Category Archives: Geography

18th Century British Curry

Most folks know that today, curry is Britain’s favorite dish—probably chicken tikka masala, if you need a specific dish. But Britain has a long history with Indian food and spices—more than 400 years, in fact. The first Queen Elizabeth sent a ship to India in 1583, and within a few decades, the British East India Company was setting up offices in Bombay. Food ideas from the subcontinent were flowing into the British Isles with returning traders and soldiers and government officials. Of course, substitutions had to be made, as tropical ingredients such as coconut milk and mangoes would not be available in England. But spices were coming in, and the Brits did the best they could—as evidenced by the inclusion of a curry in Hannah Glasse’s 1747 cookbook.

I have previously shared videos of often-surprising dishes that date to the 1700s, and so here again, I turn to Townsends, to let them share with you a curry recipe from Hannah Glasse. Enjoy.

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Thoughts from Milk Street

Among the magazines I get, only one is what I would call “pure fun.” The other magazines are either largely for research or in some cases are potential outlets for my own writing. But Milk Street magazine—or more completely, Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street—is for pleasure. It combines two of my favorite pursuits: food and travel.

In addition to travel tales and insights into destinations, there is also an Editor’s Notes entry in each issue, and while not every one is an eye opener, and I even occasionally disagree with Kimball, more often than not, I find some interesting insight or a well-phrased reflection that resonates. This is actually from a couple of years ago (I rarely throw out good food magazines), but it’s something I just opened to and thought it was worth sharing. So here from the Nov.–Dec. 2019 issue is the passage that I wanted to pass along—because it’s so true. And I like to think that understanding this will help folks actually come to have a greater appreciation and respect for their own culinary traditions. Because other than a few tools and some spices, we’re more alike than we are different.

Kimball wrote: “The world is not exotic; it’s just life in a different place. Spend a little time in Croatia, Galilee or Tunis and you realize that the cooking is practical, not romantic. People make the best they can out of whatever is at hand.

“And so you end up drinking arak or mezcal at a table a long way from home, but it’s the same everywhere. It’s the one where we come to drink, eat and celebrate what makes us human.”

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Wheat Around the World–and Through Time

If you visit my Midwest Maize blog, you’ll discover that I have written a book on places one can travel to learn about and even relive the history of the Midwest. But an interest in history, even in agricultural history, is far from limited to the heartland. I loved this video about how different countries around the globe preserve the past in living-history venues and historic farms, recreating centuries of techniques and tools for producing food—in the case of this specific project, of wheat. It’s a lovely video that underscores how much has changed in recent years. Enjoy.

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Cherry, Cherry

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 Prunus genus.Of course, plums (and future prunes) are members of the genus, but Prunus avium and Prunus cerasus happen to be cherries.

Cherries are unusual among foods in having their point of origin described as an entire hemisphere—the northern one. Since prehistoric times, cherries have grown across Europe, Asia, and North America. It seems that most of the cultivated species came from western Asia and eastern Europe, but there were varieties everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, waiting to be crossbred. Unusual among domesticated plant foods with long histories, the wild precursors of cultivated cherries have not been lost, and in fact have not been abandoned. Wild cherries still enjoy wide popularity.

While the use of wild cherries stretches back through prehistory, the cultivation of cherries is believed to date to about 300 b.c. Our word cherry comes from the Turkish town of Cerasus, seen unchanged in the name of one species of cherry. This reflects the western Asian origin of cherry cultivation—and Turkey is, in fact, still one of the planet’s top producers of cherries. Like several other words (for example, pease and eaves, likely to soon be joined by kudos), the nearest linguistic ancestor of the English word—cherise—sounded too much like it was plural, and in time was “singularized” to cherry.

