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Ever wonder where our foods came from? Fascinated by facts?
The tomato originated in Peru as a yellow cherry tomato, and was brought back to Europe by the Conquistadors. But Europeans refused to eat it, thinking it was poisonous, so it was used as an ornamental houseplant for centuries until a famine drove desperate peasants to eat it—and live to tell about it.
The lemon originated in the Assam region of northern India and northern Burma, then traveled through China and Persia to become an ornamental plant in the Arab world. It arrived in Rome in the first century C.E.
The original macaroni and cheese comprised sheets of pasta dough cut into two-inch squares, boiled and tossed with grated cheese (probably Parmesan).
The dog was the first domesticated animal, used for work and companionship, but the first food animal to be domesticated was the sheep (as far back as 11,000 B.C.E.), followed by the pig (9000 B.C.E.), goat and cow (both about 8000 B.C.E.).
Lemons originated in Assam, but arrived in the Middle East around 600 C.E. as ornamental plants. Eggplant is also native to India, cultivated from prehistoric times, but it didn’t reach Europe until about 1500 C.E. This book tells all.
Any food lover who wants to know where our foods originated—including the how and the why—should pick up a book or two on the history of food. While Michael Pollan’s books, such as The Omnivore’s Dilemma, are very popular (and very worthwhile reads), they just touch on the fascinating history of our food.
Numerous books on food history can be more academic—which is to say, dry—than others. But two we like very much—and often give as gifts—are from authors who are not just expert in their topics, but gifted storytellers as well. They’re page-turners that provide many a happy hour of exploring our food history:
A History Of Food by Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat. First published in France in 1987 and now in its second edition, this is the go-to tome for people who want the facts. The information is staggering: not just how bread came to be, but the social history of who was able or allowed to eat what.
Moveable Feasts: From Ancient Rome to the 21st Century, the Incredible Journeys of the Food We Eat, by Sarah Murray. Journey through the fascinating history of food. Even with rickety boats, peppercorns from India were delivered to demanding ancient Romans. The invention of the barrel in third-century Rome revolutionized transcontinental trading and vastly improved the art of winemaking, which previously relied on clay amphorae. And yes, there’s a lot that takes place in Rome—there’s nowhere else like it.
If you’d like to browse, head to your nearest bookseller or to Amazon.com.
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