The Season of Pompion Pyes

The season is upon us where every coffee shop begins to sell “pumpkin spice” whatnots and most major grocery stores begin to stock up on the orange-brown goo filled pastry.

Ah 1800s Thanksgiving…  Nothing like a pumpkin pie to get your mind off the Napoleonic wars.

The pumpkin has been a part of the North American diet for thousands of years, and was introduced into the European diet shortly after Columbus made landfall and brought back the wonders of the Americas.  Native Americans had been boiling and stewing the squash for millenia, using it as a successful ward against things like scurvy and malnutrition.  Depending on the source, pepon, later called pompon, later called pompion, later still to be called pumpion, was introduced into the European diet between 1536 and 1651.  By 1651, the “Tourte de Pompion” was included into Francois Pierre La Varenne cookbook that achieved a great deal of publicity.  La Varenne wrote that you should, “Boile it with good milk, pass it through a straining pan very thick, and mix it with sugar, butter, a little salt and if you will, a few stamped almonds; let all be very thin. Put it in your sheet of paste; bake it. After it is baked, besprinkle it with sugar and serve.”

The humble pumpkin slowly gained popularity as it spread through the European subcontinent, gathering dozens of methods of preparation.  The pompion pie of the 1600s looked little like the pumpkin pies of today, one recipe called for baking the pumpkin strips with raisins, currans and sack (honestly don’t know what that is, all research for “sack spice” or “spice sack” only results in pictures of burlap) at which point the chef would put the whole shebang in a pie crust on top of a thick layer of apples.  Some New England recipes simply asked the people to hollow out a pumpkin, fill the gourd with apples and spices, then bake the amalgam of dust and goop in the ashes of a fireplace.

In 1796, the official recipe for pumpkin pie (closest to the stuff we mostly eat now) was written in The American Cookery by Amelia Simmons (who literally called herself “an American orphan” in the headline of the book)

Amelia Simmons, An American Orphan, wrote it down.  If you see something that looks like an “f” in this, it’s really just an “s”.  Thif if juft the way they wrote back then.

After 1796, the pumpkin pie simply got refined.  There were moments where people doubted the subtle power of the orange squash, but the moments passed.  For example, after the Civil War when Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday, Southern reporters criticized the North’s strange ritualism; with one reporter saying, “This is an annual custom of that people, heretofore celebrated with devout oblations to themselves of pumpkin pie and roast turkey.” (That is correct, Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a holiday.  It was a response to the Union Victory at Gettysburg, making the “distinctly American holiday” distinctly pro-Union)  In the end, the canning revolution took hold and instant “pumpkin pie in a can” recipes began to spring up in 1929 that dramatically cut down the preparation time for the pies, further cementing the place of the pumpkin pie as the king of the Thanksgiving desert bar.



This one is about Lincoln making Thanksgiving:

The God of War rides a Peacock

That’s right, Kartikeya, the Hindu God of War, rides a peacock into battle.  The story tells that he went to war once against a demon giant named Surapadman who he defeated handily.  Rather than be killed, Surapadman requested that he become Kartikeya’s mount, and he was split in two.  One half became the peacock (which represents the death of Kartikeya’s ego) and the other half became a rooster that was borne on the standard of Kartikeya’s army.

Believe it or not, the colorful bird that now decorates zoos and wineries across the world has been a deeply religious symbol for thousands of years.  Largely based on the belief that peacock meat would never decay, the Greeks saw peacocks as some sort of mystical vessel of purity.  Because peacocks could eat poisonous plants and were said to devour venomous snakes without issue, people believed them immune to all poison.  The story was so well known that St.Augustine wrote about the merits of peacock flesh in his book, “City of God”.  He tells a story about a slab of peafowl that he was eating that he set aside one day.  Within weeks, nothing had happened to the meat, it did not decay or stink.  By the time a year rolled around, the only thing he could say was that the flesh was drier and more shriveled.  His book also mentioned the ability of the flesh to cure poisons, lauding their “antiseptic properties”.

Before Augustine, the Greeks had a mythology behind peacocks as well.  According to Greek stories, when Hera found out that Zeus was interested in a Nymph woman named Io, she turned the young lady into a cow.  In order to keep Zeus from meddling with the cow Io, Hera sent the 100 eyed giant Argus Panoptes to look after her.  Zeus sent Hermes to take Io back, and Argus was killed in the process (put him to sleep with charms, wacked him in the head with a rock when he was asleep.  First blood of the post-Titan Greeks goes to Hermes).  Hera was said to honor Argus by placing his hundred eyes on the tail of the peacock (Hera’s chariot was driven by peacocks, but they didn’t have fancy tails until Argus’ eyes were placed into them).