The Roman Empire being what it was—an absorber of all it liked from wherever it went—it is probably not too surprising that Italy became a major cherry grower during the time of the Empire. Pliny attributes the introduction of cherries in the Empire to the Roman general Lucullus, famous both as a warrior and a gastronome. However, it seems likely that Lucullus probably simply introduced a new species of cultivated cherry when he returned from fighting in Asia Minor. The only uncertainty in that introduction (was Lucullus the first or not) lies in the fact that, while we know that there were cherries being cultivated in Italy by the time of Lucullus (who lived from 117 or 118 b.c. to around 56 b.c.), we also know that cultivation was a relatively new thing in the Mediterranean at this point, as the Greeks wrote only of wild cherries, which they didn’t particularly like. So it could be that what Lucullus introduced was the cultivated cherry.

Cherries favor temperate regions. While they don’t like it too frigid, they won’t bloom at all without a cold winter. And for some species of cherry, it’s all about blooming. Almost none of the ornamental species favored in Asia, and most particularly Japan, bear fruit, or if they do bear fruit, it is inedible. They are grown entirely for their beautiful flowers. It is from among these purely decorative Japanese species that Washington, D. C. got its famous blossoming cherries (and, unfortunately, it was from this same gift from Japan’s government that the Oriental fruit moth was introduced into the U.S.).

While there are many species of cherry, there are two main species that are grown for their fruit: sweet cherries (Prunus avium) and sour cherries (Prunus cerasus). In addition to there being two species that are commonly cultivated, there are also many varieties. Among sweet cherries, the Bing cherry is the most popular variety in the U.S., though the yellow-red Rainier cherry has been gaining traction in the marketplace in recent years. (But if you want to search, there are still many more sweet cherries to try—or to grow, if you have the space and the climate.)

In addition, there are cherries known as dukes, which are crosses between sweet and sour cherries. (The Germans call dukes Bastardkirschen.) Sweet cherries are heart-shaped, range in color from purplish black to red to golden, and include all the common eating cherries.

Sour cherries are smaller, softer, and more spherical than sweet cherries. They are also known as tart cherries, cooking cherries, and pie cherries. About 75 percent of all sour cherries are grown in Michigan.

While some people do enjoy eating sour cherries fresh, most people agree that they benefit from cooking, usually with sugar. But they are wonderfully flavorful in a wide range of applications—and if you’re eating any pastry with cherries, it will most certainly be sour cherries that you’re enjoying.

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Chakchouka

In most fields of study, one finds that a standard has been established or recognized, something against which other things are measured. In the world of food, when it comes to judging and classifying substances as complete and assimilable, the standard is the egg. It possesses all the amino acids needed for growth, and is rated as having the highest biological value of all common foods (96 on a scale of 100). A hen’s egg also supplies all the essential vitamins except vitamin C, and most of the essential minerals in sufficient amounts to affect metabolism. Consume two eggs, and you have met half of your daily requirement for proteins and vitamins. Toss in a piece of fruit and some whole-grain bread, and you pretty much have a perfect meal.

Of course, eggs are by no means limited to breakfast. Most cultures have numerous recipes that employ these dandy little nutrient bundles. In the egg recipe below, tomatoes and peppers offer that bit of vitamin C that completes the nutritional profile of an egg meal. This recipe is actually old enough to predate some of North Africa’s current political boundaries. It is indigenous to a region called the Maghreb (or Magrib). This Arabic word means the West, and refers to the region of North Africa bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Once known to the ancients as “Africa Minor,” and long including Moorish holdings in Spain, the Maghreb now comprises essentially the Atlas Massif and coastal plain of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.

Chakchouka

4 large onions, sliced
3 Tbs. olive oil
3 large sweet green pepper, cut in strips
4 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 Tbs. vinegar
1-1/2 tsp. salt
6 eggs

Sauté onions in oil in a large frying pan until golden brown. Add pepper strips and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomato, spices, vinegar, and salt and blend well with onions and pepper. Simmer until the vegetables are quite soft, about 30 minutes.

Make six indentations (the back of a ladle may make this easier) in the vegetables. Carefully break an egg into each indentation. Cover the frying pan and cook over low heat until eggs are well set, about 10 minutes. Serves 6.

