What does German Chocolate Cake, French Toast and White Russians Have in Common?

Hello food history lovers!

Today I intend to answer a question that has been plaguing mankind since the dawn of time. A question that perplexed the likes of Gallileo, Socrates and Plato. A question of such magnitude, that I almost fear answering it.

What does German Chocolate Cake, French Toast and White Russians have in common?

Three seemingly unrelated consumables. All delicious. All fairing from different corners of the Earth. What could possibly link them?

The answer?

None of them were invented in the countries that grace their names.

Are you terribly shocked and appalled? That’s a natural reaction. I’ll give you a moment to fetch your smelling salts…

Recovered? Excellent. Let us then move onto the exploration of the origins of these three individuals and how each of them acquired their incredibly misleading names.

 

This, in actual fact, needs to get in me immediately

German Chocolate Cake

The roots of this rich and delicious mistress can be traced back to 1852 when an American by the name of Sam German developed a brand of dark baking chocolate for Baker’s Chocolate Company. The product, German’s Sweet Chocolate, was named after him.

In 1957, the original recipe for ‘German’s Chocolate Cake’ was sent into a Dallas newspaper by a local homemaker. The recipe utilized German’s dark baking chocolate, and it became quite popular. General Foods, which owned the Baker’s brand, took notice and distributed the cake recipe to other newspapers across the country. Sales of Baker’s Chocolate is said to have increased by 73% and the cake itself became a national staple. The possessive form, ‘German’s', was dropped in subsequent publications, which resulted in it being referred to as ‘German Chocolate Cake’. The outcome? The false impression of a German origin for the dessert.

Nom nom, French Toast

French Toast

French toast existed long before France was established as a country. The exact origins of French Toast are unknown, but it’s unsurprising that humans developed the recipe quickly, given that it is traditionally made out of stale bread. Bread has been a staple of most cultures since food preparation first began. Coupling this with a rejection of food wastage (which is really only something that is acceptable in modern society), it’s unsurprising that man had to find a way to make stale bread palatable.

The earliest reference to doing this dates back to 4th century Rome, in a cookbook attributed to Apicius. This style of toast was called Pan Dulcis. The Romans would take the bread and soak it in a milk and egg mixture, and then cook it, typically frying it in oil or butter.

This practice of cooking stale bread became common throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. In fact, the name for French Toast in France is “pain perdu”, which literally means “lost bread”. There are some that still insist that French Toast  originated in France, however, it’s interesting to note that before the French called it “pain perdu”, they called it “pain a la Romaine” (Roman bread).

So why is this clever concoction attributed to the French? One theory is that it’s reminiscent of French cooking before the invention of proper refrigeration. It’s said that many of their rich, heavy and creamy sauces were created to hide the fact that the meat or fish in the dish was, or was very nearly off.

Me thinks this would go quite well with the German Chocolate Cake

White Russians

This origin story is quite short, and most definitely sweet.

The White Russian is the sister cocktail of the Black Russian – a drink concocted from vodka and coffee liqueur. Both initially appeared in 1949 and were invented Belgium Bartender  Gustave Tops. Black Russians transform into White Russians with the simple addition of cream. Neither drink is Russian in origin, but were named due to vodka being the primary ingredient. It is unclear which drink preceded the other.

 

 

BOOM! That’s the sound of knowledge bombs blowing up everywhere. I do love a good debunking, so I naturally loved writing this post. In closing I pose this question – Do you know of any other food names that are misleading or outright incorrect? I’d love to hear about them.

The Origin of Guinness

A vintage Guinness Advertisement used in the 1950s – 1970s

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Food History Lovers!

To celebrate this amazingly booze sodden day, we’re going to be incredibly stereotypical and borderline offensive by looking at the origin of Guinness.

What if I were to tell you that someone wanted to make beer in order to improve the health of the unwashed masses? It’s okay if you’re laughing at this notion. In fact, I’ll even give you a moment.

Finished? Great.

As laughable as this idea is, it’s actually quite true. Furthermore, in the 18th Century, it made perfect sense. This was a time when no one understood micro-organisms or how disease is spread. People routinely drank from the same water in which they dumped their garbage and sewage. As a result people died, and this made nearly everyone avoid water entirely. Instead, they drank alcoholic beverages. And no, you should not take this as a sign to start polluting your own water in order to justify drinking alcohol for hydration.

Popular spirits such as gin were being consumed en masse. Because of the high alcohol content, this resulted in a significant rise is violence, poverty and crime. To help heal society, some turned to brewing beer. It was lower in alcohol, the process of brewing killed the germs that made the water dangerous, and it was nutritious. No, really. Furthermore, the art of beer making was respected and honoured, and those who did it were considered to be do-gooders. Monks brewed it, Christians brewed it and aspiring young entrepreneurs like Arthur Guinness brewed it.

At the age of 27, Arthur Guinness had achieve far more than I probably will in a lifetime. In 1752, his Godfather Arthur Price, the Archbishop of Cashel, bequeathed £100 to him in his will. In true entrepreneural  fashion, Guinness invested the money and in 1755 bought a brewery at Leixlip, just 17 km from Dublin. This venture into the world of brewing was clearly successful, because in 1759 Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease on the St. James Gate Brewery for £45 per annum. Ten years later, Guinness first exported his ale to Great Britain.

Guinness’s sales soared from 350,000 barrels in 1868 to 779,000 barrels in 1876. In October 1886 Guinness became a public company, and was averaging sales of 1,138,000 barrels a year. This was despite the brewery’s refusal to either advertise or offer its beer at a discount. Even though Guinness owned no Public Houses, the company was valued at £6 million and shares were twenty times oversubscribed, with share prices rising to a 60% premium on the first day of trading.