In the Middle Ages, peacock was considered a delicacy.  While poor people ate chicken and quail, the royalty needed their fowl to be a little more fancy in order to bespeak their importance.  Royal feasts would have cooked peacock for both a table decoration and a meal.  At the time, peacock was exceptionally difficult to purchase because of the relative rarity of the bird in Europe (they’re native to Persia).  As for why they have the fancy colors; the reasoning is less impressive than dead giants, Godly gifts, or manifestations of purity.  What science believes is that peacocks are the ultimate representation of sexually selected traits.  Peahens began to take a liking to their male counterparts over the years when they had more colorful, large and ostentatious displays.  Over the years, the males with the bigger and brighter tails would succeed in passing genes while the ones with sad dilapidated rudders would dry up out of the gene pool.  The creature that struts about now is the result of hundreds of generations of picky females with particular wants.  Natural Selection at its finest..


Meaning of the Cards

The deck of playing cards has a lengthy amount of symbolism behind it.  From Suicide Kings to One Eyed Jacks, the cards hold stories that have slowly fallen into obscurity.  To begin with, we know that playing cards were introduced into Europe some time around 1377 because that year marked the first time governments started banning card games as a form of gambling.  Cities who were trying to police the vices of their citizens had banned dice and chance games, but until 1377 (a German monk talked about the introduction of cards in “the year of our lord MCCCLXXVII”) that cards were banned in the cities of Florence and Basel.

The original deck of cards was similar to the current version, but had minor variations.  Some of the first sets of cards were split into the suits of Cups, Coins, Swords and Batons.  Over time, the Coin became the Diamond, the Cup became the Heart, the Sword the Spade and the Baton the Club.  German cardmakers took to using leaves, bells and acorns as symbols because they resonated more with their culture.  Speculation has been made that the suits represented classes of society; for example, the Bell suit in the German card sets was meant to represent hawking bells, a sport only accessible to the nobility.  Spades in French card sets represented a spearhead, signifying that it belonged to the warrior class (middle nobility).  The same applied to things like the clover (club) and acorn, because they were pig food and represented the peasantry.

Early versions of the cards had identification written on their sides.  Kings were thought to represent Solomon, Augustus, Constantine and Clovis, famed emperors and kings that all people would recognize.  However, in the late 1500s, the cards were standardized so that the king of Hearts would always be Charlemagne, Clubs would be David, Diamonds would represent Caesar and Clubs would represent Alexander the Great.  For some reason, we don’t know who the Queens are supposed to represent.  They bounced between wives of kings, women of the bible, and famous figures like Joan of Arc.  The Knaves or Knights in the deck were typically representative of famous knights from folklore: Lancelot, Ogier, Hector and La Hire.

Even the Aces in the decks of cards have some history behind them.  For example, the Ace of Spades is always the most ornate of the aces for the reason that it was the only card in a playing card deck that was taxed.  Because of the large amount of white space around the cards, the ace was able to be stamped as a taxed good.  For that reason, many people at the time took to purchasing 51 card decks with all the cards except the Ace of Spades.  The phrase “not playing with a full deck” is believed to have come from this era because people found themselves a single card short of a real game to avoid the taxation.


As French as Apfelstrudle

When people think of France, the imagery generally includes the Eiffel Tower, small towns in lush green meadows, cafes full of loitering people wearing berets, a mime perhaps; and most of the time a croissant or a baguette.  Oddly enough, the croissant, probably the most quintessentially French thing outside of Charles de Gaulle, is not French.

Go ahead and ask, “what does this picture possibly have anything to do with Gaulish puff pastries?”  Answer: this is an image of the 1683 Siege of Vienna

The word “croissant” actually ends up meaning crescent, a clever name for a crescent shaped roll of dough.  Similar to croissant, the Austrians have a food called a Kipferl, similarly crescent shaped, though the Austrian treat is usually dusted in sugar and filled with honey and almond.  The story that holds is that the French imported the Kipferl into their country around 1800 when Marie Antoinette requested the treat from her native homeland of Austria be brought into the court.  Marie Antoinette likely didn’t bring the bread to her husband’s country, but if there’s one thing people love to do in history, it’s making shaky connections between famous people and famous inventions (citation: Al Gore inventing the Internet).  Many now believe that France didn’t begin having croissants until almost 1840 when Augustus Zang opened an Austrian pastry shop in Paris.

The Austrians on the other hand were thought to have created their Kipferl treats a good 150 years before the French got their hands on them.  While there are several stories for when it happened, many point towards the siege of Vienna in 1683 as the origin point of the Kipferl.  The story is that the Viennese were under siege, unable to leave their city walls, but somewhat safe from the Ottoman army outside.  The Ottoman army began sapping the walls, digging underneath them at night to force a breach in the wall.  Legend has it that Viennese bakers, while up at the wee hours of dawn making bread, heard the sound of the digging tools and were able to alert the military about it.  The Viennese were able to counter the digging efforts and prevented it from destroying their walls.  The story is that the bakers began making small crescent shaped sweets to celebrate their victory over the Ottoman army (who had the star and crescent as their flag).