Notes: When I cook this for myself, I just break one or two eggs in a corner of the simmering vegetable base. Then I refrigerate the rest of the veggies and simply reheat a portion of them when I’m hungry, adding the eggs as veggies begin to bubble.

In the Maghreb, this might be served with spicy sausage on the side, and bread or rice would certainly be a reasonable accompaniment.

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Ibiharage

Continuing the idea from the last post that less expensive but still tasty dishes are particularly appreciated at present, here is another recipe from the first year of the previously mentioned column, along with a bit of background on the ingredients — because I’m a food historian and can’t help myself.

As far back as ancient Mesopotamia, onions were considered to be virtually a panacea. Well, they weren’t too far from being right — onions are antibiotic, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, contain a powerful antioxidant (quercetin) which also acts as a sedative, and can lower your cholesterol. (Unfortunately, for some people, they can also aggravate heartburn or cause gas.) The greatest benefit is to be gained from raw onions, but even cooked onions have most of these beneficial properties to some degree.

Onions probably got into Central Africa by way of Egypt. As early as 3000 B.C., Egyptian traders were bartering seeds, tools, agricultural knowledge and domesticated animals with tribes in Eritrea and Somalia, in exchange for frankincense and myrrh.

Africa would have to wait another 4,500 years for the hot red peppers and white beans used in this recipe. All chilies/hot peppers come from the New World, but almost everyone else in the world enthusiastically embraced the “violent fruit,” as Columbus called it, once it was introduced by early traders. White beans (most commonly navy beans or great northern beans in this recipe) are also indigenous to the Americas–along with all the other members of the family known as common or haricot beans (so kidney beans, pintos, black turtle beans, and even green beans).

So African cuisine combines ingredients that stretch back for millennia with those that have been available for a mere 500 years. This recipe for fried beans is from Burundi, in Central Africa, and I think it’s about the easiest thing you can do with beans and still produce a dish that is really delicious.

Ibiharage
2 cups dry white beans
boiling water
1 tsp. chicken or vegetable bouillon
1/2 cup cooking oil
3 large onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt
dried hot red pepper to taste (at least 1/4 tsp. crushed)

Wash and sort the beans. Put beans in large saucepan and cover with 4-6 cups boiling water. Boil 2 minutes, then remove from heat and let soak 1 hour or more. Return beans to stove. (As always, if beans cause you intestinal distress, you can drain and rinse beans after they soak, which will reduce “side effects” of bean consumption. Then replace soaking water with fresh.) Add bouillon to water, and simmer beans until tender, about 1-1/2 hours.

Heat oil in a 12-inch saucepan. Add onions and garlic to hot oil and cook until onions are transparent and soft. Drain cooked beans and add to onions; cook for 5 minutes. Add salt and hot pepper to taste. Mix well. Serves 8-10 as a side dish, 6-8 as a main course.

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Happy Chinese New Year

For those who use the lunar calendar, today is the first day of a new year. Buddhist tradition in some Asian countries includes a type of annual zodiac that identifies years by 12 different animals, and this is now the Year of the Rat.

I just received an email from a food-related site I follow (Gastro Obscura) relating that a common treat for celebrating the New Year is a stick of candy-coated hawthorn berries–large berries that look like crab apples, the article related. This caught my eye because I first read about these treats, which the article identified as a tanghulu, when I was a child. My mom had given me one of her favorite volumes from childhood, a book titled Little Pear, about a young boy growing up in China. The book had spelled the word tanghooler, but that could simply reflect a difference in the region where the story was set. (For example, the accent in Beijing adds an “r” to the end of a lot of words–kind of like a Boston accent). Anyway, Little Pear loved tanghoolers.

Several years ago, I posted about one of my trips to China, and in that post I mentioned having been very excited to see someone near the outdoor food market in Wuhan selling this treat. Because the hawthorn berries look like crab apples, that was what I’d always assumed they were. And perhaps because of the heavy, bright red candy coating, I couldn’t really confirm that the round fruit lined up on that stick weren’t crab apples. But either way, I was very pleased to have come across this treat from my childhood reading.

