The following is an anthology of Food And Drink Anecdotes And Curiosities From Ancient To Modern Times gathered from world literature, folk tales, journals, hearsay, magazines, real life situations, and anywhere else they may exist. It’s an ongoing series. Material is added periodically. Our aim is to create a vast Food-themed And Drink-themed Anecdote And Curiosity Encyclopedia. We feature historical and modern seafood anecdotes, pork curiosities, wine, beer, and champagne anecdotes, cooking anecdotes, cattle anecdotes, fish anecdotes, vegetables anecdotes, fruit anecdotes, coffee anecdotes, dairy anecdotes, poultry anecdotes, and much much more. Stop Back. You may find what you’re looking for.
#1 ABYSSINIAN BEEFSTEAKS
Mr. Bruce, the Abyssinian traveller, has frequently been ridiculed for asserting that it is a practice in Abyssinia to cut slices from the backs of their cattle while alive, and then drive them back to pasture; but his statements have been confirmed by more recent travellers. Mr. Salt says that a soldier belonging to the party to which he was attached took one of the cows they were driving before them, cut off two pieces of flesh from the glutei muscles of the buttock, near the tail, and then sewed up the wound, plastering it over with manure, after which the party proceeded to cook the steaks.
#2 CHICK IN THE EGG
The hen has scarcely sat on the egg twelve hours, when we begin already to discover in it some lineaments of the head and body of the chicken that is to be born. The heart appears to beat at the end of the day; at the end of forty-eight hours, two vesicles of blood can be distinguished, the pulsation of which is very visible. At the fiftieth hour, an auricle of the heart appears, and resembles a lace, or noose folded down upon itself. At the end of seventy hours, we distinguish wings, and on the head two bubbles for the brain; one for the bill, and two others for the forepart and hindpart of the head; the liver appears towards the fifth day. At the end of one hundred and thirtyone hours, the first voluntary motion is observed. At the end of one hundred and thirty-eight hours the lungs and stomach become visible ; at the end of one hundred and forty-two, the intestines, the loins, and the upper jaw. The seventh day, the brain, which was slimy, begins to have some consistence. At the 190th hour of incubation, the bill opens, and the flesh appears in the breast. At the 194th, the sternum is seen, that is to say, the breastbone. At the 210th, the ribs come out of the back, the bill is very visible, as well as the gall-bladder. The bill becomes green at the end of two hundred and thirtysix hours; and if the chick is taken out of its covering, it evidently moves itself. The feathers begin to shoot out towards the 240th hour, and the skull becomes gristly. At the 264th, the eyes appear. At the 288th, the ribs are perfect. At the 331st, the spleen draws near to the stomach, and the lungs to the chest. At the end of three hundred and fifty-five hours, the bill frequently opens and shuts; and at the end of four hundred and fifty-one hours, or the eighteenth day, the first cry of the chick is already heard: it afterwards gets more strength, and grows continually, till at last it sets itself at liberty, by opening the prison in which it was shut up. Thus is it by so many different degrees that these creatures are brought into life. All these progressions are made by rule, and there is not one of them without sufficient reason. No part of its body could appear sooner or later without the whole embryo suffering; and each of its limbs appears at the proper moment. How manifestly is this ordination—so wise, and so invariable in the production of the animal—the work of a Supreme Being!
• Read The Soliloquy Of A Rationalistic Chicken, a revealing poem by Samuel John Stone.
#3 INNATE APPETITE
McKenzie, in his Phrenological Essays, mentions the following curious fact, witnessed by Sir James Hall: “… He had been engaged in making some experiments on hatching eggs by artificial heat, and on one occasion observed in one of his boxes a chicken in the act of breaking from its confinement. It happened that just as the creature was getting out of the shell, a spider began to run along the box. Lo and behold, the ckicken darted forward, seized the spider, and swallowed it.”
#4 MEMENTO MORI
The ancient Egyptians, at their grand festivals and parties of pleasure, always had a coffin placed on the table at meals, containing a mummy, or a skeleton of painted wood, which, Herodotus tells us, was presented to each of the guests with this admonition :—” Look upon this, and enjoy yourself; for such will you become when divested of your mortal garb.” This custom is frequently alluded to by Horace and Catullus; and Petronius tells us that at the celebrated banquet of Trimaleion a silver skeleton was placed on the table to awaken in the minds of the guests the remembrance of death and of deceased friends.
• Read The Poem Dialogue Between A Glutton And Echo.
#5 HABITS OF SHEEP
Dr. Anderson, of Liverpool, relates the following amusing illustration of the singularly persevering disposition of sheep to follow their leader wherever he goes :— A butcher’s boy was driving about twenty fat wethers* through the town, but they ran down a street where he did not want them to go. He observed a scavenger at work, and called out loudly for him to stop the sheep. The man accordingly did what he could to turn them back, running from side to side, always opposing himself to their passage, and brandishing his broom with great dexterity; but the sheep, much agitated, pressed forward, and at last one of them came right up to the man, who, fearing it was going to jump over his head, while he was stooping, grasped the broom with both hands and held it over his head. He stood for a few seconds in this position, when the sheep made a spring and jumped fairly over him, without touching the broom. The first had no sooner cleared this impediment than another followed, and another, in quick succession, so that the man, perfectly confounded, seemed to lose all recollection, and stood in the same attitude till the whole of them had jumped over him, and not one attempted to pass on either side, although the street was quite clear.
wether: castrated male sheep
#6 MEMORY IN A HEN
The following is a remarkable instance of the degree to which the natural apprehension for her brood may be overcome, in the hen, by the habit of nursing ducks. A hen, who had reared three broods of ducks in three successive years, became habituated to their taking the water, and would fly to a large stone in the middle of the pond, and patiently and quietly watch her brood as they swam about it. The fourth year she hatched her own eggs, and finding that her chickens did not take to the water as the ducklings had done, she flew to the stone in the pond, and called them to her with the utmost eagerness. This recollection of the habits of her former charge, though it had taken place a year before, is strongly illustrative of memory in a hen.
