Cola

Like so many people do at the beginning of the year, we made some lifestyle changes in our family. It seems like we do this every year, but this year, the changes seem to have a much better chance of sticking. How and why is a story for another day.

One of our changes has been to cut back (not necessarily cut out) consumption of soft drinks. We weren’t big “sodaholics” before – maybe having 2-4 per week. Now, we have 0-1 per week. Perhaps the recent news articles linking caramel color used in soft drinks to cancer has helped to encourage us to cut the habit. More likely is the fact that we now only eat restaurant – or fast food – meals one per week, rather than the previous 2-4 times per week.

Over the last weekend, during our outing, we were discussing that there seemed to be affiliations between different fast food chains and soft drink makers. Regardless of brand, these soft drink makers seem to be based on cola. In past posts, we’ve looked at root beer and ginger ale. Where does cola fit in to the mix?

First, What is cola?
According to Wikipedia.org, cola is a caffeinated, optionally carbonated, beverage flavored with kola nut and coca leaves (cocaine).  Modern colas contain neither kola nut, nor coca leaves, instead relying upon other, less controversial, ingredients to supply the flavor and the caffeine. The sweeteners used today are controversial on other levels- we’ll shelve that topic for now.

History
Turning to GeorgiaEncyclopedia.org, we find that cola was invented by pharmacist John Stith Pemberton in Atlanta in 1886. Prior to inventing the soft drink, Pemberton was known for his alcoholic Coca wine, which combined wine with the extracts of kola nut and coca leaf. When Atlanta enacted prohibition in 1886, Pemberton substituted sugar syrup for wine and Coca-Cola was born.

While we cannot put an exact date on the creation of root beer and ginger ale, we find that they both predate cola, with both thought to have first appeared in the 1850s in North America. Much like root beer and ginger ale, we also find that the soft drink was developed from an alcoholic form.

Do you drink soda? …or do you call it pop, or something else? What’s your favorite soft drink? Share in the comments.

Advertisements

Pizza History

In our last post, we learned that this convenience food was first served up in 18th Century Naples. We found that the modern interpretation is similar to the original, but how did pizza gain notoriety and become such an American staple?

A Royal Endorsement
In 1889, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of the now unified Italy, visited Naples and ordered a variety of pizzas according to A Slice of History over at History.com. The Queen’s favorite was the “pizza mozzarella” with toppings of mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and basil. It’s unknown whether this pizza’s mimicry of the Italian flag influenced the Queen’s fondness, but, at that time, the combination of toppings was named “pizza Margherita.”

Prior to the Neapolitan pizza, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, had also consumed flatbreads with toppings, but none of these managed to become as popular. Perhaps it was a lack of royal endorsement, or, more likely, the time just wasn’t right.

American Expansion
In Ed Levine’s article A Slice of Heaven over at SeriousEats.com, we learn that by the dawn of the 20th Century, economic conditions would send millions of Italian workers to America in search of factory jobs and other opportunities. Along with these workers came the recipe for homemade pizza.

By 1905, Lombardi’s Pizza had opened in New York City. This first American pizzeria is still in operation today. By 1943, pizzerias had opened in other large U.S. cities, but the dish was still mostly thought of as a “poor person’s food eaten by Italians in the urban enclaves in which they had settled” as stated by Levine.

Levine reports that pizza, like many things, spread across America after World War II. Many GIs had been stationed in Italy and exposed to pizza. They returned to the States with a craving for this, at the time, exotic dish.

According to Levine, one War veteran named Ira Nevin used his oven repair experience to develop the Baker’s Pride gas-fired pizza oven. He marketed this device, which worked in concert with a Hobart Mixer, to would-be entrepreneurs, facilitating the spread of pizza outside the Italian community in America.

By 1960, Three major chains had been founded in the U.S. Pizza Hut started in 1958 when two brothers borrowed $600 from their mom to start their own pizzeria. Little Caesar’s was started by Mike and Marian Ilitch in 1959 when an injury ended Mike’s baseball career. Domino’s Pizza opened it’s doors in 1960, in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

These, and other, budget-oriented pizza chains seem to have given independent pizzerias quite a run for their money over the last half-century. In our area, we’ve noticed a resurgence of local pizzerias and, more recently, higher-end chains.