It wasn’t Chinese New Year when I was in Wuhan, so I’m guessing it’s a treat that can appear any time there is something to celebrate. But it pleased me then to see (and taste) the tanghoolers, and it pleased me today to encounter them in the Gastro Obscura article. Always a fun surprise to see threads that connect different parts of one’s life. Anyway, here again is the image I posted years ago of the man selling tanghoolers in the market in Wuhan.

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Pozole Rojo

Pozole Rojo is a dish I encountered during my travels in Mexico. It is warming and flavorful, ideal for cold weather and for sharing with friends. However, the reason I developed the recipe below is that it seemed like an appropriate culinary bridge between my book on corn (Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland) and the complement that came out in October 2018 (Pigs, Pork, and Heartland Hogs: From Wild Boar to Baconfest). Corn and pork define agriculture in the American Midwest, but they also come close to defining the cuisine of Mexico. In fact, it has been said (though it is clearly an oversimplification) that Mexican food is Aztec food plus pigs.

The word pozole comes from the Nahuatl (language of the Aztecs) pozolli, which means “hominy.” The rojo in the name (Spanish for “red”) both underscores the combined Indian/European influences in the dish and hints at other variations that exist–because not all pozole uses the red chiles found in this dish. (As is true of every dish of any antiquity, there are as many versions as there are people making it, and sometimes even more.)

Hominy is corn that has undergone nixtamalization–that is, it has been processed with lye or lime in a traditional way discovered long ago by the indigenous people of Mezoamerica. Nixtamal is the Nahutal word that refers to the product of the process. It is a process that makes the corn both more nutritious (makes niacin and lysine more bio-available) and able to be stored longer than untreated corn.

Pozole is a delicious, filling soup that, while other ingredients can and will vary, always includes hominy and pork. Traditionally made for large groups, an entire pig’s head is often included in the recipe. I wanted a version that would feed a more modest number of people, and this version makes roughly 6 servings. However, I also wanted the flavor and texture added by the bones and collagen found in the head, so I added a pound of meaty neck bones. It turned out splendidly. Hope you like it as well as I do.

Pozole Rojo

2 lb. stewing pork
1 lb. pork neck bones
10 cups water
2 tsp. salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 onions, roughly chopped
3 15-oz. cans white hominy, drained and rinsed
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
3 dried ancho chiles
3 dried guajillo chiles
1 clove of garlic, whole
Salt and pepper to taste

Garnishes
tostadas or tortilla chips
2 limes, quartered
1 onion finely sliced
cabbage or iceberg lettuce, shredded
sliced radishes

Place the pork, bones, 2 tsp salt, minced garlic, chopped onion, and hominy in a large pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Skim scum as it forms. Once scum is skimmed, add black pepper. (You lose a lot of the pepper if you add it before skimming.) When water is at a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until the meat is close to falling off the bone, about 1-1/2 hours.

Remove seeds and stems from the dried chiles and discard. Place the chiles in a bowl. After the first hour of simmering the pork, remove enough liquid to just cover the chiles (about one ladleful). Let chiles soak for 30 minutes. Then place chiles, soaking broth, and the final clove of garlic in a blender and puree until smooth.

Remove the soup from the heat and remove the pork to a platter to cool. When cool enough to handle, shred the stewing pork and remove all meat from the neck bones. Return meat to pot, stir in chile paste, and return pot to the heat, and simmer for another hour, until the meat is meltingly tender. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve with a selection of the suggested garnishes/accompaniments. (Not all need to be included to still be authentic.) Enjoy.

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New Book—Special Price

I have a new book out. It’s titled Pigs, Pork, and Heartland Hogs: From Wild Boar to Baconfest, and it covers the history of the 12,000-year association of pigs and humans. Early reviews are saying very nice things about it, such as “engaging,” “illuminating,” and “refreshingly thorough and fair.” I’d probably add, “tasty”–because these quirky animals are, and have been for a long time, the most common meat in most of the world.