• Browse Through TasteArts Chicken Poems Anthology
#7 ANCIENT ROME PRANDIUM
The dinner of the Romans, or mid-day meal (prandium) was very frugal; indeed it was not customary to prepare a table for it; and in the better times of the republic, those who took a formal meal at noon were regarded as effeminate. The fifth hour, from II o’clock to 12 in modern reckoning, was the time assigned for it.
• Read “Food In Ancient Rome: Dinner Real And Reputed” By Thomas De Quincey.
#8 THE PIG INSTRUMENT
… In talking of the Russian bands of music, where each performer has his own single note to produce, Lord Holland said that there was always a man walking about with a cane, who hit each fellow at the proper moment, to make him bring out his note.
This notion of Lord H.’s produced a great deal of diversion, and I mentioned as a case in point, the pig instrument invented by some abbé for the amusement of Louis XV. (I believe), wherein pigs of different ages (the young ones performing the treble, and the old— according to their respective years—the bass) constituted the musical scale, there being keys provided as in a harpsichord, with a spike at the end of each, which, on the key being struck, touched the pig and made him utter his note, whilst at the same time there were muzzles contrived (on the manner of dampers for stopping vibration) which seized the pig’s mouth the moment he had given out his note, and prevented his further intonation till again wanted. Thus, as Pope says of asses—
”Pig intoned to pig
and the whole living instrument being covered over and disguised in the manner of an organ. The abbé performed upon it to the no small delight of the King and his court.
From Thomas Moore Anecdotes
• Browse Through TasteArts Pig Poems Anthology
#9 WINE AND MUSIC
There seems to be a close relation existing somehow between wine and music. Those countries that produce the most wine seem to be likewise the most successful in turning out good music and plenty of it. The world would hardly know it if all the music written outside of Germany, Italy, and France were to be lost. There has some good music come from England and Russia, but its absence would not be greatly felt. England’s great musician, Handel, was thoroughly German in birth, temperament, education, and style of composition. Italy, France, and Germany are the great wine-producing countries, and might be called likewise the great musician producing lands.
Indeed it’s not totally illogical to assert that there is a relation between the juice of the grape and the fecundity of musical ideas. Of all the great composers, and likewise those who come very near the limits of greatness, hardly one can be mentioned who was averse to “the cup that cheers.” A teetotaller among composers is a rara avis.
On the other hand, it might be said that it would have been better for several musicians of great fame if they had heeded the injunction to “touch not.” Lulli, Mozart, and especially Schubert, all spent too much time over their cups for their own good, and they have not been without followers in this respect among musicians of lesser fame. Doubtless the great composers could have lived without their wine and beer, but doubtless they never did.
The extraordinary power of this fish is shown by the following statement, from the Penny Magazine: “In repairing his Britannic majesty’s ship Leopard, in 1725, on her return from the coast of Guinea, a sword of this fish was found to have gone through the sheathing one inch, next through a three-inch plank, and, beyond that, four inches and a half in the firm timber. It was the opinion of mechanics that it would require nine strokes of a hammer weighing twenty-five pounds to drive an iron bolt, of similar size and form, to the same depth in the hull; yet this was accomplished by a single thrust.”
The Great Scallop has the power of progressive motion upon the land, and likewise of swimming on the surface of the water. When it happens to be deserted by the tide, it opens its shell to the full extent, then shuts it with a sudden jerk, often rising five or six inches from the ground. In this manner, it tumbles forward until it regains the water.
When the sea is calm, troops of little fleets of scallops, it is said, are sometimes to be observed swimming on the waves. They elevate one valve above the top of the water, which is used as a kind of sail, while they float on the other, which remains on the surface.
#12 THE “OX” MINUET
There is no sensible reason for the titles attached to many pieces of music, some of them even classical selections. Most generally they are placed there as an attempt of some publisher to “boom” his stock and sell his goods. Then, again, some peculiar titles may have their origin in incidents about as important as the following:
Haydn one day received a visit from a butcher who stated that himself and his daughter were admirers of Haydn’s music; and as the young lady was soon to be married, he made bold to ask that the composer write a minuet for her wedding. Kind “Papa Haydn” consented, and in a few days the man of meat secured his music. Not long afterward, Haydn was surprised to hear this same minuet played under his window. On looking out he saw a band of musicians forming a ring around a large ox, tastefully decorated with flowers. Soon the butcher came up and presented the ox to Haydn, saying that for such excellent music he thought he ought to make the composer a present of the best ox in his possession. Ever after, this little composition was called the ” Ox “minuet.
#13 ROYAL SAYING
It was Alphonsus, nicknamed the Wise King of Aragon, who used to say, “That among so many things as are by men possessed or pursued in the course of their lives, all the rest are baubles, besides old wood to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to converse with, and old books to read.”
Although Sir Walter Kaleigh was unexpectedly prevented from accompanying Sir Humphrey Gilbert to Newfoundland, he eventually proved one of the greatest benefactors to his own country, by the introduction of the potato on his return from America, in the year 1584. This root was first planted on Sir Walter’s estate at Youghall, which he afterward sold to the Earl of Cork; but not having given sufficient directions to the person who had the management of the land, the latter mistook the flowers for the fruit and most valuable part of the plant, and, on tasting them, rejected them as a pernicious exotic. Some time afterward, turning up the earth, he found the roots spread to a great distance, and in considerable quantities; and from this stook the whole kingdom was soon after supplied with this valuable plant, which gradually spread throughout Europe and North America. Its name, potato, in Irish paitey, and in French patate, is said to be derived from the original language of Mexico, of which it is supposed to be a native.
