Category Archives: History

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
•Call toll-free: 1-800-462-6420
•Email: orders@rowman.com.
• Fax toll-free: 1-800-338-4550
• Mail to: Rowman & Littlefield, 15200 NBN Way,
PO Box 191
Blue Ridge Summit, PA 17214-0191
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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Zupa Grochówka (Polish Pea Soup with Celeriac)

This recipe is for a soup that is a national favorite in Poland. A Polish friend told me it was a soup her mother had always made, but she had grown up thinking of it simply as a soup mom made, rather than a specifically Polish dish. She was delighted when she learned that it was actually not just part of her family but also a reflection of her heritage.

As with most venerable recipes, there are myriad variations. About the only things all seem to have in common are split yellow peas (the groch in grochówka), celeriac, and some sort of smoked pork product (ham, slab bacon, salt pork, Polish sausage, or some combination of these). Most versions also include onion or leek and garlic. Some versions have carrots, some have potatoes, some have both, some have barley instead of potatoes, and some include parsnips. In other words, you have some leeway to customize this, based on what you have on hand. It is a thick, hearty, warming soup that freezes well. With the traditional accompaniments of rye bread and butter, it makes a good meal. Enjoy.

Zupa Grochówka
Polish Yellow Pea Soup

1-pound bag yellow split peas
12 oz. very meaty salt pork
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz. celeriac (about 1/2 a large knob), cubed
1 bay leaf
8 cups water
2 large red potatoes, cubed
1 tsp. dried marjoram
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cover the split peas with water and leave them to soak overnight. If you forget to set them out, cover with hot water and allow them to soak for at least a couple of hours. When ready to make soup, drain and rinse the peas.

In a large stockpot, fry the salt pork until it is beginning to brown and has given up a good bit of fat. Add the onions and garlic, and cook gently for five minutes. Add the celeriac, and cook for an additional five minutes, or until the onions just begin to take on a bit of color.

Add the peas and bay leaf to the vegetables in the pot. Add eight cups water, and bring to the boil. Skim any foam that rises to the surface. Reduce heat and simmer for 40 minutes. Add the potatoes, marjoram, and black pepper to taste, and simmer for an additional 20 minutes, or until the potato is soft and peas have pretty much dissolved. Toward the end, stir frequently, to avoid scorching the soup. If the simmer has been too vigorous, and the soup appears to be turning into a solid, add a bit more water. Taste for seasoning, adding pepper as needed (with salt pork, it’s unlikely you’ll need to add salt). Serves 6.

Alternatives: Just in case you can’t find really meaty salt pork, or would like other options, there are some alternate approaches to preparing this dish. You could use two or three strips of regular bacon to render fat for sautéing the veggies, and then save the bacon strips to crumble over the soup before serving. Without the salt pork in the water, you’ll need to use either a meaty ham bone or, if you have no such bone, 8 cups of ham-flavored broth. (They do actually produce ham bouillon powder.) Add the bone to the water before you start boiling, or use the ham broth instead of water. That will flavor your broth, but to add some meat to the finished product, add a generous cup of ham cut into bite-size pieces, or you could slice and brown a pound of kielbasa. Add this when you add the potatoes. No matter which variation you pick, it will still be authentic!

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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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Alternating Currants, or When is a Currant a Grape

I love the Townsend’s YouTube channel, as it offers so much insight into where our food traditions originated and how much of what we eat now is anchored in history. In this video, Jon Townsend talks about the difference between Zante currants and Ribes currants and how unlike the two are.

The Ribes currants can be black or red. In the video, Jon mentions that raising black currants was banned in the U.S., and since he didn’t mention why, I figured I’d check that out, and it’s because they carry a disease that threatened to wipe out America’s pine trees. As noted in the video, a few states have lifted the ban, but black currants are still rare. So the Zante currants and red Ribes currants will likely be the only currants you’ll find, though the Zante currants will probably be more readily available. Also, the Zante currants will be found in the grocery store along with raisins, while the red currants, if your store carries them, will likely be fresh or already turned into jam.

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Fact Checking–a Sterling Idea

In a book I’m reading, I had just encountered with considerable delight a statement that the word “sterling” came from “Easterlings,” a name often given to the upstanding merchants of the Hanseatic League. I was ready to write that up as a Fun Fact, but years of working in publishing made me feel odd about publishing anything without checking another source. Hmm. Webster’s Dictionary said the word probably came from the Old English steorling, from steorra, or star. Okay, so the dictionary says “probably.” Time for a third source.

So on to Britannica. It said “One theory” is that it comes from the silver coins made by the Germanic Easterlings–so referring to their silver rather than their sterling characters. Then it adds “A more plausible derivation” is the steorling mentioned by Webster’s, meaning “coin with a star.”

