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 Delicious History Podcast Project

Greetings, Food History Lovers!

It was a year ago that I first started this blog. It’s been an amazing journey so far, and I’ve be fortunate enough to find that there are quite a few people out there who are interested in the tasty world of Food History. I now want to take the next step in sharing my food related historical tidbits with the world by creating a companion podcast to go with the website. I think it will be an fantastic way to build a larger following, as well as prove how fun and delicious history can be. Who doesn’t love a little food and humour with their education

Now here’s the tricky part. Thanks to a recent redundancy, I need your help you make this dream a reality. Podcasts need equipment, software, media hosting, artwork, and music – all of which need to be paid for. Because I can’t rely on the kindness of retailers to simply give me the resources I need, I’m hoping that some of my beloved readers can help me to get Delicious History onto the internet airwaves.The best part about pledging to the Delicious History Podcast Project is that every donation entitles you to a reward. That’s right, if we hit our target you not only get Delicious History in your earbuds, you also get a BONUS PRIZE. What’s not to love?

So if you love food, history or my good self, please help get Delicious History into an iTunes store near you! If you also wouldn’t mind reblogging or sharing the project with your friends and other fellow history lovers, I’d be eternally grateful.Simply follow the link below for more info or to make a pledge -Delicious History Podcast Project
Thank you in advance for supporting Delicious History and for making this first year in the blogosphere truly amazing.