Anspach’s History of Newfoundland.
#15 INVENTION OF CROISSANTS
In celebration of the successful defense of Vienna against the Ottoman Turks, in 1683 Viennese bakers created little buns in the shape of the crescent moon on the flag of the enemy. The symbolism is clear: eating a crescent moon shaped bun was a reenactment of the invader’s defeat. Moreover, the same name “croissant” is reminiscent of “cross”. Hence, it represents Christianity conquering Islam. Some argue that the absence of recipes for the croissant in cookbooks before the 20th century proves false the story of Viennese Bakers. One could argue that the absence of a written recipe can be accidental. Hence, a question comes forth: why place more weight on a cookbook than a true historical fact like the Ottoman invasion of Austria?
#16 DEAD SEA FRUIT
A common metaphor for hollow and unsatisfactory pleasures. The reference is to the apple of Sodum, the familiar name of a species of yellow fruit which grows on the borders of the Dead Sea. It is extremely beautiful to the eye, but bitter to the taste and full of small black grains, not unlike ashes. Hence a wide-spread, though erroneous, belief that nothing can flourish in the neighborhood of the Dead Sea, a belief at least as ancient as Tacitus: ” Whatever the earth produces, whether by the prolific vigor of nature or the cultivation of man, nothing ripens to perfection. The herbage may shoot up and the trees may put forth their blossoms; they may even attain the usual appearance of maturity, but, with this florid outside, all within turns black and moulders into dust.”
Greedily they plucked
The fruitage, fair to sight, like that which grew
Near that bituminous lake where Sodom flamed;
This more delusive not the touch, but taste
Deceived; they fondly thinking to allay
Their appetite with gust, instead of fruit
Chewed bitter ashes, which th’ offended taste
With spattering noise rejected.
Milton: Paradise Lost.
Like to the apples on the Dead-Sea shore,
All ashes to the taste.
Byron: Childe Harold
Like Dead-Sea fruits that tempt the eye
But turn to ashes on the lips.
Moore: Lalla Rookh, “The Fire Worshippers.”
A gentleman who lived at Salisbury, England, used to keep a pet oyster, of the largest and finest breed. He fed it on oatmeal, for which it regularly opened its shell. The oyster also proved itself an excellent mouser, having killed five mice, by crushing the heads of such as, tempted by the meal, had the audacity to intrude their noses within its bivalvular clutches.
POEMS ABOUT THE OYSTER:
The Oyster And The Muscle, Or The Use Of Adversity By Richard Trott Fisher
The Travelled Oyster By John Kenyon
Verses Made For Fruit-women, &c. – Oysters By Jonathan Swift
SHORT STORY ABOUT THE OYSTER:
Oysters By Anton Chekhov
#18 BECHAMEL SAUCE
This simple cream preparation served with boiled fish was invented by no less a person than Louis de Béchamel or Béchameil, Marquis of Nointel, who was famous not only as a gastronomer but as a financier and a beau. He was maître d’hôtel, or steward, to Louis XIV., in whose reign the glory of the French kitchen began. At the time, the noble, the brave, and the fair girded on their aprons and stood over stew-pans with the air of alchemists over alembics*. Louis de Béchamel died in 1703.
*Alembic: a distilling apparatus, now obsolete, consisting of a rounded, necked flask and a cap with a long beak for condensing and conveying the products to a receiver.
#19 ORIGIN OF CHANTILLY CREAM
François Vatel (1631-1671) is the inventor of Chantilly Cream (French: Crème Chantilly), a sweet, vanilla-flavoured whipped cream. Vatel created the cream for an extravagant banquet for 2,000 people hosted on April 1671 in honour of Louis XIV by Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Condé at the Château de Chantilly; hence the name crème Chantilly. At this same banquet, Vatel, the consummate perfectionist, was supposedly so distraught about the lateness of the fish that he committed suicide by running himself through with a sword. His body was discovered by an aide who came to tell him of the arrival of the fish. His death was treated as a national tragedy.
A sandwich is slice of meat or other article of food between two pieces of bread. Its inventor is John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich (hence the name), who was so much addicted to gambling that he would rarely quit play for dinner. In 1778 Captain James Cook named a group of Hawaiian Islands “Sandwich Islands” after the Earl Of Sandwich.
#21 PIERRETTE BRILLAT-SAVARIN
Pierrette Brillati-Savarin died in her hundreth year, sitting up in bed, having just finished a good dinner and calling loudly for dessert. She was the sister of Jean-Anthelme Brillat Savarin, author of the famous “Physiologie du goût” (The Physiology of Taste), a classic of gastronomical literature.
Beefeaters are the Yeomen of the Guard, a corps organized by Henry VII. for his own protection on the day of his coronation, October 30, 1485, and which has served as a body-guard of the English sovereign ever since. The word is usually derived from buffetier, but the etymology is doubtful, as the Yeomen never had charge of the royal buffet or sideboard. Preston (” History of the Yeomen of the Guard,” 1885) suggests that they may have received their name from a bird called beef-eater, whose strong, thick bill bore some resemblance to their partisans. Indeed, the Yeomen were often referred to as “billmen,” because they carried a weapon with a hook like the beak or bill of a bird. The Tower Wardens, an entirely different body of men, are uniformed like them, and popular parlance classifies them all as Beef-eaters.
#23 BAD EGG
American slang for a rascal, a black sheep, a person whose reputation is odorous.