So, in other words, there is no absolutely certain explanation–the word arose a thousand years ago, and it’s hard to track precisely all influences and language changes going back that far.

One thing I did discover while looking into this, however, is why British money was originally divided up the way it was–and why it was (and is) called a pound. In Anglo-Saxon times, one pound of silver would be coined into 240 pennies. These pennies were 925 parts silver to 75 parts copper (and one still sees 925 stamped on sterling silver). Each silver coin bore a star, and so it was called a steorling, or “coin with a star.” But that means that, at one time, a pound sterling in Britain really was a pound of sterling.

And what does this have to do with food, you might be wondering. Well, the Hanseatic League made their wealth and gained their power from controlling the salt trade for a couple of centuries–back when salt was the only reliable way to preserve food for most people. So almost no story is more than a step or two away from food.

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Surprising Onion Rings

I think most of us would think fried onion rings were a fairly modern taste treat. That’s probably because the modern, commercial deep-fat fryer is a fairly recent invention, and it is unlikely most people would have had ready access to deep-fried foods before it came along. But as is so often the case in the world of food, many dishes we enjoy today have been enjoyed for a long time. A good example of this is the fried onion rings in this video, which come from an 1801 cookbook. Today, if a chef added Parmesan cheese to a batter for onion rings, it would be hailed as a remarkable innovation, but here that addition was made in a recipe that is more than 200 years old. These look really good.

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Rinktum Ditty

Rinktum-Ditty-cropped-B.jpg
It was the name of this recipe that caught my eye initially, as I was flipping through an old cookbook. Then, looking over the ingredients, I was definitely interested in trying it. Seriously, anything with melted cheese is going to be pretty good. Rinktum Ditty is something of a spin on Welsh rarebit (or do you say “rabbit”–both terms are ancient and correct), but with tomatoes taking the place of beer.

It appears that Rinktum Ditty came to America from England, specifically from Cheshire. It became associated with New England, but it clearly spread nationwide, even appearing in a 1917 collection of recipes in Arizona.

Some versions call for cooked tomatoes, others for tomato sauce, and a few Depression-era versions used canned tomato soup. I decided to update it a bit, using a can of “petite diced” tomatoes. It made it a bit chunkier, but the flavor of the cheese came through a bit more, and it was thicker and heartier. If you want to try an older version than mine, just use 2 cups of cooked tomatoes in place of the can of diced tomatoes.

The first recipe I ever saw for this simply called for “cheese.” I wondered that no specific kind was named, but after I made it, I realized it was because almost any good melting cheese would work. I used a good, sharp cheddar, but I imagine a nice smoked gouda would be amazing. And since the recipe apparently came from Cheshire, it’s a good bet Cheshire cheese would work.

Because of its antiquity, as it spread, the name got written down phonetically often enough to have created a fair number of spellings, including Rum Tum Ditty, Ring Tum Tiddy, Rink Tum Diddy, and a few other options. But Rinktum Ditty is the most common spelling. It’s an easy dish to prepare, even finding its way into the repertoire of early logging camps on the frontier. And it’s very economical. Some older collections note that, because there is no beer, it is suitable for children. It’s also mighty tasty.

It is traditionally served over toast. Some recipes suggest buttered toast, but I think that’s overkill, with all the cheese in the dish. Some versions specify crackers. I also tried it over pumpernickel, which was great. Enjoy.

Rinktum Ditty
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 Tbs. butter
1 14.5-oz. can petite diced tomatoes
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. sugar
½ pound cheese, grated
1 egg, beaten
Cook the onion in the butter until tender. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, and sugar, and heat through. Add the cheese. Stirring constantly, cook until the cheese is melted. Add the beaten egg slowly, stirring constantly. Cook 1 minute longer. Serve over toast. Makes 4 servings.

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Surprising Influences on American Food

No one would be surprised to learn that bratwurst was introduced by German settlers, and Italians gave us pasta (though they only had tomato sauce after the Americas were discovered). But there are a few major influences that you might find surprising.

It was in ancient Rome that people first hit on the idea of lettuce-based salads. Technically, the term salad refers to a wide range of varied dishes that are usually served cold. That’s why, in North Africa, for example, a dish of olives and some eggplant dip is considered part of the salad course. It’s also why cold meat mixed with mayo is considered a salad. But in ancient Rome, they fancied their salads made with lettuce, especially what was called Roman lettuce, but which we now know as Romaine.

The Romans also decided that meals ought to end with dessert. While sweets are fairly universally loved, you only find dessert in cultures influenced by Rome—or in places where American and European tourists show up expecting dessert. In addition, Apicius, whose Dining in Imperial Rome is our best source of information on the food of the era, tells us that sausage should be served with mustard.

