History of Food

History of Food

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Trail Mix - A Historically Ancient Snack - Who Knew?

Next time you are standing in the grocery aisle, contemplating a healthier snack option, take a moment to ponder upon the timeless trail mix. Yup you read that right - timeless.  Why?  Well, with today being National Trail Mix day I decided to do a little investigation.  Come to find out, trail mix is thousands of years old.

Ancient nomadic tribes used to mix up dried berries, fruits, nuts and meats together. It wasn't called Trail Mix then, but nevertheless it was just that.  Trail mix was (and is) high in energy, needs no specialized storage, and does not require cooking prior to consumption.

The history of trail mix and and gorp-type foods (nutritious, high-energy snacks composed variously of nuts, seeds, dried meats, dried fruits berries and candy) begins with the ancient nomads. These people were professionals at making easy to take on trips high-energy snacks that could handle any weather, that you didn't have to cook. Many different cultures would do this because it was the easiest way to keep storage of food for long periods of time.As time went on, so did the trail mix. Ancient travelers, explorers, pioneers, hunters, soldiers, hikers, scouts, even our very own cowboys, have enjoyed their own version of this easy to keep treat. Even today you will find various version of trail mix.

Trail mix makes an easy snack for on the go people. It's easily customized to your tastes, and the recipe can be modified to include whatever you have on hand. The key to a successful trail mix is to vary flavors, including both sweet and salty, as well as textures, including both crunchy and soft.

Later, explorers continued the use of trail mixes, for the very same reasons, taking the high-energy food with them on their travails over many a trail, mountain or ocean. Native Americans had a special spin on trail mix, which they shared with those explorers they had good relations with. Their mix was called pemmican, and consisted of dried buffalo, moose or caribou, mixed with animal fat and berries, and lasted for months. Pieces were often broken off and used to make a stew, called rubbaboo, by adding flour, water, and maple sugar.

Despite this long, storied history, two separate companies, Harmony Foods and Hadley Fruit Orchards of California, state that the name “trail mix” was invented in 1968 by surfers who mixed together peanuts and raisins to keep their energy levels up during more “gnarly surf” periods. They hold to this statement despite trail mix is also mentioned in Jack Kerouac's 1958 novel The Dharma Bums as the two main characters describe their planned meals in their preparation for a hiking trip.

Trail mix is considered an ideal snack food for hikes, because it is tasty, lightweight, easy to store, and nutritious, providing a quick boost from the carbohydrates in the dried fruit and/or granola, and sustained energy from the mono- and polyunsaturated fats in nuts.

Other names for Trail Mix includes:
  • In New Zealand, the United Kingdom
  • Iraq trail mix is known as scroggin.
  • Scroggin is also used in some places in Australia but usage has only been traced back to the 1980s.
  • Humorously referred to as studenterhavre ("student oats", in analogy of horse oats) in Denmark, studentenhaver in the Netherlands and Belgium.
  • Studentenfutter ("student feed") in Germany. Apart from being a food for hikes, it is served as a cheap snack to accompany drinks.
  • It is also known in America as GORP (Good Old Raisons and Peanuts, or Granola Oats, Raisins and Peanuts.)
Some claim the name stands for Sultanas, Carob, Raisins, Orange peel, Grains, Glucose, Imagination, Nuts; but this is likely a folk etymology. The word gorp, an alternative name for trail mix, may stand for "good old raisins and peanuts", "granola, oats, raisins, and peanuts", or "gobs of raw protein". These are all probably backronyms or folk etymology. The Oxford English Dictionary cites a 1913 reference to the verb gorp, meaning "to eat greedily.

Today’s trail mix often includes fruit, grain cereals, nuts, flavorings, chocolate or carob, coconut, pretzels, and sometimes crystallized ginger.  Want to make your own special trail mix? Here are over 80 recipes, at Cooks.com http://www.cooks.com/rec/search/0,1-0,trail_mix,FF.html  What is easy about Trail Mix is that it is portable.  It is easy to throw your favorite recipe into a ziplock bag and go.  Many local convienence stores also carry prepacked Trail Mix.  The drawback to these items are is that they often include candy, i.e. M & M's taking the place of carob.  Choose carefully and make it even better by making your own.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Today, August 30, is Toasted Marshmallow Day

Ever wonder where the Marshmallow comes from?  Well I did.  I decided to do a little research.

Did you know that the Marshmallow is considered a candy?  I didn't.  Surprisingly it dates back to Egypt, about 2000 BC. The ancient Egyptians are believed to have discovered a wild herb growing in marshes from which a sweet substance could be extracted and made into a very special confection reserved only for the pharaohs and gods. The Egyptians used a honey based candy and thickened it with the sap of the marsh mallow plant (althea officinalis) hence the name marshmallow.

Between 2000 BC and the 19th Century, not much happened in the Marshmallow world.

But in the mid 19th century, candy makers in France combined the sap with egg whites and sugar and whipped by hand into this yummy confection. As the popularity of marshmallows grew, candy makers in Europe needed to find a faster process than hand making the treat. The starch mogul system was developed allowing candy makers to heat a mixture of marsh root, sugar, egg whites and water and pouring into molds made of cornstarch.

