Fine foods: How were they invented? 52



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I often wonder, when I think (something I do occasionally!) about some of the common activities we indulge in today, just where they came from and who thought of them in the first place…


For instance, who had the bright idea of taking fresh young leaves from acacia plants, drying them in the sun and then fermenting them and chopping them into small flakes?

Then taking these flakes, adding boiling water, then milk and sometimes sugar, to produce one of, if not the, most popular beverages in the world – tea!

It’s the same with coffee. First you pick the fruit and dry it, then you open it and extract the mass of beans inside, each of which, so I understand has to be peeled to expose the final product. But you’re not finished yet; the resulting small beans then have to be roasted in an oven and ground to a small powder before again, (just like tea), having boiling water poured on them, the resulting dark brown liquor being poured into a cup and drunk, sometimes without addition and sometimes with milk and sugar added.

Have you ever picked a ripe olive and eaten it straight from the tree? If you have, you’ll know, like me, that it’s not an experiment you’d want to try again! So who was it that said, after trying that experiment, “I’m not giving up yet! How about I soak these little blighters in brine for a few weeks, then add a generous splash of vinegar or something,” he couldn’t very well say olive oil could he – that wouldn’t have been invented yet, which is another mystery in itself! “Then we might as well push those annoying pips out of the center and stuff the thing with pimento – they might be quite edible then!”

Next we come to grapes, the ancients discovered several ways to handle these wonderful little balls of energy. I reckon their first idea, having found how nice the fruit was, would have been to dry them in the sun, to provide a nourishing ‘sweetmeat’ to consume through the long winter months.

This accepts the concept that they had already discovered that drying things tended to make them last longer, and is a somewhat more understandable approach than the ideas above!

Another and even more pleasant way they thought of preserving the grapes they found was to make a drink out of them. I have no doubt they had already picked grapes that had fermented on the vine and found they had a very pleasant affect.

So all they had to do was carry this notion a step further – thank goodness, adding water and letting it all ferment before straining off the fruit and leaving that wonderful drink!

Much the same applies to wheat, barley, etc., of course. Once the ancients found they could manufacture alcohol, they’d have tried it with all sorts of vegetation, (I’m sure I would have, anyway!).

As a progression from these discoveries for preserving food through the winter, someone must have also discovered that you could extract the whey from milk, add rennet and come up with cheese. While someone else thought of sticking legs of pork up the chimney of the house, turning it into delicious and long lasting ham – real ham, not the imitation stuff the supermarkets sell today.

The other method was, of course, to rub the meat with lots of salt, which had much the same preserving effect as smoking, but perhaps didn’t taste quite as good.

The ingenuity of man knows no bounds and there must be a wealth of other ‘familiars’ we take for granted today, that actually arrived with us by very tortuous routes like those above.


What food creations do you still find amazing?

Brian Lee

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