Among the least obvious and most frequently overlooked influences, however, is British food. There are, of course, obvious things, like Cornish pasties (iconic in Michigan) and roast beef. The Brits also gave us the idea that a meal was meat and two sides (starch and veg). But there are a lot of not so obvious British things, things we view as iconically American, and in some cases specifically Southern.

For example, collard greens (which were also valued by the ancient Romans), were introduced into the Americas by the British. While the French also ate pig intestines, the word chitterlings and the practice of eating them were introduced by the British. (The word came into use in Britain in the 1200s, though the practice certainly predated that.)

Chess pie, now an American classic, is another British introduction. The origin of the name is uncertain, but the pie was well established in New England and Virginia by the 1700s, though it eventually faded from the Northern repertoire.

Corn got turned into corn puddings of various sorts because the British loved puddings.

Even fried chicken is British. While it is uncertain when it first emerged, our first record of it is in a 1736 cookbook by Nathan Baily. However, Hannah Glasse’s recipe, which appeared in her 1747 book The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy, is more like what we came to enjoy in the U.S. Author and soul food expert Adrian Miller notes that Martha Randolph’s fried chicken, from her popular 1824 book The Virginia Housewife, was “remarkably similar” to Hannah Glasse’s British recipe. It was Randolph’s recipe that would become American fried chicken.

In this video, Jon Townsend, the son of Jas. Townsend and Son, reproduces the Nathan Bailey recipe. I was interested to note that Bailey garnishes the chicken with fried parsley, simply because the only times I’ve had fried parsley were in the South.

Obviously, there were lots of other influences: New World ingredients and Native American contributions, African ingredients and adaptations of traditional cooking methods to utilize local ingredients. This is not intended to relate everything that contributed to the remarkable food culture of the United States. It’s just a reminder to not underestimate the impact of the British.

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#ShakespeareSunday

While most folks know that I’m a fan of food history, I have an even longer-standing passion for Shakespeare. Imagine my delight when the remarkable Kathleen Wall posted this on her Foodways Pilgrim blog.

Foodways Pilgrim

Today is the last day of a yearlong celebration celebrating the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare – #BardYear.

Title_page_William_Shakespeare's_First_Folio_1623 First Folio

April 23rd 1616 is the day he died. It might also be the day he was born. We have his baptismal date, so we know he was born by when. But funerals are a bigger deal, celebration wise, in the 17th century then births (infants are considered to be lumps of flesh in search of their humanity; if you live to adulthood, you’re a person).

A quick run through of a few, very few selected Shakespeare and food books:

Shakeontoast

Last one read, first one mentioned – Shakespeare on Toast

I need to find out what the English “on toast” reference is, but it was well written, fast paced and enormously entertaining and informative   (words that belong together especially when dealing with Shakespeare). Not about…

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Kentucky Tidbits


Even with a convention to attend, with most of my time at meetings, I always try to find a little time to enjoy something about a place I’m visiting. In the case of Louisville, I’d heard that there was an interesting historic district. “Interesting” turned out to be an understatement.

The historic district of Louisville, KY, is the third largest historic district in the United States, and it is the largest district in the country dating to the Victorian era. Block after block of fabulous Victorian architecture kept me busy for a couple of hours. Up Third Street, down Fourth, across side streets, over to Fifth, around to Third again, another side street. I ran out of time before I got to the museum that had been recommended (the Filson Historical Society), though I did pass it (1310 S. Third Street). Then off through the West Main district, with its impressive Victorian-era buildings with cast iron façades—only Soho in New York has a larger collection. It was a stunning visual treat. I returned to the hotel with just barely enough time to get to my first program, but delighted beyond words with what I’d seen.

In the previous post, I mentioned finally trying burgoo, as well as being introduced to barbecued mutton. But another “finally” in town was having a sandwich I’d heard of for decades but never tried: the Hot Brown, a sandwich created at Louisville’s historic Brown Hotel in 1926. This open-faced sandwich features sliced turkey and bacon on toast, all smothered in luxurious Mornay sauce. So multiple icons consumed: burgoo, mutton, and Hot Brown.

The conference planners made certain that mint juleps were served one night at the hotel, so chalk up one more icon for this trip. While this is far from a full description of what is available to see and sample in Louisville, it is at least, I hope, an encouragement to those who go to conventions that one can fit in at least a bit of experiencing a destination, even when one’s time is largely committed indoors.

And now I have a list for next time.

(Oh — and the photo above is of a picture hanging in my hotel room. Just in case you want to know how to pronounce Louisville.)

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