There is some philosophy in the remark that a man may be a bad egg, and yet not be a nuisance until he is broke.
It is said that Richard Turner, an English temperance orator who had an impediment in his speech, would invariably speak of t-t-total abstinence from liquors. In derision his supporters were nicknamed teetotalers. This was circa 1830-35. On the other hand, Turner himself asserted that he invented the word and did not stumble into it. This is the epitaph which may be read on his tombstone at Preston, near Manchester: “Beneath this stone are deposited the remains of Richard Turner, author of the word Teetotal as applied to abstinence from all intoxicating liquors, who departed this life on the 27th day of October, 1846, aged 56 years.”
Another origin of the word is confirmed by the Rev. Joel Jewell in a letter to the editors of the Century Dictionary. In 1S18 a temperance society was formed at Hector, New York, of wnich Mr. Jewell became secretary. At first they pledged themselves to abstain from distilled spirits only, but in January, 1827, another pledge was introduced, binding all signers to total abstinence. The two classes were distinguished by the initials O. P, (Old Pledge) and T (Total); and the frequent explanations necessitated by these symbols made “T—total” a familiar allocution. It is quite possible that both derivations are correct, and that the word originated independently in the two countries.
#25 GASTRONOMIC MYTHOLOGY
Gasterea is the tenth Muse; she presides over the enjoyments of taste. She might lay claim to the empire of the universe, for the universe is nothing without life, and all that has life requires nourishment. She takes special pleasure in those rising grounds where the vine nourishes, or those which the orangetree perfumes, in the thickets where the truffle grows, in the countries which abound in game and fruit. When she deigns to show herself, she assumes the form of a young girl, her zone the colour of fire, her hair black, her eyes azure-blue, and her figure and movements full of grace. Fair^as the goddess of love, she is above all sovereignly beautiful. Of all places where Gasterea has altars, that which she prefers is the town, queen of the world, which the Seine imprisons between the marbles of his palaces. The worship of the goddess is simple. Every day, at sunrise, her priests come to remove the crown of flowers which adorns her statue, placing on it a new one, and singing in chorus one of the many hymns by which poetry has celebrated the boons which the immortal sheds abundantly upon the human race.
From Physiologie du goût (The Physiology of Taste) By Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
#26 EAT TO LIVE; LIVE TO EAT
“Meal, please your majesty, is half a penny a peck at Athens, and water I can get for nothing,” replied Socrates to King Archelaus’s invitation to leave the dirty streets of his native city and come live with him at his sumptuous court.
“We eat to live: not live to eat.” This last remark is attributed to Socrates by Diogenes Laertius and Athenaeus, both of whom quote it. According to Plutarch, what Socrates said was, “Bad men live that they may eat and drink, whereas good men eat and drink that they may live.”
Moliere has the same expression in “L’Avare:” “According to the saying of the philosopher of old, il faut manger pour vivre, et non pas vivre pour manger” (Act iii.. Sc. 5).
Socrates, however, is not with the majority.
Fielding, in “The Miser,” Act iii.. Sc. 3, renders the phrase from “L’Avare” incorrectly, and probably with malice prepense,—
We must eat to live and live to eat.
The Scripture sometimes leans to the side of the sybarites:
I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry.—Ecclesiastes viii. 15.
This material enjoyment, however, is at the cost of the spiritual:
To be in both worlds full
Is more than God was, who was hungry here;
Wouldst thou His laws of fasting disannul?
Enact good cheer?
Lay out thy joy, yet hope to save it?
Wouldst thou both eat thy cake and have it?
George Herbert: The Temple: The Site.
Byron, following Arrian, gives this version of a supposed inscription of the Assyrian king:
The king, and son of Anacyndaraxes,
In one day built Anchialus and Tarsus.
Eat, drink, and love; the rest’s not worth a fillip.
Sardanafiulus, Act I., Sc. 2.
Let’s conclude with an extract from Burns and one from Owen Meredith:
Some hae meat and canna eat.
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thanket.
Burns: The Selkirk Grace.
We may live without poetry,music, and art;
We may live without conscience, and live without heart;
We may live without friends ; we may live without books;
But civilized man cannot live without cooks.
He may live without books,—what is knowledge but grieving?
He may live without hope,—what is hope but deceiving?
He may live without love,—what is passion but pining?
But where is the man that can live without dining?
Owen Meredith : Lucile, Part 1., Canto ii., Stanza 24.
#27 CROW EATING
Crow is an unpalatable bird, and “eating crow” is one of the popular phrases to indicate the enforced doing of some unpleasant thing, especially the enforced confession of error, and is analogous to “eating your own words,” “eating humble-pie,” “eating dirt,” etc. Indeed, some wiseacres would derive it from the French “manger la crott” (eating dirt or refuse), crott (pronounced cro) being the old spelling, thus: “The dirt and crott of Paris may be smelt miles off” (Howel’s “Londinopolis,” 1657). But the American phrase is sufficiently intelligible as it stands, without any far-fetched foreign derivation.
Two stories, good enough to become classic, have entwined themselves around this phrase and profess to give its origin. Both are probably apocryphal, but both are worth preserving.