Nobody can really be sure about when the crescent roll began, or if it was actually a means of celebrating a European victory over Islamic forces, but that hasn’t stopped the legend from having an impact.  in 2013, Syrian rebels banned croissants within their territory, citing it as a symbol of oppression and a commemoration of Western victory over Muslims.


“The mouth of a Perfectly Content man is Filled with Beer”

Believe it or not, the title is actually an ancient Egyptian proverb.  The same drink people crack open when watching a ball game was used to pay for the Pyramids.  Beer itself can actually be traced back to nearly the origin of human society, because we are a simple breed of animal with simple needs.

Just how old is the wheat drink?  One of the oldest references to beer was on a clay tablet to Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of Brewing Beer (not even joking, there’s one for brewing, one for beer and one for enjoying beer) which explains the process for brewing.  The Hymn to Ninkasi dates back to roughly 1900 BCE, though even before the hymn, the Ebla tablets from 2500 BCE refer to at least 20 varieties of beers that were produced and sold in the city of Ebla in Syria.  There are also archaeological evidence pieces with chemical evidence of brewing (potsherds with random fermentation residue on them) that date back to anywhere between 5000 and 3600 BCE.    Egyptians and Mesopotamians would use beer as an offering piece to the gods and kept it close to home in their societies, often with several gods who were dedicated to the craft of inebriation.

For most of the early history of beer, the production of it was a woman’s job.  As the craft expanded, slowly it began to become a profession that only men could do.  European tribes of Celts and Germans slowly moved the product into Europe around 3000 BCE, but it wasn’t until 822 that the drink began to resemble the beers of today.  Most European beers of the time were fruity and honeyed (and on some occasions purposefully spiked with narcotic drugs) and utterly lacked hops.  The beers of today that contain hops are a result of an unintentional joint effort by Charlemagne and Benedict of Nursia.  The Emperor of the Holy Romans and the Patron Saint of Europe brought the people of today the beers they consume.  History.

In the 6th century, Benedict of Nursia established his Benedictine order of monks who preached asceticism, charity and self-sustainability.  Monks would reside in monasteries off from the urban centers where they would farm and produce enough to keep themselves going.  As part of their creed, the monks were dedicated to helping any person who needed it, which meant the monasteries became waypoints along the roads where cheap food and drink could be had as well as a place to sleep without risk of fatality to animals or bandits.  The monks soon found that producing beer was an easy way to aid travelers (it was one of the few “sanitary” drinks of the age and was served to people of all ages and types), make money (monks would run the same grains through the process upwards of 3 times.  The first brewing would be the highest quality and would be sold for profit, the second would be mediocre and would go to the guests, and the third run through would be a nasty dirty swill that the monks would drink) and provide the monks with sustenance while they fasted.  In 817, Charlemagne ordered Adalard of Corbie to become the Abbot of the Corbie Benedictine monastery in France.  Adalard is attributed to have been the first to add hops to the beer, making hop filled beer a French dish rather than a Bavarian one as most people think.

Only 5 years after his monumental addition, Adalard died and was later sainted (not for adding hops to beer though).  He remains in the Catholic pantheon of saints and is currently a patron saint of gardeners.  His feast day is January 2nd, when you can drink a toast to his clever creation.

Citations; proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy. -Benjamin Franklin

Word is that Russians say Adalard invented the taco.  I truly wish I could cite this, for it is awesome.


Originally a meat product and/or byproduct; Spam has taken on a fully different meaning than originally intended.  Hormel evidently finds the phrase “spam”, “spamming”, “spammed” or any other derivative of the word to be alright with their copyright lawyers provided any reference to the canned meat be described as “Spam” with the capital letter.  Having sold 7 billion cans by 2007 and become a major part of a theatrical masterpiece, Spam is without a doubt one of the most impactful if not the most impactful canned meat substance on the planet.

Created by George A. Hormel, the origin story of Spam began some 40 years before the actual naming of it as “Spam”.  Hormel ran a fresh meat business in Minnesota, where his son Jay eventually took over.  Jay found that his pork looked like all other pork and decided to make his product stand out while simultaneously bypassing a major issue of the meat business: seasonality and shelf life.  By the late 1920s, Jay had discovered a way to can ham and not allow it to dry out.  His canned ham garnered success, but wasn’t named Spam until a man won $100 in a naming contest with his entry.  What “Spam” is is not exactly known; some say that because early Spam was made from shoulders of ham, it was named Spam, others say it stands for spiced ham, and others still believe it means “special processed American meat”.

