You don’t think about Baked Alaska in years and then two come along in the same week. Last week I wrote, in Part 1 of What’s in a name, about the dish, Baked Alaska, and then Baked Alaska was one of the insurrectionists storming the US Capitol. I won’t give oxygen by reproducing his photo here, enough to say that the elected member from Alaska was not amused.
Moving on, we are now on Part 2 of a small list of dishes with stories and history. This week I’ll have a look at Graham Crackers, Margherita Pizza, Peach Melba, Quiche Lorraine, the Sandwich and finally Welsh Rarebit. So, let’s get started.
I was going to write about French Toast but then I came upon a story so crazy, so crackers, that I knew I just had to share it word for word. Source: Now I Know
“Graham crackers were originally invented in the early 1800s by a Presbyterian minister by the name of Sylvester Graham, who introduced this snack item as part of his then-radical vegetarian diet which eschewed white flour and spices. Graham introduced these crackers because he hoped to end what he believed to be the scourge of his time: ‘self-love’.
Graham, one of seventeen children, found sexual urges to be something to be repressed, and found “self-abuse” — a colloquialism common in the 1820s and 1830s — to be a particular ill of society. By some combination of pseudoscience and faith, he concluded that a vegetarian diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, limited dairy, and bland starches would result in an end to lustful behavior. For the last two decades of his life, Graham (who died at age 57) preached that his diet, later called the Graham Diet, would help those who followed it (called Grahamites) abstain from sexual activity, and, in particular, from self-love or masturbation, which Graham argued led to insanity and blindness.
The Grahamite movement waned after its leader’s death in 1851, but one man in particular stayed true to Graham’s bland food (and sexual abstinence) edict. That man, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, was the superintendent of the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan, and he insisted that patients abide by a similar diet. When his brother, Will Keith Kellogg, the sanitarium’s bookkeeper, accidentally left cooked wheat out, letting it go stale, the Kelloggs decided to try and force it through the rollers anyway. Instead of softening, the wheat came out hard, and in flake form. Dr. Kellogg served the flakes, which were genuinely well received by the sanitarium’s patients.
But while Dr. Kellogg was a Grahamite of sorts, his brother Will was not. Will saw a mass market opportunity by adding a touch of sugar to the corn flakes, causing a rift between himself and his steadfast brother. Will founded the Kellogg’s corporation, now an $18 billion company; John focused on “rehabilitating” masturbators, and, per Wikipedia, at times resorted to mutilation.
Bonus fact: For a while, Oberlin College in Ohio adopted the Graham diet, going meat-free, as well as eschewing condiments and seasonings, according to the student newspaper. These items were banned outright, even if you brought it into the dining hall yourself. But one day, a professor named John P. Cowles decided to challenge the system by bringing a pepper shaker to a meal there, and found out that the rules were taken quite seriously — he was fired. But a year or so later, student dissatisfaction with the rules ended up crescendoing, finally culminating in a return to more typical dining hall fare.”
You could not make this up! But there are good recipes out there for Graham Crackers. (Recipe: Homemade Graham Crackers, from the Kiwi Country Girl)
The city of Naples in Italy is widely known to be the home of pizza. Founded in the 16th-century, the majority of the population was very poor and so pizza, a flatbread with toppings that was sold by street vendors, was eaten quickly and was cheap, and suited the population well for most meals.
These early iterations of pizza were usually topped with a variety of things, such as tomatoes, cheese, olives, anchovies, and garlic. The famous French writer, Alexandre Dumas, even described the wide array and diversity of pizza toppings in 1843.
The Italy magazine had the most fullsome piece on Margherita Pizza and I could not resist, so here it is:
‘According to popular tradition, in 1889, 28 years after the unification of Italy, during a visit to Naples of Queen Margherita of Savoy, wife of King Umberto I, chef Raffaele Esposito of Pizzeria Brandi and his wife (un-named – my note!) created a pizza resembling the colors of the Italian flag, red (tomato), white (mozzarella) and green (basil). They named it after the Queen – Pizza Margherita. Descriptions of such a pizza recipe, however, can be traced back to at least 1866 in Francesco DeBouchard book “Customs and Traditions of Naples” – (Vol II, p.. 124). There he describes the most popular pizza toppings of the time which included one with cheese and basil, often topped with slices of mozzarella. Whatever the real origins of this pizza recipe are, all we know for sure is that Raffaele Esposito’s version for Queen Margherita was the one that made it popular.