The first appeared in the Knickerbocker Magazine, and concerns a thrifty boarding-house-keeper on the Hudson and an indigent patron. Whenever the latter remonstrated at the food he was told he was ” too pai-tikler.” “I kin eat anything,” asserted the autocrat of the table, with a proud consciousness of superiority; “I kin eat crow.” The constant repetition of these words wearied the boarder. Finally he resolved to test the old man. Taking his gun with him, he succeeded in bagging a fine, fat old crow. By dint of soft words and filthy lucre he induced the cook to prepare that crow for the table. The cook was a Scotchwoman, and used snuff. He borrowed all she had, and sprinkled it liberally over the crow, gave it an extra turn, and brought it before the host, saying, as he set it down, “Now, my dear sir, you have said a thousand times, if you have said it once, that you can eat crow; here is one very carefully cooked. “The old man turned pale for a moment, but, bracing himself against the back of his chair, and with, “I kin eat crow,” he began cutting a good mouthful. He swallowed it, and, preparing for a second onslaught, looked his boarder straight in the eye, and ejaculated, “I’ve eat crow,” and took a second portion. He lifted his hands mechanically, as if for a third attack, but dropped them quickly over the region of his stomach, and, rising hurriedly and unsteadily, retreated for the door, muttering, as he went, “but dang me if I hanker after it”
The other story, which is even better, has been told in a variety of ways, but this is the most finished version:
A Massachusetts regiment during the civil war was encamped near the estate of a wealthy planter. A city-bred private, having shot a tame crow on the planter’s ground, was discovered by the owner with the bird in his possession. Seizing the private’s musket, which lay on the ground, the irate planter cried, “As you’ve killed my crow, you’ve got to eat it.” There was no escape, and the private had to eat. After a few mouthfuls, the planter asked, with a grin,—
“How do you like crow?”
“Well,” was the reply, “I kin eat it, but I don’t hanker after it.”
“All right,” said the planter; “you’ve done pretty well. Here, take your gun and get off.”
But no sooner was the gun in the soldier’s hands than he pointed it at the planter, saying,
“Now you’ve got to eat your share of crow.”
And the planter, swearing and spluttering, was forced to obey. Next day the planter came into camp and reported to the colonel that he had been insulted by a Federal soldier. Strict orders had been issued against insulting or injuring residents. The planter’s description served to bring the soldier before the impromptu tribunal.
“Did you ever see this gentleman before?” asked the colonel.
“Oh, ya-as,” drawled the soldier: ” we—ah—we dined together yesterday.”
#28 CLAM BAKE
Clam bakes are usually held on festive occasions along the coast of New England. They are outdoor social gathering at which clams and other seafood (and often chicken, potatoes, and sweet corn) are baked or steamed, traditionally in a pit, over heated stones, and under a bed of seaweed.
Clam bakes are more popular in Northeast Ohio than any other region of the United States outside of New England. A typical clam bake in Northeast Ohio includes a dozen clams with a half chicken, sweet potatoes, corn, and other side dishes. Seaweed is not used and the clams, chicken, and sweet potatoes are all steamed together in a large pot. The spelling “clambake” is usually preferred in this part of the country. Clambakes are popular fundraisers in late September through October.
If you can break an apple in half with your hands,
you will always be your own boss.
#30 ASPARAGUS AND WEALTH
William Rathje, a Garbology Scientist (academic discipline pioneered at the University of Arizona), analyzing the garbage thrown out by a representative sample of Tucson households, has found that “with fresh asparagus, the higher your income the higher up the stalk you cut off the tip.”
The word picnic is said to date from about the year 1S02. Then, as now, when such an entertainment was being arranged for, it was customary that those who intended to be present should supply the eatables and drinkables. A list of what was considered necessary would be drawn up and passed around, each person picking out such article of food or drink as he or she was willing to furnish. The name of the article was then nicked off the list. Hence this form of fête champêtre became known as a “pick-and-nick,” which, by a natural transition, degenerated into picnic. But though the word is comparatively recent, the thing that it designates is at least two centuries older. There is extant an account of a celebration of this sort which took place in the early part of the seventeenth century, upon the birthday of Charles, Prince of Wales, afterwards Charles I. of England. Mainwaring, in a letter to the Earl of Arundel, bearing date November 22, 161S, says, “The prince his birthday has been solemnized here by the few marquises and lords which found themselves here; and (to supply the want of lords) knights and squires were admitted to a consultation, wherein it was resolved that such a number should meet at Gamiges, and bring every man his dish of meat. It was left to their own choice what to bring; some chose to be substantial, some curious, some extravagant. Sir George Young’s invention bore away the bell; and that was four huge, brawny pigs, piping hot, bitted and harnessed with ropes of sarsiges, all tied to a monstrous bag-pudding.”
#32 OLIVE OIL
Fontenelle, the celebrated French author, is said to have been very partial to asparagus dressed in oil. A certain abbé dining with him one day preferred this favorite esculent dressed with butter, so it was decided that the dish of asparagus which was preparing should be dressed half with butter and half with oil. A short time before dinner was ready the abbé was attacked by an apoplectic fit, on which Fontenelle rushed to the cook, and cried out, “All with oil! all with oil!” (F., “Avec l’huile”). The phrase has passed into a popular saying. But the story has no historical basis.
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Read An Olive Oil Anecdote
A favorite Scotch dish, made of the heart, lungs, and liver of a sheep, mixed with suet, onions, oatmeal, salt, and pepper, all boiled together in a bag. To be poetically perfect, the bag should be the stomach of a sheep.
The haggis, as every one knows who has attended a Burns or Caledonian dinner, is the national dish of Scotland. It is to the son of the mountain and the flood what pork submerged in beans is to the Bostonian, or pie to the Puritans of New England. Being a dish of Celtic origin, haggis is, of course, explosive in its character. Terrible disaster is certain to follow the handling of haggis without previous training or acquaintance with its conformation. Haggises have been known to explode, even at convivial feasts, and cover the assembled guests with hot, desiccated remains of various kinds. In its natural state it is not so dangerous as the Irish explosive, dynamite. It will blow a man up, however, unless accompanied by a mysterious Highland liquid of a fiery character, called a “dram,” but it does not necessarily cause the victim’s entire dismemberment or total annihilation. He may live through it if dosed at intervals with the restorative to which we have referred.
