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Archive for Food Facts – Food History

RECIPE: Cherry Brownies For President’s Day

Brownies With Dried Cherries

[1] Add dried cherries to your favorite brownie recipe, like this one from Frugal Foodie Mama. [2] Already have baked brownies? Press soaked dried cherries into the top (photo courtesy Alison’s Gourmet), or whip up a light film of icing to hold the cherries.


The legend of George Washington and the cherry tree was an invention of book agent Mason Locke Weems, in his 1800 biography, “The Life of Washington.” The cherry tree has been associated with Washington ever since.

Washington’s Birthday was declared a federal holiday by Congress in 1880,* the first federal holiday to honor an American citizen.

Cherry pie, typically made with canned tart cherries, became a popular way to celebrate the day. Over the years, many other cherry recipes followed.

Alas for those who like fresh ingredients, cherry season is in summer. But quality canned cherries (we like Chukar Cherries), frozen cherries and dried cherries enable cooks and bakers to express their patriotism—or at least, use the occasion to make something different.

For the President’s Day weekend, a batch of cherry brownies will hit the spot with your family and friends:

  • Prepare your favorite brownie recipe. Here’s a rich brownie recipe. Cut the nuts in the recipe in half (or omit them) to accommodate the cherries.
  • Soak 1/2 to 1 cup of dried cherries in with Kirsch (cherry brandy), cherry liqueur, rum or other favorite spirit. There’s no need to drain the spirits: They make the brownies taste that much better!
  • Mix a half cup of the cherries into the brownie batter and/or press them into the top of the brownies (photo #2) when you remove the pan from the oven.
    Prefer a chocolate chip cookie? Here’s our recipe for yummy cherry chocolate chip cookies.

    Check out the history of brownies.

    *Initially the holiday was for government offices in the District of Columbia. It was expanded to include all federal offices in 1885. State government offices, including schools, followed suit, followed by banks and other businesses. The holiday was celebrated on Washington’s actual birthday, February 22, until 1971, when it was shifted to the third Monday in February and combined with the Lincoln’s Birthday celebration to allow federal employees a three-day weekend.


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    FOOD FACTS: For Mayonnaise Lovers

    Unlike mustard, pickles and other condiments that are essentially the same as at the time of their invention, mayonnaise evolved into something quite different.

    The “original” mayonnaise was a sauce served at a banquet following the 1756 Battle of Mahón, a city on the island of Minorca in the Mediterranean. The new recipe was named “sauce Mahónnaise” by the chef, in honor of the French victory.

    Over the years, the sauce underwent an evolution. The mayonnaise we know was developed by the great French chef Marie-Antoine Carême, founder of the concept of haute cuisine. If not for Carême, the sandwich spread and binder for the tuna salad and potato salad that we love might not exist.

    The brilliant Carême also developed the “mother sauce” system of French cuisine; mille-feuille pastry used to make napoleon pastry; éclairs; meringue cookies; and charlottes, among other contributions.

    Can’t live without mayo? Give thanks to
    Marie-Antoine Carême. Photo by © Robyn Mac | Fotolia.

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    Mint Julep

    Mint Julep

    A traditional mint julep (photo courtesy Arch Rock Fish | San Diego). [2] You don’t need silver julep glasses. A rocks glass is just fine (photo courtesy Distilled New York ).


    There’s no better way to watch the Kentucky Derby on Saturday than with a mint julep in your hand.

    A mint julep is made of spearmint, Bourbon, sugar and water. It’s similar to a Mojito, but substitutes Bourbon for rum. The fresh mint leaves are used very lightly bruised to release more of the aroma and flavor.

    Traditionally, mint juleps are served in silver or pewter cups (shown in the photo). However, few of us have the space to keep a collection of julep cups, so any tall glass is fine.


    Here’s an easy mint julep recipe; but recipe #2, below, But Recipe #2, below, is worth the extra effort:

    Ingredients Per Drink

  • 2.5 ounces Bourbon
  • 3 sprigs of mint (six to eight mature-sized leaves)
  • 1.5 teaspoons brown sugar
  • .5 cup crushed ice

    1. Muddle two sprigs of mint with the brown sugar and one ounce of Bourbon in a julep cup or old-fashioned glass.

    2. Add the crushed ice, the remaining Bourbon and garnish with sprig of mint.


    Ingredients For About 10 Rocks Glass Drinks

  • 2 large bunches fresh spearmint
  • 3 cups Bourbon
  • 1 cup distilled water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Clean, thin, lint-free cotton cloth
  • Empty quart jar
  • Shaved ice
  • Powdered sugar for garnish
  • Straws
  • Preparation

    1. Prepare the mint extract: Remove about 40 small mint leaves, wash and place in a small mixing bowl. Cover with 3 ounces of Bourbon. Allow the leaves to soak for 15 minutes. Then gather the leaves in a clean, soap-free piece of cotton cloth and vigorously wring the mint bundle over the bowl of whiskey. Dip the bundle again and repeat the process several times. Then set aside.

    2. Prepare the simple syrup: Mix 1 cup of granulated sugar and one cup of water in a pot. Heat to dissolve the sugar. Stir constantly so the sugar does not burn. Set aside to cool.

    3. Prepare the mint julep mixture: Pour 3 cups of Bourbon into a large glass bowl or glass pitcher. Add 1 cup of the simple syrup to the Bourbon.

    4. Begin adding the mint extract a tablespoon at a time to the julep mixture. Each batch of mint extract is different, so you must taste and smell after each tablespoon is added. You may have to leave the room a time or two to clear your nose. (Editor’s Note: Or use this trick: Put whole coffee beans in a cup and hold them to your nose. Coffee beans magically “clear the nose” so you can smell again.) The tendency is to use too much mint. You are looking for a soft mint aroma and taste—generally about 3 tablespoons total.

    5. Refrigerate. When you think the mixture right, pour it into an empty bottle, cap tightly and refrigerate it for at least 24 hours to marry the flavors.

    6. Fill glass. To serve the mint julep, fill each glass half full with shaved ice. Insert a sprig of mint and then pack in more ice to about an inch over the top of the cup. Then, insert a straw that has been cut to one inch above the top of the cup so the nose is forced close to the mint when sipping the julep.

    7. Garnish. When frost forms on the cup, pour the refrigerated julep mixture over the ice and add a sprinkle of powdered sugar to the top of the ice. Then serve.


    The Mint Julep cocktail first appeared in print in 1803, described as a “dram of spirituous liquor that has mint in it, taken by Virginians in the morning.”

    Some historians say that the Mint Julep dates to the Colonies in the early 1700s. If so, they may have been mixed with rum, a spirit only as far away as the Caribbean.

    One visitor observed that the planters rose early and had their juleps, because a julep before breakfast was believed to give protection against malaria [source].

    The oldest record at West Virginia’s Greenbrier Hotel (then the Old White Tavern) notes, in 1816, that 1816 guests were ordering “julips” at a cost of twenty-five cents, or three (!) for fifty cents.

    Prior to the Civil War (1861-1865), brandy or whiskey from Europe was commonly used in a julep. During the war, if it could be had, the less expensive bourbon from Kentucky was used.

    The word julep derives from the Persian for flower water (gol ab), referring to a rose water drink. When the concept migrated to the European Mediterranean, transliterated as julep, local mint replaced the rose petals.

    The clubhouse at Churchill Downs began mixing bourbon-based mint juleps around 1875. This mint julep became the racetrack’s signature drink in 1938, when they started to serve the drink in Kentucky Derby souvenir glasses.

    Today, the Kentucky Derby serves more than 80,000 juleps over the two-day event. The capacity of the track is 50,000 (x 2 days = 100,000), so some revelers are not having their fair share!


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    PRODUCT: Pepperidge Farm Vanilla Grahams Goldfish For National Animal Crackers Day

    April 18th is National Animal Crackers Day.

    Animal crackers originated in England in the late 1800s, as animal biscuits. When, in 1889, P.T. Barnum decided to tour England with his circus, several manufacturers took advantage of a marketing opportunity and called the biscuits “Barnum’s.”

    The animal biscuits were exported to America, inspiring local bakeries to make their own. The National Biscuit Co. (today, Nabisco), introduced them 1902 as “Barnum’s Animals” (they added the word “Crackers” in 1948). The “circus car” box with the string handle was introduced later in the year, as a Christmas tree ornament for Christmas 1902. (Neither P.T. Barnum nor the Barnum & Bailey Circus ever got a cent in licensing fees from any “Barnum’s” crackers or biscuits!)

    Other companies continue to make animal crackers. But perhaps the biggest unsung producer is Pepperidge Farm, manufacturers of Goldfish snack crackers. Fish are animals, too! They’re just aquatic animals covered with scales, instead of land animals covered with fur.

    Pepperidge Farm founder Margaret Rudkin discovered the snack cheese cracker on a trip to Switzerland and returned with the recipe. Goldfish were launched in 1962.
    Today, Goldfish are made in 10 savory flavors and, with the launch of new Vanilla Grahams, five sweet flavors as well (the others are Chocolate Grahams, Cinnamon Grahams, Honey Grahams and S’mores Adventures).

    Unfortunately, the new small fry are just as addictive as all of the other flavors. How did that 6.6-ounce bag end up empty so quickly?

  • To avoid Entire Bag Consumption Disorder, pour your allotment into a ramekin and enjoy it plain or with the beverage of your choice (sweet Goldfish are absolutely perfect with hot chocolate).
  • In addition to snacking, sprinkle your favorite flavor of sweet Goldfish onto ice cream (great crunch!).
  • Let us know if you have a favorite alternative use for sweet Goldfish.


    Barnum's Animals Box

    [1] New Vanilla Grahams Goldfish (photo by Katharine Pollak | THE NIBBLE). [2] The original inspiration (photo courtesy Nabisco).



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    PRODUCT: All About Cinnamon

    Ground Cinnamon

    Ground cinnamon—or is it cassia? Photo courtesy McCormick.


    A bit of news that may surprise you: The spice you know as cinnamon—the one you sprinkle on sugared toast and into cookie and cake batters; the one that adds depth to curries and bite to marinades—is not real cinnamon at all!

    In fact it’s from a tree called cassia.

    While professionals distinguish between cassia and true cinnamon, to the consumer, what is often sold as ground cinnamon is cassia. It doesn’t curl into sticks like true cinnamon, and is cheaper than true cinnamon. You can’t tell the difference when it’s ground—so what you purchase as ground cinnamon is often cassia.

    The aromas and flavors are similar, but not identical.

    When you buy cinnamon sticks, you know they’re the real deal.

    Learn more about the differences between cassia and cinnamon—and the best ways to cook and bake with both—in our complete review of this complex spice and its history.


    You know how to cook with cinnamon. But do you know how to drink it?

    Try the Cinnamon Cider Martini, one of our favorite spicy cocktails.


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