What’s your favorite pizzeria, and which of their pies is the best? Share in the comments.

Pizza

In our last post, we identified ketchup as “ubiquitously American,” despite it’s Asian origin. Today we turn our attention to another food item that dominates American diets: Pizza.

According to Pizza.com, 94 percent of Americans eat pizza on a regular basis, with 93 percent having done so in the last month. In one day, Americans will eat 100 acres of pizza, which calculates to a rate of about 350 slices per second. Thanks in part to pizza, the most popular category of ethnic food in America is Italian.

So, what exactly is a pizza?

Referring to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, we find that pizza is “a food made from flat, usually round bread that is topped with usually tomato sauce and cheese and often with meat or vegetables.”

From our look at other topics, we know that modern foods tend to be an evolution of ancient versions. Was pizza always tomato sauce and cheese on top of bread?

According to History.com’s article on the history of pizza, the answer is likely yes. Pizza was most likely created in Naples in the 18th Century as an inexpensive, quick-to-eat food for the working poor. It is described as “flatbreads with various toppings, eaten for any meal and sold by street vendors or informal restaurants.” Common ingredients were “tomatoes, cheese, oil, anchovies and garlic.” So truly, not much has changed.

As with the hot dog sold on a bun from street carts in New York City, we see pattern of protein, fat and sauces isolated from the consumer’s hand by a piece bread. This has the effect of eliminating the need for eating utensils, while also keeping hands clean, relatively speaking. With the dish being immediately edible, this amounts to what we think of today as a “convenience food.”

Check back for our next article where we’ll try to figure out how this Neapolitan commoner’s food became such an American staple.

Ketchup

With our recent posts on hot dogs and mustard, we feel obligated to turn our attention to ketchup, A.K.A. catsup. Perhaps more ubiquitously American than apple pie, this red sauce is found in 97% of U.S. households, with a national average consumption of three bottles per person annually, according to National Geographic.

Turning once again to the Association for Dressings and Sauces, we find ketchup to be defined as “a thick tomato-based sauce with the addition of salt, sugar, vinegar and spices.”

Unlike, our last subject – mustard – modern ketchup is quite different from it’s ancestors. The original was made from fermented fish and, according to History.com, dates back as far as 300 B.C. in southern China. This is long before tomatoes were brought back to England from South America in the 1500s.  Keep in mind that the fruit was believed to be poisonous so it was not eaten, in England, for a few more centuries.

The British were, likely, first introduced to ketchup in Inidia, in the 17th century, according to National Geographic, with Richard Bradley publishing a recipe for “Ketchup in Paste” in 1732. According to NPR, “catchup” made its first appearance in the Oxford Engish Dictionary in 1699 as “a high East-India Sauce.” By this time, tomatoes were still not a part of ketchup and to this day, according to National Geographic, British recipes incorporate ingredients such as mushrooms, walnuts, oysters, or anchovies in an attempt to recreate the flavor discovered in Asia.

In 1812, James Mease published the first recipe for tomato ketchup. According to History.com, Mease declared the best ketchup was made from “love apples” as tomatoes were called at that time. Unfortunately, according to National Geographic, many 19th Century recipes also included risky ingredients to prevent spoilage and Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley sought to create a ketchup free of chemical preservatives. Wiley partnered with Henry J. Heinz who started producing ketchup in 1876. Looking at a bottle of ketchup in the family fridge, the ingredients are tomato puree, sugar, white vinegar, salt, onion powder, and spices. This seems inline with Wiley and Heinz’s recipe, while a far cry from the original Asian fish-based sauce from 300 B.C.

Do you have any cleaver or unique uses for ketchup? Share in the comments.

Mead – Why?

A few of our earlier posts have focused on mead. Knowing what mead is, why would anyone want to drink it?

Smarts
Over at Dan McCoy’s Norse Mythology for Smart People, we found an article on the Mead of Poetry, that is a mead that would turn anyone who drank it into a poet or scholar. Becoming either one of these two things isn’t likely to hurt anyone – especially those with a literary or academic calling.

Spoiler Alert! You can get the details in Mr. McCoy’s article, but the story goes that this mythic drink was developed through the misdeeds of a pair of dwarves. When Odin, the chief of the gods, became aware of this substance, as a tireless pursuer of knowledge, he gained possession of it through mischief of his own. According to the myth, the Mead of Poetry is housed in Asgard, only to be dispensed to those that Odin has deemed worthy.