#34 WHISKEY EMPIRICAL LOGIC
Grog consists of a mixture of water and whiskey. I expect, therefore, to find three sets of qualities in grog: one set due to the water, another to the whiskey, and another to the mixture of the two. Owing to the presence of whiskey, I should expect to find the color darker and the flavor stronger than water; owing to the water, I should expect to find the color lighter and the flavor weaker than whiskey; and owing to the whiskey and water being mixed, I should expect to be able to drink a certain quantity of it,—more than I could of pure whiskey, but less than I could of pure water.—Dr. Venn: Empirical Logic.
It is curious that each country names its stage buffoon from its favorite viand. The Dutch call him “Pickelhäring” (soused herring); the Germans, “Hans-Wurst” (jack-sausage); the French, “Jean Potage;” the Italians, “Macaroni;” and the English, “Jack-Pudding.”
#36 COOL BEVERAGES
During biblical times the Jews, Greeks, and Romans cooled wines and other beverages by adding snow obtained from snow-capped mountains. In localities where snow was not available the beverages were placed in porous jars and urns, then exposed to cool breezes, or air currents were created by swinging the jars. The Italians introduced a solution of saltpeter (potassium nitrate) in the snow and ice, and later dropped the saltpeter directly into the snow and ice in which the vessel containing the beverage was revolved. The saltpeter materially reduced the temperature of the freezing mixture so that the beverage became partly solid. It was the first example of water-ices.
#37 WINE SERVING
The pouring of a little wine first into the host’s glass is continued today merely as a precaution against possible dust or shreds of cork being offered to a guest. In times past a more obvious reason existed in Italy, where it was customary to pour before corking a small amount of oil into the neck of the wine bottle. Thus the oil floated above the wine excluding the air. Consequently, the first mouthful of wine, after the oil was removed, may have had some lingering oleaginous flavor, and therefore was taken by the host as a matter of courtesy. Yet there may also be some reminiscence here of the custom among the Greeks and Romans for the host at entertainments to pour a small quantity of wine upon the floor as a sort of propitiation to the gods,—a practice somewhat equivalent to our grace before meat.
#38 WINE, WOMAN, AND SONG
Burton, in his “Anatomy of Melancholy” (Part I., Sec. ii., Mem. 3, Subs. 13), speaks thus of the first two members of our triad,—
I may not here omit those two main plagues and common dotages of humankind, wine and women, which have infatuated and besotted myriads of people: they go commonly together,— and cites the following from Persius:
Qui vino indulget, quemque alea decoquit, ille
In venerem putret.
(”He who is given to drink, and whom the dice are despoiling, is the one who rots away in venery.”)
Nevertheless, the Germans have a famous distich celebrating wine and women, and adding music as the third of a mystic triad necessary in every right scheme of manly education:
Wer nicht liebt Wein, Weib und Gesang,
Der bleibt ein Narr sein Lebelang.
(”Who loves not woman, wine, and song,
Remains a fooi his whole life long.”)
This has often been attributed to Martin Luther, but without any authority. In substance it is credited to Soloris by Chevreau: “Soloris’s philosophy did not seem to be of a very austere cast, when he said that wine, women, and the Muses constituted the pleasures of human life.”
Read “A Credo” By William Makepeace Thackeray.
#39 PORTER-HOUSE STEAK
In New York City, one hundred or more years ago, there were a number of so-called “porter-houses,”—places where porter and ale were sold. The tradition is that a beefsteak was called for at a butcher’s shop, and, none being on hand, a cut from a roasting-piece, about to be sent to a porter-house, was given to the customer. It proved so much superior to the ordinary steak that when he called next he asked for porter-house steak, so the cut became choice and the name popular.
In Rabelais’s ” Gargantua,” ch. v., occurs the famous phrase “L’appetit vient en mangeant” (”Appetite comes in eating”). The context is worth quoting: “The stone called asbestos is not more inextinguishable than is the thirst of which I am the parent Appetite comes with eating, said Angeston; but thirst goes away by drinking. Remedy for thirst? It is the opposite of that for the bite of a dog; always run alter a dog, and he will never bite you; always drink before thirst, and it will never come to you.” The Angeston referred to is supposed to be Jerome de Hangest, a famous doctor of the Sorbonne, who flourished at the beginning of the sixteenth century. But where or under what circumstances he used the phrase is unknown. Montaigne echoes Rabelais in his essay on “Vanity:” ” My appetite comes to me while eating.”But this is a mere autobiographical detail. The true original is probably in Ovid, who, speaking of Erysichthon, condemned by Ceres to an inextinguishable hunger, says, “All food stimulates his desire for other food.” (Metamorphoses, lib. viii.) The phrase is often used now in a metaphorical sense, as, for example, in Shakespeare’s paraphrase :
Why, she would hang on him.
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on.
Hamlet, Act i. Sc. 2.
But even in this sense a classical prototype may be found in Quintus Curtius, who makes his Scythians say to Alexander, “You are the first in whom satiety has engendered hunger.”
#41 TEMPEST IN A TEAPOT
This phrase is one of the modifications of an old proverb which can be traced as far back as the time of Cicero, who quotes it as a common saying,—e.g., “Gratidius excitabit fluctus in simpulo, ut dicitur” (”Gratidius raised a tempest in a ladle, as the saying is”). (De Legibus, iii. 16.) Athenaeus, who wrote in the third century, makes the flute-player Dorian ridicule Timotheus, who undertook to imitate a storm at sea on the zither, by saying, “I have heard a greater storm in a boiling pot.” The French form, “une tempête dans une verre d’eau” (”a tempest in a glass of water”), was first applied to the disturbances in the republic of Geneva near the end of the seventeenth century, and is variously attributed to the Austrian Duke Leopold, to Paul, Grand Duke of Russia, and to the French author and jurist Linguet. Balzac, in his “Cure de Tours,” assigns the authorship, without any apparent evidence, to Montesquieu. The English phrase is an evident reminiscence of the French, “teapot” being substituted for the sake of alliteration, but it is doubtful who first gave it currency. Lord North is said to have applied the phrase to the outbreak of the American colonists against the tax on tea; but Lord Chatham is also said to have characterized a London riot in the same terms.
