Tag Archives: history

US Postal Service’s celebrity chef stamps

We first learned of the Post Office’s celebrity chef stamps at Chicago Gourmet this year, where you could pick up a postcard with one of the stamps and fill in your favorite dish by the chef. The chefs featured in the stamp series are: James Beard, Julia Child, Joyce Chen, Edna Lewis, and Felipe Rojas-Lombardi, who are profiled in the LA Times. At Chicago Gourmet people, posted a range of dishes inspired by each chef, and I had to give a nod to Southern chef Edna Lewis’ Shrimp and Grits. The post office also recently featured a Farmer’s Market stamp series, and we certainly appreciate the foodie turn of our recent letters.

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Michelangelo’s Grocery List


The more things change, the more they stay the same. Take for example, Michelangelo’s handwritten 16th-Century grocery list. The list includes staples like fish and bread, and even comes with illustrations. So, ok maybe that is a bit different since the person buying groceries for Michelangelo was likely illiterate.

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A Retro Bacon Costume for Halloween

Halloween is tomorrow – and maybe you’re still searching for a costume. Here at ETW we are always on the lookout for a clever food costume or two. We came across a vintage costume we had never seen before via the ever-entertaining Retronaut: a side of bacon. This takes love of bacon to a whole new level (and it took home first prize in the 1894 Covent Garden Fancy Dress Ball).

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The story behind Madison favorite, Stella’s Spicy Cheese Bread

We absolutely love the Dane County Farmer’s Market in Madison. It is gigantic, and you can get pretty much any type of produce or baked good there. However, we are creatures of habit, and we make a fairly predictable round of purchases (Hook’s Cheddar, Heirloom Tomatoes, Cilantro, possibly honey, and a few others). One of things we have to get every time we visit is Stella’s hot and spicy cheese bread (which is as awesome as it sounds), and we know many others who feel the same. However, we never really knew the backstory behind the bread. WXOW has the inside scoop, and you may be surprised to learn its origins are actually related to tamale production. You can find the bread in other locations around town, but getting it at the farmer’s market is the best since it is delivered fresh and hot several times throughout the day. If you are far from Madison and craving some cheese bread, Stella’s ships. Or for the more ambitious, Badgerlicious has a DiY recipe.

Stella's Spicy Cheese Bread Stall

Stella’s Spicy Cheese Bread Stall & Crowd by Adam Fagen

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Food 52’s Heirloom Recipes

We love the food site Food 52, and we are really enjoying one of their newest features: Heirloom Recipes, where a different blogger each week shares a family recipe passed down to them. There is something very satisfying about recipes that are passed on from generation to generation, and almost everyone can think of something that their grandma, grandpa, aunt, etc. made that was absolutely THE BEST. Heirloom recipes on Food 52 is a weekly feature, and so far they have included recipes for Zucchini Bread and Norwegian Boller (Cardamom rolls).

Norwegian Boller

Norwegian Boller from Food 52

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Origin of the Taco

Chorizo Taco from Carniceria Guadalajara in Chicago

They may be wildly popular in Mexico, the US and…pretty much everywhere else, but what is the exact origin of the taco? We can assume they are from Mexico, but what beyond that? Though somewhat shrouded in mystery, this Smithsonian Magazine interview with Mexican food expert Jeffrey M. Pilcher, professor of history at the University of Minnesota, talks about the history of the taco.

The origins of the taco are really unknown. My theory is that it dates from the 18th century and the silver mines in Mexico, because in those mines the word “taco” referred to the little charges they would use to excavate the ore. These were pieces of paper that they would wrap around gunpowder and insert into the holes they carved in the rock face. When you think about it, a chicken taquito with a good hot sauce is really a lot like a stick of dynamite. The first references [to the taco] in any sort of archive or dictionary come from the end of the 19th century. And one of the first types of tacos described is called tacos de minero—miner’s tacos. So the taco is not necessarily this age-old cultural expression; it’s not a food that goes back to time immemorial. [Read more here].

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The Origin of the Mongolian Grill

A Mongolian Grill in Texas, by Luna 715

Last week we went to a Mongolian grill with our family, the first one M and I had ever visited. In case you are not familiar, the centerpiece of the modern Mongolian grill type restaurant is a giant round flat top grill manned by cooks with huge metal scraper swords. Before it hits the grill, you pick out your own selection of meats, veggies and sauces from a salad-bar type setup. However, we couldn’t help but wonder – was this really Mongolian-style cooking? While the promotional info for many American Mongolian grills states that this type of cooking originated with Mongolian soldiers cooking large amounts of foods on their shields, we didn’t find any research that really backed up this claim. The Mongolian Grill concept may be Mongolian in some small way, but the major component of the Mongolian grill originated in Taiwan as a restaurant concept to attract customers in the 1950s. Several guidebooks to Taiwan from the 1960s talk about the wonders of Mongolian grill restaurants, like this 1967 example from Olson’s Orient Guide.

