History of Food

History of Food

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Leprechauns, Melting Pot, and Food

Food memories are gloriously evocative. In our mind's eye, we conjure up time - enhanced remembrances of our immigrant grandmothers' kitchens and their wealth of tastes and smells. Whether we yearn for clam chowder or choldick or egg drop soup, moussaka or manicotti, we almost all are awakened to the joys of eating at a shared family table. For those who cook the traditional dishes of our individual ethnic heritages there is enduring pleasures and comfort in preparing the food that is familiar to us. Like the melting pot of ethnic diversity, the foods of our society can also be compared to that of a melting pot of culinary diversity.


Every year leprechauns of all ages, sizes, and shapes enjoy one of the most recognized holidays associated with a particular food - corned beef and cabbage. St. Patrick's Day just wouldn't be the same without it. Although corned beef and cabbage is closely associated to the celebration of Irish culture, its roots can be traced back to that of "Merry Olde England" and the curing process of beef with the corn size pieces of salt. Interestingly, the colonists of our country often turned their backs on new foods, refusing to eat them until after Europe had accepted and re-imported them back to the land of their origin.


Both the potato and tomato, originated in the Native American Indian civilizations. They both reached Anglo-American taste in the eighteenth century, only after gaining grudging approval in Britain. The Colonials accepted the pumpkins of the New World because they resembled European squash. Many fruits were also indigenous to the New World. The apple has remained the most common fruit because they were believed to have medicinal properties, thus the old saying, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away."


With a little research, all foods can be traced to a legend or story. Legends of the Leek is a great example. Emperor Nero was rumored to have eaten leeks regularly because he believed they were good for the vocal cords. Therefore, Roman legions spread the leek far and wide, even as far as Wales, where it became the national emblem. It seems that either St. David or a Welsh prince named Cadwallader instructed his soldiers to wear leeks in their caps for identification during battle - and as legend has it, they were victorious. Ever since, loyal Welshmen bring out the leeks on March 1st, St. David's Day.


So, as we plod along in our daily activities, try not to live just by our National Food Motto of "Gobble, Gulp, and Go." Savor and enjoy your foods, what you eat could have a history dating back to your ancestors. And most of all, during March, remember - keep a cautious eye, watching out for the wee little people - leprechauns. Any one of them could be one of my ancestors coming out to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

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