#42 LITERARY BEVERAGES
Famous literary men have all had their favorite beverages. Tea and coffee, however, head the list, and these two drinks, which the famous William Cobbett denounced as “slops,” have been the means of spurring many a drowsy journalist to renewed energy.
Voltaire, the king of wits and literateurs, was a confirmed coffee drinker. In his old age he often took fifty cups a day, which sadly hurt his digestion and hastened his death. Balzac never drank anything else but coffee, and during the early hours of the morning (for he began at twelve o’clock midnight), he used to take copious drafts of this stimulating drink.
Sir James Macintosh was so fond of coffee that he used to assert that the powers of a man’s mind would generally be found to be proportional to the quantity of that stimulant which he drank. William Cowper pays a tribute to tea in the Task, when he says “the cup that cheers but not inebriates.” He was very fond of the Chinese beverage. But the king of tea drinkers was Samuel Johnson. On one occasion Sir Joshua Reynolds reminded the great man that he had drunk eleven cups of tea, whereupon Johnson retorted: “Sir, I did not count your glasses of wine; why, then, should you number my cups of tea?”
#43 CAVIARE TO THE GENERAL
Something above the intellectual reach of the crowd. Shakespeare makes Hamlet use the phrase: “The play I remembered pleased not the million; ’twas caviare to the general” (Act II., Sc. 2). Caviare, a preparation of sturgeons’ roes, originated in Russia, and was at one time a considerable article of commerce between that country and England. In Shakespeare’s time it was a new and fashionable delicacy, relished only by connoisseurs, hence the allusion.
In anatomy, the palate is the flesh that composes the roof, or the upper and inner part of the mouth. It has much the same structure with the gums; but it has a great number of glands, discovered so early as the time of Fallopius; these are principally situated in the hinder part near the uvula, where it is pendulous, in the manner of a curtain, which part is called velum, or claustrum palati. The glands situated particularly in this part secrete a mucous fluid, serving to lubricate the mouth and throat, and to facilitate deglutition; they have a great number of apertures for the discharge of this humor into the mouth. The great uses of this membrane are to defend the bones of the palate, and to prevent, by its claustrum or velum, any thing attempted to be swallowed from getting up into the nostrils.
But the Palate is also the seat of mental taste, or relish. Palatable is pleasing to the taste; grateful, and, in familiar language admissible, bearable.
“Be made as soft as yours, and let their palates
be seasoned with such viands.”
“By nerves about our palate placed, She likewise judges of the taste:
Else, dismal thought! our warlike men Might diink thick port for fine champagne.”
“Hard task to hit the palate of such guests.”
“They by the alluring odour drawn in haste,
Fly to the dulcet cates, and crowding sip
Their palatable bane.”
#45 MUSICAL COOKS
Curious stories have come down to us as to the idiosyncrasies of many a noted musician; but we have not elsewhere had occasion to note one peculiar enjoyment that several of them have taken in an occupation that is not generally supposed to give great pleasure to the average man. We refer to the art of cooking. Not a musical art, certainly, but one deprived of which we might hardly relish even a Beethoven symphony. Lulli was an accomplished cook and used frequently to return to the instruments of his early days, i, e., pots and kettles. For his original occupation was that of cook’s assistant. From him, considering his early training, we might certainly expect musical pot-pourris.
Then there were the Italian musicians Rossini and Paganini. They each enjoyed dabbling in the regions where the cook is supposed to have full sway. The violinist especially was fond of this occupation and turned it to good account when in later years he became so miserly. We may well suppose that neither of them (being Italian) was forgetful of the odoriferous little plant called garlic, in the preparation of their artistic dishes. And then the greatest musician to cook, if not the greatest cook among musicians, was Beethoven. He had an idea that no one could prepare his food quite as well as he could himself. It is probable that he had a good deal of experience at it, perhaps more than he really wanted at times. For his treatment of his servants was so peculiar that it was seldom one would stay with him for any length of time. Part of his culinary arrangements Beethoven determined with mathematical accuracy A friend once found him counting coffee grains, and on inquiring the reason for the seemingly absurd occupation he was informed that sixty grains was just the right number to produce the best possible cup of coffee.
#46 FISHY PHOSPHORUS
Time Ago a popular belief attributed to phosphorus and its compounds in food an an unusual importance in promoting the growth of the brain and of the intellectual powers. Hence much stress was given to the eating of fish, which was believed to possess large quantities of phosphorus, theory validated by the eminent Harvard professor Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz (1807-1873), a Swiss-American Biologist, Paleontologist, Glaciologist and a prominent innovator in the study of the Earth’s natural history.
A young writer once sent a communication to Mark Twain, asking his opinion as to the use of fish as a food for developing the brain, at the same time suggesting that Professor Agassiz had recommended the eating of fish for that purpose. Mark Twain replied:
”Yes, Agassiz does recommend authors to eat fish, because the phosphorus in fish makes brains. So far, you are correct. But I cannot help you to a decision about the amount you need to eat. If the specimen composition you send is about your fair, usual average, I should judge that perhaps a couple of whales would be all you would want for the present, — not the largest kind, but simply good, middling-sized whales.”