Like my previous book, Midwest Maize, this book takes from through history up to the present day, offering insights into both how pigs are raised and how they wind up on our plates, as well as looking at some of the problems associated with raising pigs. Also like Midwest Maize, there are recipes–tasty ones that are iconic in the region that raises more pigs than anywhere else: the American Midwest.

So if you like food history and are interested in pigs, you’re in luck. For the next year, the publisher (Rowman & Littlefield) is offering “Friends and Family” a substantial discount off the cover price. More substantial, in fact, than the author’s discount. And since I consider anyone who visits this blog to be a friend, I’m offering the discount to you.

Order directly through Rowman & Littlefield at https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781538110744 for a 30% discount on Pigs, Pork, and Heartland Hogs. Use promotion code RLFANDF30 at checkout for 30% off – this promotion is valid until December 31, 2019. This offer cannot be combined with any other promo or discount offers.

978-1-5381-1074-4 • Hardback $36.00 list price (sale price $25.20)
Available October 2018

978-1-5381-1074-4
Pigs, Pork, and Heartland Hogs
after discount: $25.20

Discount applies to this ISBN only

• Shipping and handling: U.S.: $5 first book, $1 each additional book | Canada: $6 first book, $1 each additional book, plus applicable Canadian sales tax | International orders: $10.50 first book, $6.50 each additional book
FIVE CONVENIENT WAYS TO ORDER:
• Online: https://Rowman.com
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• Fax toll-free: 1-800-338-4550
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All orders from individuals must be prepaid / Prices are subject to change without notice/ Please make checks payable to Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group
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Celery and Celeriac

When we speak of celery in the United States, we are generally thinking of those thick, juicy, crisp-but-stringy stalks with a flourish of leaves on the top. While that’s the most common form of celery here, it is not the only variety.

Chinese celery, also known as smallage, par-cel, and cutting celery, is closer in form to wild celery. It has skinny, hollow stalks, a much stronger flavor, and is almost never eaten raw, but is rather used to add flavor to cooked dishes. The Italians differentiate between cooking celery and eating celery, the eating variety being the one we know best, and the cooking variety actually just being the skinny, strong-flavored wild celery.

Then there is the homely but wonderful variety known as celeriac. Celeriac is not grown for its stalks, but rather for its large, gnarly, brown, turnip-like root. You may see it identified as celery root, which is not inaccurate, but it is not the root of the kind of celery you’re seeing on crudité platters.

Celery is a marshland plant that appears to have originated in the eastern end of the Mediterranean. It was cultivated and spreading long ago, and appeared in everything from India’s Ayurvedic medicine to Egyptian tombs.

Sacred in ancient Greece, it was worn by winners of the Nemean Games. When Homer wrote of it, he called it selinon, which appears to be the early source of the word celery, though our word came into English (as did so many words, thanks to the Norman Conquest) by way of France, where it was and is celeri.

The ancient Romans used it to decorate tombs and wove it into wreaths that were supposed to ward off hangovers. But they also ate it. While the Romans did develop cultivated celery (though, like modern Italians, they still used the wild for cooking), the techniques for cultivation seem to have vanished with the collapse of the empire. It was not until the Middle Ages that celery was again being cultivated, this time in France. However, celeriac was not developed until the Renaissance.

Popular in Eastern and Southern Europe, celeriac/celery root is not a commonly used vegetable in the US (though it is increasing in popularity). It can be a bit pricey at a regular grocery store, but it’s usually a good bit cheaper if you buy it at an ethnic store that features Eastern European foods, because the demand is greater, as is the turnover.

I think celeriac deserves to be popular. Boiled and puréed, it offers a gentle, silken, subtly celery-flavored, low-carb alternative to mashed potatoes. In soups, it contributes the flavor of celery without the strings, and with a lovely mouth-feel that is more velvety than cooked celery. I love it. And if you want a lovely recipe to try it in, come back in a few days, as my next post will be a recipe for a delightful soup from Poland.

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