Love
According to an article over at Time Magazine, the word “honeymoon” refers to a medieval tradition of a newlywed couple drinking honey wine (mead) for a full lunar cycle after their wedding. Mead was thought to be an aphrodisiac that would bring love and fertility to the marriage.

In the past people have sought to drink mead for knowledge and love. These are certainly noble pursuits, but we think, that as legal age adults, the simplest reason to drink mead is because it is a uniquely delicious beverage that will enlighten and enchant your taste buds, if not your mind and your heart.

Honey

This sweet substance has been mentioned in our recent posts on root beer and mead. What exactly is honey?

According to the National Honey Board, “honey is honey, it’s just that simple.  A bottle of pure honey contains the natural sweet substance produced by honey bees from the nectar of plants or secretions of living parts of plants. ” In the United States, there are over 300 types of honey with the color and flavor determined by the types of flowers from which the bees harvest nectar.

Stay tuned as we learn more about honey in future posts.

Cyser

In our last post, we looked at the melomel, of which the local meadery offered several varieties. In addition to these and the tradional “straight” mead, another offering was an apple cyser.

What is a Cyser?
We again refered to the FAQ over at Stonekeep Meade and found that it is a type of mead made with “honey and apples or apple cider. Can also be made with peach, cherry or pear cider.”

At the local meadery, the peach and cherry flavored offerings were presented as varieties of melomel. Some consider cyser to be subcategory of melomel, and this seems valid given the definition of each.

However you look at it, we found the apple cyser offered at the local meadery to be delicious enough to bring home a bottle to safely enjoy at a later date. Tune in for future posts where we will look further into mead.

Melomel

In previous posts, we’ve mentioned a visit to a local meadery to do some tasting. Looking at the list of offerings, there was only one item called “mead,” two or three other uniquely named selections, and a whole bunch of melomels.

What is a melomel?
In our last post, we took a brief look at mead, and it’s history, to discover that it is simply fermented honey, water, and – as was the case at the meadery – sometimes yeast. We took a look at the FAQ over at Stonekeep Meadery, located in Pennsylvania, and found that a “melomel is a type (or subcategory) of mead made by fermenting fruit along with the honey.”

Indeed the melomels offered at the local meadery included Blackberry, Blueberry, Cherry, Peach, and Strawberry. Stay tuned for future posts about meads, soft drinks, and more.

Mead

As mentioned in our previous post on root beer, Mr. and Mrs. Family Trivium recently sampled varieties of mead at a local meadery.

What is mead?
To answer this question we looked to the Encyclopedia Britannica (no, not Wikipedia this time) and found that mead is simply an “alcoholic beverage fermented from honey and water; sometimes yeast is added to accelerate the fermentation.”

According to many sources, mead is likely the oldest alcoholic beverage in history, with Time magazine indicating that there is evidence that it existed as far back at 7000 BC in China. Sap House Meadery in Center Ossipee, New Hampshire implies that mead was not invented, but rather that it “may have been accidentally discovered when old tree stumps serving as homes for honey bees were flooded during the rains and the fermentation process took place naturally, only to be found and enjoyed by the people traveling through.”

It seems uncertain exactly when or where mead was invented and whether is was discovered or invented, and by whom. Stay tuned as we delve deeper into this topic in future posts.

Ginger Ale

Having looked at root beer in our last post, we now examine another popular soft drink with a name that may imply otherwise. Ginger ale.

What is Ginger Ale?
According to the history section at Ginger Ale Authority (GAA), ginger ale, as we know it today, is a sweet soda water with a “kick of ginger root.” Similar to root beer, it started out as a beverage consisting of sweetened water, but flavored with ginger root rather than sassafras root. This recipe was present in England and Ireland in the 1840s before showing up in New York City by the 1850s.

Ginger ale has two distinct types:

Golden
According to  the GAA, this type “had a very sweet and bubbly texture, with a strong ginger punch.”

Dry
Developed later, “dry ginger ale was less sweet with a powerful paleness” according to the GAA. It was often used to tone down the flavor of Prohibition era bootleg liquors.

Similar to root beer, ginger ale has an alcoholic counterpart in its family tree, ginger beer, which may very well be the topic of a future post.