What do rabbis and Romans have in common with old school French and southern U.S. cooks? They helped establish the comfort food standards that millions of Americans have enjoyed for generations.
Guess what? This very-American comfort dish has roots way deeper than the Declaration of Independence. Heck, meatloaf is older than more than two-thirds of the world’s countries.
It’s from Apicius, a 4th century A.D. cookbook that was compiled for the conceited empire that ‘wasn’t built in a day.’ Yep. You read that correctly. Meatloaf is as Roman as chariot races and men wearing skirts in battle. And the recipe sounds appealing — minced meat mixed with spices, wine-soaked bread and pine nuts.
As for the stuff we make and eat in the modern era, thanks should go to the Pennsylvania Dutch and their scrapple, a mixture of pork, cornmeal and spices that is congealed and fried. (And it’s quite delicious.) We can also give praise to the Industrial Revolution, where meat grinding machines were invented — paving the way for most people to have access to meat, regardless of income. Oh, and we can thank the Great Depression too, when impoverished people were forced to stretch even the cheapest ground meat.
So, thank you Pennsylvania Dutch cooks. And to the Great Depression: we’re indebted to you as well. Oh, and thank you ketchup people.
Macaroni & Cheese
It should come as no surprise that our friends in France were making and eating macaroni & cheese a few hundred years before Gen. George Washington crossed the Delaware River. After all, the French enjoy their dairy products almost as much as they do their cigarettes.
But seriously, pasta and cheese is listed in Liber de Coquina, a medieval cookbook written between the 13th and 14th centuries. In their classic style, the French used Parmesan. The use of Cheddar wasn’t so widespread until the 18th century, when Elizabeth Raffald included a version with bechamel, Cheddar and Parmesan in her cookbook The Experienced English Housekeeper. Want to see her cookbook? It sort of reads like the original version of Beowulf, but here it is.
I cannot imagine a banana pudding that doesn’t include Nilla Wafers. But, alas, the dish was popular long before Nabisco introduced the iconic vanilla-flavored cookies in the late-1960s.
Though banana pudding is the likely offspring of the trifle (English), this dish is true American. Two early 20th century American cookbooks included recipes for the treat, and it’s quite likely that it was concocted somewhere around southern Louisiana, where bananas were first imported into the U.S. via the Port of New Orleans.
Did you know? The National Banana Pudding Festival is held annually in Hickman County, Tennessee. The 2014 event happens Oct. 13-14. Think your version is the best? You can prove it in the festival’s National Banana Pudding Cook-off.
There is no clear answer as to the origin of chicken soup. But we know enough to realize that Campbell’s Soup didn’t invent it.
These days commonly referred to as Jewish Penicillin, there’s historical merit to that moniker. Way back in the 1100s, Moses Maimonides — a rabbi and physician — encouraged his European flock to eat yardbird soup by touting its health benefits. Almost every culture has its own reasons for incorporating chicken soup into the regular menu rotation, but poverty is probably the most widespread. In fact, raising chickens is cheap. Not to mention, a hen provides plenty of eggs before she’s plucked and boiled.
Now, to Campbell’s… That little can of chicken noodle soup is 80 years old this year, according to a company press release. Here are a few more interesting tidbits from the release.
- In 1934, Campbell set the standard by introducing the famed Noodle with Chicken soup.
- In 1938, Campbell changed the name of its Noodle with Chicken soup. During a broadcast of a popular radio program, one of the famous on-air personalities misread his copy and called the product Chicken Noodle soup. Within days of the slip, Campbell began receiving large orders for its new product as it began flying off store shelves.
- In 1962, renowned artist Andy Warhol painted the wildly popular 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans, which included Chicken Noodle soup, further establishing the brand in pop culture.
And you thought I’d leave out Salisbury steak? Shame, shame! In fact, there was a Salisbury — Dr. James H. Salisbury. He was more than 100 years ahead of the late Dr. Robert Atkins (Atkins Diet) in preaching that low carbs were the way to go. Salisbury introduced his most famous offering, the Salisbury Steak, in the late 1800s. School cafeterias and low-end frozen food companies have been botching it ever since. But there is a delicious version of this minced-meat concoction. Read on…
Grown-up Salisbury Steak
1½ lbs – Ground beef (90/10 or leaner)
2 – Eggs
1/2 cup – Quick cooking oats (or plain breadcrumbs)
1 TB – Barbecue sauce
1 tsp – Dried Thyme
1 tsp – Ground Mustard
1 tsp – Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp – Kosher Salt
About 1 TB – Vegetable oil
Combine ingredients and form into round or oval patties. Heat oil in large skillet to medium-high and fry patties on both sides until nicely browned and almost done, about 4-5 minutes per side. Set patties aside for now. Reduce skillet temperature to medium.
2 cups – Fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 – Medium onion, sliced
2 TB – Butter
2 TB – All-purpose flour
1 cup – Dry red wine
2 cups – Beef stock
Dark Soy Sauce, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
The pan should have a nice glaze of oil from frying the patties. If there is excess (a pool), remove it. Add mushrooms and onion slices to pan and stir-fry for about five minutes. The onion should start showing some signs of caramelization. Add wine to pan. Cook, stirring regularly, until wine has mostly evaporated. Add butter to pan; then add flour. Stir until all mushrooms and onions are coated. Continue cooking and stirring for about 2 minutes. Add stock and combine, stirring well to avoid lumps. Bring mixture to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly, until it has thickened slightly. Add soy sauce to taste (this is the main source of salt in this dish). Add steaks back to pan and allow to simmer for a couple of minutes. Turn off heat; cover and allow to sit for about 5 minutes.