When and Why

   Would you stop now, Bluebrry Baked Beans?  This is not a foodie column, as anyone who has heard me speak of my mother’s Tapioca Meat Loaf and my own landmark Turkey liver Pizza will attest.  There are other places on the Interwebs which can provide you this information, and I wanted to get back to postcards.  And if you keep asking me questions which make me wonder about the answer, I’ll never get there.

    Anyhow, the Interwebs could not provide me with a very coherent answer to your inquiry about ketchup and French fries?  (Or catsup.  Or Freedom fries.  Or tomato sauce and chips, if you hail from across the Interwaters.)  They all blame diners and other fast drive-ins in that brace new world which followed World War II.  (They also passed along what I should have guessed: that Ray Kroc bought into McDonald’s and made it what it is today because he really liked their fries.)  But no one will say when or how we started wanting ketchup on fried potatoes generally.  I ate at a spot this month which provided ketchup with the has browns, which strikes me as a sign of some deep obsession.  They tend to get bogged down in the history of ketchup, and never get to the real question.  (The first ketchup packets were developed in the late 1950s, if you needed to know that.)

    They also have to fill you full of the history of salt (so valuable to our ancestors that the word “salary” comes from it; nothing to do with putting salt on celery.)  And black pepper was most valuable too,. at least until red pepper was discovered.  But it was apparently the fault of Louis XIV, a notably finicky eater, that we think of salt and pepper as the essential table seasonings.  His tummy was bothering, and he ordered that in his palaces, he wanted nothing but salt and pepper (and maybe a small dish of parsley) be set out on his table.  So salt and pepper it was on all other fashionable tables, and that is why those two little porcelain pugs on your table are not a trio or a quartet.

   I knew I shouldn’t have mentioned Chex Mix Rice Krispie Treats.  Several people did point out that since I had outlined the history of one half of that forbidden union, I should explain the other.  Back when Ralston Purina was making human foods, they introduced Shredded Ralston, a healthy wheat cereal somewhat similar to the one we know as Mini-Wheats.  Rice Chex began appearing around 1950, and as Ralston’s name started drifting away from the cereals Shredded Ralston changed its name and recipe to become Wheat Chex..  Betting is that these crunchy cereals were added to snack mix long before the recipe became official, but the first known appearance of Chex Mix was in a 1952 ad in Life (the magazine, not the similar=-looking cereal.)  The original recipe still appears on the Chex boxes (Corn entered the merry band later) though people who have the time and the old cereal boxes have observed that the original recipe on the box now is not the same as the original recipe you’d have seen in the 1980s or the original recipe you’d have found in the 1960s.  A lot of people I knew toss in M&Ms for their own special recipe, and I have known plenty of people who added lots of peanuts.  (I believe that’s how my piano teacher, who called hers “Stomach Ache medicine”, created her mix.)

   We have just time for one more piece of food history, and for this I direct your attention to the book shown at the head of this column.  This is a little volume of stories published in German for the purpose of teaching German children how to read English.  It was [put together in the 1920s by Stephen Southwold, who wrote several of the stories, and took others from various children’s annuals of the 1910s.  Some are fairy tales, some are motivational stories, and one explains how they invented….

    The king had ordered his chef to prepare a wonderful wild game pie for the guests at the Christmas banquet.  So the chef began stewing the filling, creating a great pot of simmering savory broth with plenty of meat in it.  While that was cooking, he prepared the dough for the pie crust.  Just as he was ready to start assembling the massive pie, though, the king called him up for a consultation about the desert, or the pielettes to be made with the leftover dough, or something.  While the chef was out of the kitchen, one of the page boys who had been busy with a snowball fight in the yard, ran inside to get warm.  Spying the big pile of dough for the pie crust, he of course thought of making doughballs, which he could throw without mittens, since they wouldn’t chill his hands.  He’d be the best shot in the game.  He had just finished making the entire pie crust into dough balls when he heard footsteps, and heard the voices of the king and the chef.  Suddenly aware that he had been playing with royal foodstuffs, he panicked and, not knowing where else to hide them, threw all the doughballs into the stew.

    The chef was showing the king how everything was ready when he suddenly realized his pie crust was gone.  The king, meanwhile, had been examining the stew, wondering why it had all these round white islands in it.  “What the hotel bill is this?” he demanded.

    The chef knew enough about cooking to realize what side his bread was buttered on, and said, “Oh, that was a surprise I was making for the Christmas dinner.”

    The king sampled one of the islands, and was enchanted by it.  “Has this wonderful tidbit a name?”  On learning the chef had not (truthfully) thought of one, the king announced that “Since your name is Simon Dump, we shall call these Dumplings!”  And so the dumpling was….

    Well, no it wasn’t, actually.  But I have to blog SOMETIMES about things which come out of books, and not the utterly factual Interwebs.

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