A private response to my post on Swedish Christmas customs inspired some thoughts on food. I was told that another Yule time legacy from Sweden’s Viking past is a test of courage and stamina called “eating lutefisk”. I looked it up- this involves soaking herring in toxic, caustic lye before cooking it. But that’s not the weird part- the weird part is that we do something similar right here in America! It seems that someone- probably from Minnesota- decided that corn, too, should be soaked in caustic lye before eating; thus was born hominy. This got me to thinking- how on Earth did we think of some of the things we do to food?
Some recipes, even fairly complex ones, aren’t hard to guess how they came about. Cake, for example- I’m picturing a hung over bachelor stumbling into the pantry one morning, and finding what is in every bachelor’s pantry: two cups of dry cereal, an egg, and a half cup of milk left over from making cappuccino the night before. He shrugs, mixes it all together, throws it into the oven and goes to the bathroom for Visine and a long shower. When he returns to the kitchen he finds that he has invented cake.
Other foods are much harder to figure out. Coffee, for example- who invented that? “Hey, Bill, I got this great idea! You know those hard, red berries on the coffee bush?” “Yeah, once I made my little brother eat a handful- he barfed, then started twitching. It was hilarious!” “OK, we take some of those, roast them ‘til they’re brown and sticky, then throw them in boiling water to leach out all the poisons...” “And...?” “Then we drink it!” “Righhhhhht....”
Or take sausage. Pan sausage is easy enough to figure out; once the principle of grinding meat was established, spicing it was obvious. But link sausage? Do you KNOW what sausage skins are? How on Earth did it ever occur to someone to stuff their spiced hamburger into THOSE?
Or yogurt- who had the guts to be the first to try that? Again, I’m thinking bachelors. “Hey, guess what I found in the back of the fridge? It’s that bottle of milk we bought last year! Wanna try it?” “Dude, it’s quivering!” “C’mon, I dare ya!”
At least with the evolution of life forms we can see the intermediate steps, see the progression from one form to another; but with food, it’s often a mystery. How did we go from cucumber sandwiches to pickles? Was there ever a dish of fresh cucumbers, vinegar, and garlic that was just allowed to sit too long? The same question goes for sauerkraut. Or haggis- was it a common thing to serve your oatmeal in a sheep’s stomach before it occurred to someone to add lungs and other organ meats to it?
What foods can you not figure out?