Like many of our foods, it was also used as medicine.  Now I can handle this kind of medicine (with a little chocolate and graham crackers - oh I got off track here, apologies).  Doctors also extracted sap from the root of the plant, cooked it with egg whites and sugar and whipped it into a meringue that hardened into a medicinal candy to soothe sore throats, suppress coughs, and heal enhancer wounds.

In 1948, Alex Doumakes (son of the founder of Doumak, Inc., the makers of Campfire Marshmallows) patented the “extrusion process” which vastly revolutionized marshmallow production – making it fast and efficient. The process involves taking the marshmallow ingredients and running it through tubes. Afterwards the ingredients are cut into equal pieces, cooled, and packaged. Thanks to Alex’s invention, marshmallows became an everday sweet treat and favorite ingredient for many recipes.  (Alex HAS to be camp fire aficionado's personal heroes).

The marsh mallow plant, scientifically known as Althea officinalis, is an herb that grows in salt marshes and on the banks of large bodies of water. It is native to Asia and Europe and naturalized in the eastern United States. (Now, don't go out searching for the marsh mallow plant and eat the wrong thing!)

History of the S’More

No one really knows the origin of toasting marshmallows., however, the 1927 Girl Scout handbook (ha - we beat the Boy Scouts at something!)  was the first to document the recipe of combining graham crackers, chocolate and toasted marshmallows. The name s’more is also a mystery…but we know it means… WE WANT S’MORE CAMPFIRE MARSHMALLOWS!!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Why is the Pineapple on the Welcome Sign

To make a long story short - when the tall ship captains came home in the 1700s and 1800s usually they would have ship full of bounty.  Because it was tradition to share the bounty with friends and neighbors, they began putting a pineapple on the front steps of their house.  This would be the sign that the captain was home, he had bounty from the ship and all were welcome to come to share it with his family.

Some stories also date back to Colonial days.   In the United States, families would set a fresh pineapple in the center of the table as a colorful centerpiece of the festive meal, especially when visitors joined them in celebration. This symbolized the utmost in welcome and hospitality to the visitor, and the fruit would be served as a special desert after the meal. Often when the visitor spent the night, he was given the bedroom which had the pineapples carved on the bedposts or headboard--even if the bedroom belonged to the head of the household.

Others share the story of To the Carib appellation that the pineapple symbolized hospitality, and the Spaniards soon learned they were welcome if a pineapple was placed by the entrance to a village. This symbolism spread to Europe, then to Colonial North America, where it became the custom to carve the shape of a pineapple into the columns at the entrance of a plantation.

The presence of pineapples on Caribbean islands was not a natural event, but rather the result of centuries of indian migration and commerce. Accomplished dugout canoe navigators, the maritime tribes explored, raided and traded across a vast expanse of tropical oceans, seas and river systems. The herbaceous plant they called "anana," or "excellent fruit," originally evolved in the inland areas of what is now Brazil and Paraguay and was widely transplanted and cultivated. Highly regarded for its intense sweetness, the "excellent fruit" was a staple of indian feasts and rites related to tribal affirmation. It was also used to produce Indian wine.

The first encounter between a European and a pineapple occurred in November, 1493, when Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage to the Caribbean region, lowered anchor in a cove off the lush, volcanic island of Guadaloupe and went ashore to inspect a deserted Carib village. There, amidst parrot-flecked jungle foliage and wooden pillars spiraled with serpent carvings, his crew came upon cook pots filled with human body parts. Nearby were piles of freshly gathered vegetables and fruits, including pineapples. The European sailors ate, enjoyed and recorded the curious new fruit which had an abrasive, segmented exterior like a pine cone and a firm interior pulp like an apple.

A small, peaceful hamlet in rural Alabama boasts symbols of the pineapple everywhere your eyes may look. Pine Apple, settled by "Easterners" from the Carolinas, Georgia, and Virginia around 1820 was originally named "Friendship". But there was already another Friendship, Alabama, so the settlers named their town in honor of the pine and the apple trees that gave the land its beauty and the town its wealth. These days the town's name is as often written "Pineapple" and it is Pine Apple. Signs of this universal symbol of hospitality are seen painted on the front doors of homes and the town's welcome sign, carved in fanciful finials and Christmas decorations, atop gate-posts and roof-tops, carved into bedposts and head-boards, and found in a variety of table centerpieces.5 Other carved items found around southern homes include serving trays and wooden bowls.

Not only have wood-carvers etched this immortal symbol, but the delicate hands of needle-workers have preserved this symbol in family heirlooms over the centuries. Items such as pineapple samplers, table cloths, and crochet doilies are but a few of the items found in homes of unbounding welcome. Modern decorative items include pot holders, towels, small framed accents, drink coasters, decorative flags, brass door knockers, curtain finials, stair-rail and mailbox posts, and welcome mats.

The pineapple has been a universal symbol of hospitality and welcome for many centuries all over the world.