Archive for July, 2009

Product Review: Pepsi Natural

Friday, July 31st, 2009

I never got to try “Pepsi Throwback.”  For all those ads on TV, the stuff never made it to any of the dozen or so stores I looked in.  But it must’ve done well.  Last week, Aurora came home from the grocery store with a 4-pack of Pepsi Natural, which bills itself as “all natural cola made with sparkling water, sugar, [and] kola nut extract.”

The first sip took me back to 1984, drinking “old” Coke out of a glass bottle in my grandmother’s kitchen.  I doubt Yum Brands would be thrilled with that description, but the stuff really tastes like Coke did before it became “Classic,” which I’ll contend is not the same thing it had been before the crossover.  To capture that is an accomplishment for which Pepsi should be praised.

Ginger Ale From Scratch

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Garbage to Gourmet

So you’ve got a knob of fresh ginger.  You peel it before you cut it.  What do you do with the scraps?

If you’re like most people, the scraps are probably going into the garbage or (preferably) the compost.  But those scraps are perfectly good.  They’ve got lots of flavor in them even if the the texture leaves something to be desired.  So, use them to make the best darn ginger ale you’ve ever tasted. 

  • 2/3 cup finely chopped fresh ginger; scraps and peels are OK.
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Juice of 1 or 2 limes (depending on your preference)
  • Water to make 1 cup liquid
  • 1 liter seltzer water
  • ice for topping off

Juice the two limes and add enough water to make 1 cup total liquid.  Combine in a saucepan with the ginger and the sugar.  Bring this mix to a boil, stir once, and remove from heat.  Let the ginger steep in the syrup for at least a half hour to extract the flavor.

Strain the syrup into a pitcher with a bit of ice to chill it down, if it’s still warm.  Add seltzer, and top with ice.

Yield: 2 quarts soda

People Have Been Eating For A Long Time

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

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.”

Remember Tan?

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?)

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

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.