 The groaning hors d’oeuvres tables are generously decorated with platters of spicy, marinated raw beef, venison, wild boar, mutton, and heaping mounds of green uncooked vegetables. The diner makes his choice of the uncooked victuals, selects his all-important sauces and seasoning, and passes to the end of the table where he hands his choices to a clever chef presiding over the charcoal-filled broilers. The seething flames, the sizzling meats, and the spitting oils present an unusual sensory experience. When cooked, the Mongolian feast is something extraspecial for your chopsticks. As when coping with Swedish smorgasbord, you are expected to go back to the Mongolian grill again and again.Try rice wine with the Mongolian barbecue. It is taste stimulating and, while it seems weak, has a high degree of potency.

This descriptions sounds pretty similar to the types of Mongolian grills seen today. Another influence is speculated to be Teppanyaki grills from Japan, and also Korean barbecuing. Wherever it came from, the concept has been adopted successful across the US by several chains, and one, BD’s, even spread to Mongolia itself, making it the first American franchised restaurant in the country. If you’re in the mood for some Mongolian-style food from Mongolia, you can try to make some of the simple, hearty fare, including Kuushuur (filled dumplings) and Boortsog (deep-fried cookies).

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Cuisine in Pre-Tomato Italy

Though Italian food may now be known for its abundant use of tomatoes, this was not always the case, and pre-Tomato italian food was very different. Tomatoes were introduced to Italy in only the 18th century, having originated in South America.  Gapers Block has an example of food representative of pre-Tomato Italy: Genovese Onion Sauce.

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Happy Holidays from the Past

Thought everyone might get a kick out of this crazy 19th-century British postcard entitled “A dead heat for the plate,” found through the Liverpool National Museums Blog. Happy Eating!

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The Origins of Pad Thai

The ever-impressive food journal Gastronomica published a history of the origins of Pad Thai. While considered THE quintessential Thai dish by many Americans, Pad Thai’s origins are significantly murkier, and is much less common in Thailand itself than in Thai restaurants in other countries.Within Thailand we had our only Pad Thai experience on Khao San road, an area notorious for its amounts of European and North American backpackers. The Pad Thai vendors there were definitely catering to an audience! The full name of the dish, Kway teow pad Thai even indicates Pad Thai may even have Chinese origins. Check out the Gastronomica article for a full history of Pad Thai.

Our picture of some stateside Pad Thai


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Recipe Archaeology at Finley’s Good & Bad Taste

I recently discovered an amazing Tumblr, Finley’s Good & Bad Taste, which focuses on retro recipes and ephemera from cookbooks of years past. There is some crazy stuff in there – a lot of loafs, jellos, icebox cakes, etc, and also a few retro “world cuisine” recipes, which are definitely intriguing. Check it out!

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Historical Menus Collections Online

It’s pretty amazing to look at historical menus, both for the prices and the actual menu items (how times have changed!). The  LA Public Library and the New York Public Library both an extensive selection of old menus. There are even a few from Chicago, including an intriguing ad for the Chicago Chop Suey Parlor from the 1940s and a menu for the (relatively) recently-closed Barney’s Market Club.

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Historic Irish Soda Bread Recipe for St. Patrick’s Day

IrelandJust in time for St. Patrick’s Day, have a look at the oldest published Irish Soda Bread recipe [Via Sodabread.us]. It comes from a November 1836 Farmer’s Magazine (London) p.328 referencing an Irish newspaper in County Down.

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread by Claire Brosman

A correspondent of the Newry Telegraph gives the following recipe for making “soda bread,” memorablystating that:

“There is no bread to be had equal to it for invigorating the body, promoting digestion, strengthening the stomach, and improving the state of the bowels.”

The recipe follows:

“Put a pound and a half of good wheaten meal into a large bowl, mix with it two teaspoonfuls of finely powdered salt, then take a large teaspoonful of super-carbonate of soda, dissolve it in half a teacupful of cold water, and add it to the meal; rub up all intimately together, then pour into the bowl as much very sour buttermilk as will make the whole into soft dough (it should be as soft as could possibly be handled, and the softer the better,) form it into a cake of about an inch thickness, and put it into a flat Dutch oven or frying-pan, with some metallic cover, such as an oven-lid or griddle, apply a moderate heat underneath for twenty minutes, then lay some clear live coals upon the lid, and keep it so for half an hour longer (the under heat being allowed to fall off gradually for the last fifteen minutes) taking off the cover occasionally to see that it does not burn.”


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Feeding America: Digitizing Local Cookbooks Throughout History

Feeding America is an interesting project out of Michigan State that is dedicated to digitizing local cookbooks from all eras of American history. I came across this site when I was researching recipes for St. Lucia’s Day, and found a Swedish-American bilingual cookbook from 1897. You can browsw by year or interest, which includes ethnic cookbooks, and then look at pages of the cookbook itself or a trascript of the recipes. Other great finds include Aunt Babette’s Jewish cookbook from 1889 and a Chinese-Japanese Cook Book from 1914.

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Friday Foodie Link: Great Depression Cooking

[Via Craft] 93 year old Clara Cannucciari lived through the Great Depression, and now, courtesy of her grandson, also has a cooking show on YouTube. Great Depression Cooking with Clara is a fun and charming show, that is unfortunately especially relevant today. Clara was a 1st generation American, whose parents immigrated to Chicago from Sicily. She reminds me a lot of my (L) own grandma, who pretty much shares the same story!

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