Archive for the ‘Food History’ Category

The Mystery of Watergate (Salad)

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What on earth is Watergate salad? Who invented it? Why? And why call it Watergate? These questions are circulating around DC these days, and I was fortunate enough to be invited to WAMU, DC’s Public Radio affiliate to weigh in on the matter. So, allow me: Watergate is a dessert made of pistachio pudding, nuts, whipped cream, pineapple, and above all, marshmallows. It first appeared in 1975– a concoction supposedly invented in the kitchens of General Foods – now Kraft – and has since appeared at picnics, church get-togethers, and other family events. Its origin, however, is not in the…

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The Unexpected Origin of the Marshmallow: from Ancient Medicines to the Steam Locomotive

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Yes, the marshmallow really is from the marshmallow plant.  The marshmallow plant, or Althaea officinalis, is a relative of the hollyhock, with pastel-colored, papery flowers.[i] The plant, especially its roots, have a sticky substance that once gave the marshmallow its taste and texture. Today, the root is available as a tea: the mucilage is like a syrup in hot water but thickens into a strangely sweet gel when cool. The plant originated in Europe and West Asia where the ancients used it to treat coughs and sore throats. The marshmallow was also a sweet where the Ancient Egyptians boiled with…

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Retro Candy You May Have Missed

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The universe of “retro” candy is a large one, spanning over 150+ years – Wax Lips (early 1900s), Good n’ Plenty (1893), NECCO Wafers (1847) and such sensations as Fruit Slice Gum (1960s) and Turkish Taffy (around 1931)… to name a few. But wedged into this clutter of wrappers, flavors and advertising stints are candies long forgotten but still among us – alive, well, and ever fascinating. Here is a sample of some of them: Cherry Cocktail (1926). Still made by the family-owned Idaho Spud Candy Company which opened in 1901. The candy bar is not your everyday cherry cordial,…

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The Popcorn Machine

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In the news today, I read that federal agents were arresting Mexican immigrants in sanctuary cities. It reminded me of my own experience with Mexican immigrants about a year ago. This is it: Last year, I decided we would make fresh popcorn at True Treats, my candy store. It seemed a natural fit: like candy, popcorn is associated with good times – movie theaters, carnivals, state fairs. In fact, the early popcorn machine was invented by Charles Cretors and showcased at the illustrious Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. What could be better? The attempt didn’t go as well as expected:…

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Norbert Rillieux: All the Sugar that You Eat and a Bizarre Twist

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If you like sweets, eat sweets, or give gifts of made sugar, you have Norbert Rillieux to thank. His story is remarkable and his legacy regarding cane sugar in specific and sugar in general is profound.  He was born in 1806; his mother was a free woman of color, and his father, Vincent Rillieux, a European American plantation owner and inventor. At that time, 25 percent of African Americans in New Orleans were free and mixed couples often raised families together. Rillieux was a precocious student – so precocious his father sent him to the famous l’École Centrale in Paris…

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Valentine’s Day: Why Hearts?

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So, it’s almost Valentine’s Day and you might be wondering how the ubiquitous  hearts got their start. The shape actually evolved from the ancient and now extinct silphium plant, used in the fifth century by Romans as a spice, aphrodisiac and birth control measure. The plant’s seed pod was heart-shaped, much like the bleeding hearts you see today. At some point, the heart was also used as a  depiction of the anatomical heart. Around 1250, the heart took on sexual and religious significance, appearing as  an inverted pine cone. A hundred or so years later, it was featured in its…

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Nutmeg: Sure, A Flavoring in Candy but an Aphrodisiac and So Much More

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If you’re searching for an effective yet tasty aphrodisiac look no further than your local grocery store. The solution comes bundled up in the pit of a more-or-less remarkable spice humbly referred to as “nutmeg.” For thousands of years, the nutmeg has been used to inspire love and lust – even its name derives from the Arabic word “mesk,” or “musky,” as in fragrance.  Today, Americans enjoy nutmeg to limited degrees – in hot cider and apple pie, for example, unaware of the sultry – and dangerous – spice that it is. But First… Nutmeg: The Early Years Even the…

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Art Candy: From Candy Bowls to Christmas Candy

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When I think of candy and the idea of giving, I think of the candy bowls grandmothers of a certain generation left out for their children and grandchildren. These women grew up during the Depression and wars when sugar shortages were common and sweets hard to find. Once sugar was available they filled their bowls to the brim with brightly colored sweets, as ornamental as delicious. It’s no surprise some of these candies became standard Christmas fare, such as the art candy, ribbon candy, and candy straws. Of all these candies, the art candy is the most impressive, in my…

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Sweets Under Seige: Revolutionary War

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Here’s a picture of my handsome husband over there in Afghanistan. The USO gives a little levity to folks like him with shows and, yes, candy, upholding a tradition that started with the Revolutionary War. I send Dan chocolate covered espresso and bourbon balls among the books and aspirins.  My packages are always followed by an e-mail that exclaims: Got IT!  Then a blow-by-blow of what he ate first. So, why not explore what the troops have enjoyed since way back when starting with the Revolutionary War. The soldiers back then had an unpredictable assortment of food, sometimes nothing, sometimes…

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The First Pop and Blam of Bubblegum!

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When you think of bubblegum, I’ll bet 10,000 gum balls the Fleer brothers don’t enter your mind. But the Fleer brothers started it all. The story begins when Philadelphia native Frank Fleer, born in 1860, joined and later took over his father-in-law’s flavor extracts company. Fleer was in good company: his father-in-law was a Quaker, one of the oldest, most influential, and ethical players in candy history. Within five years Fleer began making chewing gum, some of which he sold in vending machines in the lobby of buildings. One of the Fleer company’s most impressive accomplishments was created by Frank’s…

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