The Guinness Brewery

Clearly, Guinness has remained successful today, but this isn’t all that the company has been know for over the years. Guinness has also been dedicated to being a company that has the interests of common people in mind. This is evident in Arthur Guinness’ reason for starting the company – to help improve health. This charitable ideal has lived on. Throughout the centuries, Guinness has continued to prove that they don’t just want to make a profit, they want to make a difference. They started by paying better wages than any other employer in Ireland. Then they decided they should provide an entire slate of services to improve the lives of their workers. With the passing of decades, they became one of the most generous, life-changing employers the world had ever seen.

Guinness also showed unparalleled upport for the war effort. During World War II, the company promised every British soldier a bottle of Guinness with his Christmas meal. However, there was a problem. Their manpower was depleted because so many of its workers were serving in the military. Despite this setback, they were determined to keep their promise. The brewery operated around the clock, but there simply weren’t enough employees. Clearly the generous spirit of the company had been passed on though, because retired workers showed up to volunteer their time. They were then followed by workers from competing breweries. By Christmas, every soldier had his pint.

Deeds like these are prominent throughout the history of the Guinness company, and are just as inspiring as some of the family members themselves. One heir received five million pounds for a wedding gift, but then moved with his new wife into a poor neighborhood to draw attention to the poverty in the land. We don’t hear about many other heirs doing this in the media.

Given the generous nature of the Guinness company, it is hardly surprising that its beer has become synonymous with St. Patrick’s Day. Sure, it’s Irish, so of course it’s going to be consumed in vast quantities on a day that celebrates Irish culture and heritage. However, I think that the symbol Guinness  offers is far more significant than that. Guinness is a beer that from its very conception was being brewed as a benefit for others. It’s a symbol struggle, national pride and overcoming adversity. As such, I urge you all to have a pint of Guinness today, not as an excuse to  get wasted whilst wearing green, but in honour Arthur, and all those who use the resources at their exposal in order to help others.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.


The Bloody Caesar Cocktail

A depiction of the Assassination of Caesar inside the Theatre of Pompe

Caesar:

Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry “Caesar!” Speak, Caesar is turn’d to hear.

Soothsayer:
Beware the ides of March.

- William Shakespare

Welcome back to Delicious History – the most alcohol friendly site for historical enquiry on the internet.

 

Today we’re going to be drinking learning about the Bloody Caesar Cocktail – a Canadian drink that is used to commemorate the assassination of Julius Caesar. This cataclysmic event fell on the March 15th, also known as The Ides of March. Before we get into the alcohol soaked portion of the post though, let’s have a quick look at what the Ides of March actually is.

During Caesar’s rule he established and instituted the Julian Calendar. This was both a precursor to our modern-day calendar, as well as an hilariously self-important move on the naming front. The Julian Calendar didn’t number days of a month sequentially from the first through the last day. Instead, it counted back from three fixed points of the month – the Nones (5th or 7th, depending on the length of the month), the Ides (13th or 15th), and the Calends (1st) of the following month. The Ides occurred near the midpoint, which was the 13th for most months, but the 15th for March, May, July, and October. The Ides were supposed to be determined by the full moon, thus reflecting the lunar origin of the Julian Calendar.

The Ides of each month were sacred due to its lunar association, however, the Ides of March was celebrated in particular due to also being a feast day. This feast was in celebration of Anna Perenna , a goddess whose festival concluded the ceremonies of the new year. The day was enthusiastically celebrated among the Roman people with picnics, drinking, and revelry. I think we need to bring this festival back.

The tone of The Ides of March dramatically changed when Caesar was assassinated in 44BC. That, along with Shakespeare’s infamous quote – “Beware the Ides of March” – have turned the once celebrated day into something to be wary of. This reputation has been aided by the fact that some incredibly significant historical events have taken place on March 15th. Some of these include -

1311 – Death of Pope Lucius II
1889 – A devastating cyclone hit Samoa
1917 – Tsar Nicholas II of Russia abdicates the throne
1937 – Death of H.P. Lovecraft (admittedly, this is more to do with a personal interest)
1939 – Germany invades Czechoslovakia

The Bloody Caesar Cocktail, in all its celery-salt rimmed glory

Although March 15 has become a day of historical wariness, there are some of have chosen to channel the ancient festival spirit – the Canadians. To commemorate the Ides of March, bars across The Great White North serve the rather delicious sounding Bloody Caesar Cocktail, a drink that is somewhat reminiscent of the Bloody Mary. The ingredients typically include:


-Vodka
- Clamato (a blend of tomato juice and clam broth)
- Hot sauce
- Worcestshire sauce
- A stlk of celery or a wedge of lime
- A celery salt rimmed glass
- A celery-salt rimmed glass

So, how did this cocktail come to be?

It was invented in 1969 by restauranteur Walter Chell in Calagary in order to celebrate the opening of a new Italian restaurant in the city. Chell said his inspiration came from Italy, recalling that in Venice, they served Spaghetti alle vongole – a dish containing tomato sauce and clams. He reasoned that the mixture of clams and tomato sauce would make a good drink. He was correct, because the Caesar quickly became a popular mixed drink within Canada, where over 350 million are consumed annually. In fact, annual Best Caesar in Town events are incredibly popular. For the 40th anniversary of the drink’s invention, people were  encouraged to create variants, some of which included glasses being rimmed with coffee grinds, the inclusion of maple syrup and the use of bacon-infused vodka. 

Today, the popularity of the drink, as well as its name, have given birth to its association with the Ides of March. Personally, I think that the Canadians have the right idea. Lets get March 15 back to its roots – by being a day of drinking and debauchery. In the Middle of Lent. Surely the Catholics won’t mind…right?

Have a safe March 15th, everyone. And remember – Beware the Ides of March…or at least have a drink to celebrate it.