#47 EATING ONE’S HEART
Eating one’s heart, a strong but unpleasant expression for the self-corroding mental and moral disquiet which seeks no relief in disburdening itself. Bacon, in his essay “Of Friendship,” refers the phrase to Pythagoras: “The parable of Pythagoras is dark, but true: Cor ne edito,—eat not the heart. Certainly, if a man would give it a hard phrase, those that want friends to open themselves unto are cannibals of their own hearts.” Bacon’s authority is probably Plutarch, who, in ” De Educatione Puerorum,” ascribes the “parable” to Pythagoras, explaining it as a prohibition “to afflict our souls and waste them with vexatious cares.”
Spenser, in “Mother Hubberds Tale,” has the lines,
Full little knowest thou that hast not tride,
What hell it is in suing long to bide:
To fret thy soul with crosses and with cares;
To eat thy hearte with comfortlesse dispaires;
and Bryant in his ” Iliad,” Book i., I. 319,—
But suffered idleness
To eat his heart away.
The humorous phrases “to eat one’s hat” and “to eat one’s head” have no real analogy with the sterner phrase, but are mere modes of instancing something impossible of achievement.
There was a shopman who used always to say to my nurse, “If this stuff doesn’t wear, or doesn’t wash,” etc., “I’ll eat my hat.” And then, afterwards, if she complained of a stuff so bought, I used to say, “Oh, do go and tell him he was wrong; I should so like to see him eat his hat!” It was impressed on me as being one of my earliest lessons in the double meaning of “sayings,” for my importunities at last brought the revelation, “Nonsense! he doesn’t mean he would really eat it; it is just because he couldn’t eat it that he made me believe the stuff would wash.”—R. H. Bush, in Notes and Queries, seventh series, iii. 94.
“I’ll eat my head.” This was the handsome offer with which Mr.Grimwig backed and confirmed nearly every assertion he made; and it was the more singular in his case because, even admitting, for the sake of argument, the possibility of scientific improvements being ever brought to that pass which will enable a man to eat his own head in the event of being so disposed, Mr, Grimwig’s head was such a particularly large one that the most sanguine man alive could hardly entertain a hope of being able to get through it at a sitting, to put entirely out of the question a very thick coating of powder.—Oliver Twist, ch. xiv.
Scientist Bill Lembeck has calculated that there are 49 million bubbles in a 750 ml bottle of champagne with 5.5 atmospheres of pressure, stored at 20 degrees Celsius.
In the beginning, alongside or before any culinary use, saffron (Crocus Sativus) was used as a coloring dye obtained from the stigma of the plant’s flower. The lasting yellow dye, besides its enchanting odour, enchanted the ancient people of the East and later those of Europe. Garments, veils, and shoes dipped in this dye seemed to the eyes of the oldest founders of religion and culture in Asia as glorious as purple, both in themselves and as expressing light and majesty; for the fettered intellect of those dreamy times could not separate reality from symbol. “You Phrygians love garments dyed in saffron and gaudy purple, sleeved tunics, fillets round the head, and inaction,” cries Romulus to the Trojans (Aeneid, book 9, line 614). Saffron-yellow shoes formed part of the dress of the Persian kings, which was copied from the older Babylonio-Median costume. In Aeschylus’s “Persians,” the chorus summons dead Darius from the nether-world with the words: “Rise, ancient ruler, rise; come with the saffron-dyed eumaris on thy feet, the royal tiara on thy head!” The oldest mythic-poetical representations of the Greeks show traces of the sanctity attributed by Eastern nations to pure bright saffron-yellow. When Jason the Argonaut prepares to plough the field in Colchis with the fire-breathing bulls, he throws off the saffron-coloured garment with which he is clothed. Bacchus, the Oriental god, wears the krokotos, the saffron dress, and so do the reeling participators in the joyous feasts celebrated in his service. The new-born Herakles is described by Pindar as swathed in crocus-yellow cloths.
But especially goddesses, nymphs, queens, and vestals are imagined clothed with saffron-yellow garments, or such as are ornamented with that colour. The Attic virgins embroider with many colours the crocus-dress of Pallas Athena. Antigone, in her despair at the deaths of her mother and brothers, lets fall the royal crocus-coloured stolis which adorned her in the days of her pride and joy; so does Iphigenia when preparing to be sacrificed at Aulis. Venus clothes Medea in her own crocus-woven garment. Andromeda chained to the rocks (or rather Mnesilochus disguised as such) has assumed the krokoeis. Helena takes with her from Mycenaa her gold-embroidered palla and crocus-bordered veil, the gifts of her mother Leda. In the Epics, Eos (the dawn) is always krokopeplos, saffron-veiled; so is the river-nymph Telesto in Hesiod, and Enyo the daughter of Phorkys and Keto; so are the Muses in Alkman. The hair of the maidens in a myth is commonly of saffron hue, as that of Ariadne at Naxos (Ovid), and of the fair daughters of Keleos hurrying, with their skirts tucked up, to the well by which Demeter sits (Hymn to Dem.).
From “The wanderings of plants and animals from their first home” By Victor Hehn
#50 FIVE-O’CLOCK TEA
There is a fallacy among certain tea-fanciers that the origin of five-o’clock tea was due to hygienic demand. These students of the stomach contend that as a tonic and gentle stimulant, when not taken with meat, it is not to be equalled. With meat or any but light food it is considered harmful. Taken between luncheon and dinner it drives away fatigue and acts as a tonic. This is good if true, but it is only a theory, after all. A more realistic theory is that in the past in England five o’clock in the afternoon was the ladies’ leisure hour; the taking of tea at that time was an escape from ennui.
Browse through TasteArts Tea Poems Anthology.