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October's Culinary Discovery

Discoverer's Day—Finding New Foods & Recipes

by Gabriella True

 

Discoverer's Day is October 14. It is hardly a widely celebrated holiday. Typically, it's a day to honor the great explorers of the world:Christopher Columbus, Lewis and Clark and Marco Polo, for example. But these men and many others who traversed the land and seas in search of new worlds not only discovered another continent, or the American West, or the Far East but, very often, the foods that flourished there.

The discovery of foods was critical for the creation and survival of civilization. In 1825, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote in his book, The Physiology of Taste, "The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star."

This month, if are strolling through the aisle of your local grocery store restocking your larder, or browsing online for that special hard to find gourmet product, don't pass all those products you haven't tried. This is the day to stop and try one of them.

What do have to lose?

The discovery of food began during the prehistoric era. It is the inherent need for sustenance that propelled prehistoric man to not only discover many of the foods that we eat today but also ways to cook these foods. This quest for survival propelled man to discover ways to capture wild game, preserve fire, forage for food, cultivate food and raise livestock.

Early man learned quickly that it was easier to hunt and gather in groups. Thus, the first communities were founded and civilization as we know it was beginning to form. Early man was nomadic, moving from place to place in pursuit of food. 800,000 years ago man was able to contain fire and, thus, able to cook captured animals, making them digestible, palatable, and sanitary. 17,000 years ago man learned how to gather and prepare naturally grown grains such as emmer grain, a precursor to what we now know as wheat. The bow and arrow was invented some 10,000 years ago, facilitating the hunting of larger game, which could feed a wider community and could last longer if preserved correctly. At that time, the two most common forms of preservation were salting and drying. Since then man has no longer needed to move as often and agriculture began to be developed.

Agrarian society, developed about 10,000 years ago, altered the path humans were to take forever. Man no longer had to move as the seasons dictated in order to find animals, wild berries and grains. Wheat and other grains could be cultivated and stored over the winter. Grains were among the first plants to be cultivated while lentils, dates, walnuts and beans were cultivated between 8,000-6,000 BC Man had to discover a way to mill wheat and barley so that it could be cooked into a gruel or bread. Otherwise, it would be virtually indigestible.

Various forms of cooking were developed during this time as well. Spits were used to grill meat, stomachs of large animals were used as containers to boil food, hot stones were buried in the ground and heated by fire above and once they were heated through, the food would be placed in or on the stones or cooked in the surrounding ash.

Since there was a sufficient crop, there was enough food to domesticate and sustain cattle, goats and sheep. These animals were used for meat and milk; bones used as utensils, stomachs as cooking vessels, skin and fur as clothing. The Egyptians invented the sail 6,000 years ago, allowing them to catch much larger fish than the small coastal fish that had been the basis of their diet. This fish could be preserved and kept for months. From these small agrarian and coastal communities, villages and then cities arose.

Prior to the agrarian community, men were mainly responsible for hunting while women concentrated their efforts on gathering, cooking, and tending to any garden that they were able to cultivate. In these villages and cities, there were now enough people to create a division of labor that was new to civilization. Now, only a few men were required to cultivate the land and hunt but everyone still needed the fruits of their labor. As a result commerce was developed. As rulers amassed wealth, they were able to create armies of men that would capture more land for their domain where new foods and technology were discovered thus trading between regions began.

By the Roman period, trade was fully developed and many foods were imported from around the world. Spices were the most highly prized commodities, propelling the trade industry into a highly lucrative business. After the fall of the Roman Empire, little trade was conducted between Europe and Asia during the Middle Ages. From the 15th Century to the 20th Century there was a dramatic increase in the trading of spice, coffee, chocolate and tea.

Christopher Columbus was on his way to find a faster route to Asia where the Spanish would be able to import spices but he discovered America instead. Corn and cocoa were two of the most important foods he and subsequent explorers brought back with them to Europe. European countries raced to develop faster ships in order to reach their destinations and shorter sea routes. Governments and monarchies backed large trading firms. Wars broke out over control of regions that grew the products and, as a result, colonies were formed in those areas.

The Industrial Revolution brought on a whole new food industry and many packaged products were invented. Glass jars were mass produced enabling foods to be packaged and preserved. Refrigeration made it possible to preserve perishable produce and for people to discover foods from around the world that they never had before. Large machinery and gas stoves rather than wood burning hearths made it possible for even and predictable cooking and, therefore, allowing for the mass-production of food. The temperature of ovens could be regulated and foods could now be cooked with a finesse never achievable before, exemplified by many of the pastries we expect at our holiday tables. People were discovering foods and combinations of ingredients at a rate inconceivable prior to the Industrial Revolution.

Discoverer's day is the perfect day to try a few new foods. Forge ahead and discover what the world has to offer. You may not be discovering a new mushroom in the Amazon but you will be expanding your horizons in your own kitchen.

TIMELINE:

Prehistoric: Salt is discovered.
Prehistoric: Fish are caught.
Prehistoric: Rice is discovered.
800,000 years ago: Man controls fire.
17,000 BC: Emmer Grain is gathered.
10,000 years ago: Bow and arrow is invented in Europe.
10,000 BC: Agriculture begins and bread is created. The Goat is domesticated in Persia.
9,000-10,000 years ago: Cattle and sheep are domesticated in Near East. 8,000 BC: Lentils are cultivated.
7,000 BC: Pigs are domesticated. Walnuts and beans are cultivated.
6,000 BC: Dates and Maize are cultivated. Cheese making is discovered. Sail boats used in Egypt
5,500 years ago: Wheel invented in Summer. Potatoes are cultivated in South America. Honey is discovered. Chickpeas are cultivated.
5,000 years ago: Plow is invented in the Near East. Olive Oil is discovered. Squash is cultivated.
4,000 BC: Grapes are cultivated. Chicken is domesticated in the Indus valley. Oranges are cultivated.
3,000 BC: Peas, Fava Beans, Onions, Carrots are cultivated. Many spices and tea is discovered.
2,700 years ago: Rome is founded.
1,500 BC: Chocolate is discovered.
850 BC: Celery is cultivated.
500 BC: Artichokes are cultivated. Sausages and pasta are created.
300 BC: Bananas are cultivated.
100 AD: The Romans invent cheesecake, ice cream and flan.
800 AD: Codfish is discovered.
1482: Columbus discovers America bringing potatoes, corn, tomatoes, peppers, and peanuts to Europe.
1550: Pancakes are invented.
1700: Shortbread is invented.
1756: Mayonnaise is invented in England.
1762: The sandwich is invented in England.
1767: Man-made soda water is invented in England.
1796: Pumpkin pie is invented in New England.
1856: Condensed milk is invented.
1863: Breakfast cereal is invented in America.
1885: Evaporated milk is invented.
1897: Jell-O is invented in America.
1903: Tuna is canned.
1911: Crisco is invented.
1920's: Frozen foods are created.
1950's: Many candies and the TV dinner were invented.
2 002: What are you going to discover this year?

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