and most of the time I’ve eaten splendidly. Sure, nowadays everyone points to the handful of famous venues that are popping up on “best restaurant lists.” Or people will say, “It’s because of the great ethnic eateries.” Yeah, England has those—big time. When I lived in England as a student, I relied heavily on the ethnic restaurants, though mostly because they were fun and cheap. But even before my university days, I’d already learned to love English food. More »

05.17.06

This Little Piggy Went to Market

Food History


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pork

If you said “Wall Street” and “pigs” in the same sentence, people might think you were talking about greed and dirty dealing, or perhaps they would assume it was a socialist comment about capitalism. However, Wall Street has an older association with pigs than these metaphorical ones. In the 1600s, semi-wild pigs were wreaking such havoc in the grain fields and gardens of colonial New Yorkers that a long wall was built on the northern edge of the colony on Manhattan Island, to control the roaming herds. The road that ran along the inside of the wall became, of course, Wall Street. This search for solutions to the “we want pigs, we don’t want pigs” conflict has gone on for a long time. More »

05.08.06

The Cosmopolitan Fruit: A History of the Banana

Food History


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plantain cart india

A cartload of plantains in southern India

Bananas do not grow on trees.

I learned this while touring a banana plantation in Western Australia about 20 years ago. They grow on tall herbs. In fact, the banana plant is the world’s largest herb. Mostly water held together with a bit of greenery, bananas are herbs and distant relatives of spices like ginger, turmeric, and cardamom. More »

05.03.06

A Real Slice of Life

Food History


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mexican bread market

Mercado de los Abastos in Oaxaca, Mexico

Bread seems like a pretty basic food, sort of an irreducible minimum on which one builds. But bread is actually quite complex, and it was not the first thing people did with cereal grains. For a big chunk of early human history, grains were simply parched on hot stones or pounded to a rough powder and boiled into gruel or paste. (In fact, in many regions, these food forms are still important, from the foofoo of West Africa to the tsampa of Tibet.) Scholars believe that the first time people realized they could put the paste on the hot stones, producing a simple flatbread, was likely the late Stone Age. And just as gruel and paste persist to the present day, so do classic, stone-cooked flatbreads, from Mexican tortillas to Scottish oatcakes to Chinese pancakes. More »

04.26.06

Coffee Cream Éclairs

Food History, Recipes


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Eclair

In Boston, some folks consider the proximity of a Dunkin Donuts franchise when purchasing a new home. According to a short New Yorker piece last year, allegiances to a particular store can be measured in the number of steps it takes to reach the front door. More »


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