Since 2009, Pizza Margherita is one of the three Pizze Napoletane with an STG (Specialità Tradizionali Garantite – Traditional Guaranteed Specialty) EU label together with the Marinara (garlic and oregano) and the Margherita Extra (mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP, fresh basil and tomatoes). The top quality of the ingredients and the traditional preparation and cooking method are at the basis of a true Pizza Napoletana STG. You need to have a 3 mm thick disk of dough with a 1-2 cm high crust. No other working tools other than the hands of the pizzaiolo are allowed, no rolling pin or mechanical press machine, and it needs to be cooked in a wood- brick oven at 485 °C for about 90 seconds.’
Well, for those of us who do not have a ready to hand wood-brick oven here is a pan based recipe. (Recipe: Margherita Pizza in a Skillet, from Jessica Gavin).
This creamy and cool dish is a simple and classic preparation of vanilla ice cream, sugary peaches, and raspberry sauce. The story is a familiar one – famous opera singer + famous chef + friendship = famous dish.
The famous opera singer was, of course, Australian Helen (Nellie) Porter Mitchell, born 19th May 1861 in Melbourne (Melba) to her mother, Isabella who played several instruments, and served as Nellies first music teacher, and her father, David Mitchell, a successful building contractor and brickmaker. Nellie spent most of her teenage years in Melbourne and Queensland before arriving in London in 1886 to concentrate on her opera singing. Her operatic debut finally came in 1887 in Brussels, as Gilda in Verdis Rigoletto. Nellie became one of the most famous singers of her time and often appeared at La Scala, the Metropolitan and Covent Garden Opera Houses. In London she came to live at the newly opened Savoy Hotel, where Auguste Escoffier directed the kitchens.
Escoffier was known for his lavish feasts, which often featured up to 11 courses, and occasionally, he would create something special for famous guests. He created the péche Melba (peach Melba), and Melba Toast in honour of Nellie Melba when she was staying there in 1893. Originally known as ‘peach with a swan’ due to its design, the recipe was altered slightly, and a few years later, Escoffier added a generous drizzle of raspberry sauce to the formula to celebrate the opening of the Ritz Carlton, London.
In case you missed it, Wednesday, January 13th 2021 was Peach Melba Day (it was also Rubber Duckie Day). I hope you enjoyed this traditional dessert on the day, but if not here is Escoffier’s original recipe to make up for your loss. (Recipe: Escoffier’s Peach Melba, from Tori Avery at Tori’s Kitchen)
This is one of those dishes, again, which are claimed by one cuisine but probably have their roots in other places, dishes and times.
Although now considered to be a founding dish of French cuisine, pastry tarts with custard and meat, fish or fruit fillings can be traced back to other cultures, so for instance there was the 13th century recipes for egg and cream baked in a dough crust in Italy, and in the 14th century English recipe collection, The Forme of Cury, there is a similar recipe with the unappetising name “Crustardes of flesh.” So, thinking just of the name, where does this dish originate.
Well, it is not so quintessentially French as one would expect. The word ‘quiche’ is derived from the German, Lorraine-Franconian dialect word for cake, ‘küeche’. The cake is named after a region in what was once the German-ruled medieval kingdom of Lothringen. The first iteration of the name of this open tart base, which was made from a brioche pastry and had a simple custard like filling of cream, eggs and lardons (a small piece of fatty bacon) was quiche au lard. This version could be eaten on meatless days.