Regardless of the meaning of the name, Hormel was able to gain lasting fame when he got Spam set into the k-rations of the infantry during WWII.  Though soldiers may not have always received the brand name Spam, they ate huge quantities of Hormel brand canned ham.  Where the American Army went, so went Spam and Coca Cola.  It was the ultimate product placement.  In England after the war, Spam was a commonplace food because of its cheapness and supply.  The war ravaged agriculture of England then began to take on Spam as a household name, and in 1970, Monty Python’s Flying Circus showed off their now famous “Spam” skit.  A smash success, Python’s Spam was later used by internet trolls during the infancy of internet chat rooms.  People wishing to blot out the commentary of their peers would quote the skit and write blocks of text simply repeating “Spam spam spam spam”.  The action of mass messaging became known as spamming.  What had once been known as flooding or trashing then became spamming, as Star Wars fans would rush Star Trek websites to drown out meaningful intellectual discussion with their spam.  Oddly enough, the first case of mass unsolicited messaging was in 1864, over 100 years before the spamming was used in Monty Python’s skit.  The original spam message was a dentistry office who sent out a mass telegram to a gathering of British officials late in the evening telling them he would be open from 10 AM to 5 PM.  Messrs Gabriel, dentist and pre-internet troll.  The original.

Citations! spam spam spam spam spam spam spam spam…

History of the Fork

If you think about one of the most ubiquitous things in cuisine, the fork is one of the first things that comes to mind, after a knife, possibly chopsticks and a spoon.  Oddly enough though, the fork only made its journey into Europe and the Americas through marriages, being the subject of heavy criticism until the late 1800s.

While the concept of the fork has been known for a very long time, (Poseidon was famous for swinging one around) the actual use of the fork as an implement to aid consumption didn’t happen until around 600 AD.  The fork was used largely as a cooking aid, mainly to hold a hot slab of meat without using bare hands, the fork basically looked like a little two pronged spear.  Egyptians and Byzantines were the first to begin to use the tool at diner tables by the wealthy as a means to prove their wealth and etiquette.

It wasn’t until 1004 when Maria Argyropoulina, a Byzantine princess of sorts, married the Doge of Venice that the fork showed up in Central Europe.  She whipped out her set of gold forks at the wedding feast and ate her meal with forks, much to the chagrin of the entire Venetian court.  Priests went bonkers and complained that God gave men NATURAL forks in the form of hands and that using the metal implements was spitting in the face of God’s creations.  Two years later, Maria died from the plague and St.Peter Damian wrote that her death was God’s punishment for her vanity and lavishness.  Slowly, forks began to work their way into Italian eateries, largely used by the wealthy to skewer candied fruits that were syrup-ed enough that they would stain fingers without a utensil (used by the wealthy and by high caliber courtesans, further pressing the Church to associate forks with all things vain and sinful).  In 1533, Catherine De Medici brought the fork to France from Venice when she married Henry II, spreading the tool to Western Europe. In the 1560s during the turmoil that followed in Henry’s death, Catherine was said to travel around France hosting dinner parties with the rival factions to force them to her table.  She created etiquette rules that would force the leaders to sit down to diplomatic and polite dinners.

The fork got another legendary win in the 1660s, when Cardinal Richelieu (the villain from Dumas’ Three Musketeers) supposedly became aggravated with a dinner guest who would pick his teeth with a knife at the table.  Richelieu had all the tips of the knives filed down, forcing a new tool to be needed to stab and skewer foods.  Even if Richelieu wasn’t the reason for it, in 1669, Louis XIV declared it illegal to bring a pointed knife to a dining table for reasons of the violence pointed metal potentially does.  At that point in time France was the apex of high society, so when France abolished pointy knives, everyone did.  Across the ocean, Americans of the 1700s began to struggle with the sudden lack of pointed knives for dining.  Americans instead used a spoon in their left hand to hold down the object while they sawed it apart, then swapped the spoon to the right hand to pick up the food and eat it.  Rather than simply cave to the power of the fork, some Americans held onto their practice of “zigzagging” well into the mid 1800s.  A native of Maine groused that “Eating peas with a fork is as bad as trying to eat soup with a knitting needle.” in 1824; and few Americans used the fork until the World Fair of 1851, where the European high society brought the fork with them, and rather than look like country bumpkins, many Americans took to using the tined tool.  That said, British Sailors didn’t use forks until around 1897 because they were “unmanly”.

Hopefully y’all learned something new, something cool or something different, like how God frowns when you grab a salad fork.

Citations, for the Fork of it: