I’ve been browsing a fascinating book, The Food Chronology, by James Trager. It’s a massive timeline, following eating habits and issues affecting them (& affected by them) from prehistory through 1995. At over 700 pages, it’s hardly portable—but it’s comprehensive. The glimpses into history that it provides are fascinating, especially because they all relate to things edible. A couple of tidbits that have caught my eye:
Two Early Cookbooks
Trager calls out two volumes as being the first known collection of recipes: in 350 BC, “the Greek author Archestratus records a collection of recipes,” and in 14 AD, “Of Culinary Matters (De Re Coquinaria, or De Re Culinaria) by the Roman gastronome Marcus Gavius Apicius is the world’s first known book of recipes.”
It’s pretty obvious which of the two really is first, but regardless, the key phrase is ‘first known.’ It seems to me that since eating is so important to our survival, one of the first applications of written language would have been to write down how to make food. I’m guessing that there were likely earlier collections of recipes (perhaps by the Egyptians, Phonecians, and/or Sumerians) that have been lost to posterity.
A Successful Establishment
1157: “Ye Olde Bell opens at Hartley, outside London. The public house (pub) will survive for more than 800 years.”
Based on Trager’s description, I figured that meant the establishment closed sometime in the late 1950s or perhaps early 1960s, and turned to the internet to try to track down some more information. There’s not much that I can find about this place. Apparently, it is open today (though I can’t determine if it has operated continuously or took a hiatus for a few years in there somewhere). A sketch of the pub with mention of its establishment can be found here, and the sketch matches photos that are on the Olde Bell website, which states that parts of the building date to 1135.
Chinese Restaurants Ain’t What They Used To Be
In 1280 AD, before any mention of restaurants in the west, Trager describes restaurants in Hangchow, China, “that specialize in particular foods—blood soup, perhaps, or dishes made of heart, kidney, and lungs—and particular cooking styles. [...] The restaurants have menus, and waiters carry orders in their heads, repeating them when they get to the kitchen and remembering who ordered what with absolute precision (mistakes are severely punished). Many restaurants have adjoining quarters for prostitutes, and patrons sometimes stay for 2 days.”
Food, the International Language
In 1585, “Jesuit missionaries introduce deep-fried cookery (tempura) into Japan. The word tempura is derived from the Portuguese word temporras, meaning Friday, when deep-fried fish is eaten.”
One of the last couple entries in the volume comes from 1995, when “Mars Inc. terminates tan M & Ms in September after conducting a poll on color preferences. Introduced in 1949 to replace violet M & Ms, the tan candies are replaced by new blue M & Ms.” The violet candies have made a comeback in springtime mixes, so I suppose it’s possible we could see tan candies again in the future (maybe for fall?)
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Lots of stuff happened between Japan receiving tempura and Mars axing the tan candies, of course. With so many different topics related to food, though (population growth, exploration, war, merchandising, agriculture, literature, etc.), there’s a tidbit in this book for everyone. Check it out from your local library today.