Lothringen, an area in the now northeast of France just below the German border, was renamed Lorraine by the French, but so many residents spoke the half-German, half-French dialect of Lorraine-Franconian and so quiche au lard became küeche Lothringen. It was only at the beginning of the early 19th century that the term quiche Lorraine became current. Over time the brioche gave way to the new shortcrust pastry made possible by the industrial milling of flour; the filling became more complex, meat – bacon or ham – was added; and cheeses in the form of Gruyère were added. In fact this open tart, although light on meat, could not now be considered a dish for those meatless days. Today there are innumerable variations on the quiche and the Lorraine has been, on the whole, dropped, but here is a recipe I hope you enjoy. (Recipe: Quiche Lorraine by Mary Berry, House and Garden, Monday 4 January 2021)
In its basic form, a sandwich is, slices of meat, cheese, or other food placed between two slices of bread. Although this mode of consumption must be as old as meat and bread, the name was adopted only in the 18th century for John Montagu. History.com notes that:
‘The sandwich as we know it was popularized in England in 1762 by John Montagu (1718-92), the 4th Earl of Sandwich. Legend has it, and most food historians agree, that Montagu had a substantial gambling problem that led him to spend hours on end at the card table. During a particularly long binge, he asked the house cook to bring him something he could eat without getting up from his seat, and the sandwich was born. Montagu enjoyed his meat and bread so much that he ate it constantly, and as the concoction grew popular in London society circles it also took on the Earl’s name.
Of course, John Montagu (or rather, his nameless cook) was hardly the first person to think of putting fillings between slices of bread. In fact, we know exactly where Montagu first got the idea for his creation. Montagu traveled abroad to the Mediterranean, where Turkish and Greek mezze platters were served. Dips, cheeses, and meats were all “sandwiched” between and on layers of bread. In all likelihood Montagu took inspiration from these when he sat at that card table.’
However that does not exhaust the story of the sandwich. Tori Avery tells us that,
‘variations of the concept have been around for centuries. Farm laborers in rural France had been eating meat between sliced bread long before it had a name, though the sandwich likely started even earlier than that. The earliest recognizable form of a sandwich may be the Korech or “Hillel sandwich” that is eaten during Jewish Passover. Hillel the Elder, a Jewish leader and rabbi who lived in Jerusalem during the time of King Herod (circa 110 BC), first suggested eating bitter herbs inside unleavened matzo bread. The herbs symbolized the bitterness of slavery, and the bread resembled the flatbreads made in haste by the ancient Israelites as they fled Egypt. Hillel’s simple recommendation of sandwiching the two foods together may indicate that this was already a popular way of serving food in the Middle East.’
On the other hand some claim the sandwich for China. Roujiamo (meat sandwiched in bread) is considered the Chinese equivalent to the Western hamburger and meat sandwiches. Roujiamo is considered by the Chinese media to be the world’s oldest sandwich or hamburger, since the bread or the “mo” dates back to the Qin dynasty (221–206 BC) and the meat to the Zhou dynasty (1045–256 BC).
Today the options are endless: Any type of roll or bread and any type of food that can be conveniently eaten can go into a sandwich, hot or cold. Sandwiches are now popular all over the world, and it seems like every region has their own take on the concept. British tea sandwiches are made with thin-cut bread filled with fish paste, cucumber, watercress, or tomato. Scandinavian smørrebrød are served open-faced, with artfully composed toppings of fish, sliced meats, and salads. In France, a Croque Monsieur or Croque Madame can be found in most cafes. In Cuba, restaurants serve ham and cheese on Cuban bread. In the Middle East, falafel or shawarma in a pita pocket is the fast food of choice. In Italy, simple and rustic panino sandwiches are the norm. In New York, pastrami on rye is king, though the Reuben takes a close second. In Philadelphia, it’s all about the cheesesteak. Even vegetarians and vegans get in on the act. (Recipe: Best ever Vegan Sandwich Recipes, from The BBC Good Food).
This dish is a total misnomer: It contains no rabbit, and might not even be from Wales. It turns out, calling something “Welsh” in 17th and 18th century Britain was actually a way of saying that it was of poor quality, and so, a rather snide jab at the country of Wales itself. By this theory, a “Welsh Rabbit”, as this dish was initially called, according to the Oxford Dictionary, would be a rabbit dish where the ingredients were so poor, there was no meat in it at all. You may think this is dry English humor at its finest. (Source: Eat This)
Another origin story goes thus: the meat-based name for this meatless dish stems from Welsh peasants for whom cheese was a substitute for the meat they could not afford.
And for those of you who’ve never had the pleasure, Welsh Rarebit, is actually a fondue-like cheese sauce over toasted bread – and not simply toasted bread with grilled cheese. And I think it is pretty good. (Recipe: How to Cook Perfect Welsh Rarebit, by Felicity Cloake, 27/10/2001)