Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The origins of Ketchup

The following historical recipe is courtesy of the Culinary Historians of New York

By Andrew F. Smith

Many people think of ketchup as a bright-red, tomato-based condiment that was invented by Americans. The word itself derives from kê-tsiap, which meant "fish pickled in brine" in Chinese dialect. The first located ketchup recipe was published in England, and it is for mushroom ketchup. Although many 18th and 19th century recipes were for mushroom ketchups, other varieties, including walnut and ketchups made from a wide range of fruits,such as apples, blackberries, peaches and tomatoes, were also popular. Early ketchups were used for flavoring savory pies, meats and other sauces.

To make Mushroom Ketchup

Take the Gills of large Mushrooms, such as are spread quite open, put them into a Skellet of Bell_Metal, or a Vessel of Earthen-Ware glazed, and set them over a gentle Fire till they begin to change into Water; and then frequently stirring them till there is as much Liquor come out of them as can be expected, pressing them often with a Spoon against the side of the Vessel; then strain off the Liquor, and put to every Quart of it about eighty Cloves, if they are fresh and good, or half as many more, if they are dry, or have been kept a long time, and about a Drachm of Mace: add to this about a Pint of strong red Port Wine that has not been adulterated, and boil them all together till you judge that every Quart has lost about a fourth Part or half a Pint; then pass it thro' a Sieve, and let it stand to cool, and when it is quite cold, bottle it up in dry Bottles of Pints or Half-Pints, and cork them close, for it is the surest way to keep these kind of Liquors in such small quantities as may be used quickly, when they come to be exposed to the Air, for fear of growing mouldy: but I have had a Bottle of this sort of Ketchup, that has been open'd and set by for above a Year, that has not received the least Damage; and some Acquaintance of mine have made of the same sort, and have kept it in Quart-Bottles to use as occasion required, and have kept it good much longer than I have done. A little of it is very rich in any Sauce, and especially when Gravey [sic] is wanting: Therefore it may be of service to Travellers, who too frequently meet with good Fish, and other Meats, in Britain, as well as in several other parts of Europe, that are spoiled in the dressing; but it must be consider'd, that there is no Salt in this, so that whenever it is used, Salt, Anchovies, or other such like relishing things, may be used with it, if they are agreeable to the Palate...

Source: Richard Bradley, The Country Gentleman's and Farmer's Monthly Director. Fifth edition. London: Woodman and Lyon, 1728. 1:142-43.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Food Crisis: World Roundup

Britain's The Independent has a roundup detailing how the global food crisis is affecting different parts of the world. In China, for example, food prices have risen 21 percent this year. The World Food Programme is warning of a potential repeat of the famine that hit North Korea in the 1990s, killing millions.

Leaders from Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba flew to Venezuela this week to announce a joint $100m scheme to combat the impact of rising food prices on the region's poor. Riots tore through Ivory Coast after the prices of meat and wheat increased by 50 per cent within a week, and violent protests were also seen in Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Senegal. Hundreds of thousands of poor Africans in Uganda and Sudan are to lose out on a vital source of food after World Vision, one of the world's largest humanitarian organisations, said it was cutting aid to 1.5m people.

The government of the Philippines has been desperately trying to secure alternative sources of rice to counteract the decision of a number of nations, including India, to halt rice exports.

In the U.K. the government's estimates that grocery bills have gone up by an average of 12 percent over the past 12 months. And in the U.S., two of the country's largest warehouse stores this week announced that they would limit the number of bags of rice each customer could buy, in an effort to prevent people from stockpiling.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Backyard (and Frontyard) Farming

If you haven't been paying close attention, you might be surprised to know that scores of people across North America are responding to soaring food and fuel prices and product shortages by turning to urban agriculture. This is a phenomenon that has been covered fairly extensively in the media - but it's not easy to keep up with all the stories. So here's a little compendium of some of the best stories I've seen so far:

Cuba's organic revolution

From The Guardian
Cuba could be seen as the mother land of urban agriculture, since the country was forced to become self-sufficient in the early 90s, when it lost the large majority of its trade with the former Soviet Union. An urban gardening culture sprang up almost overnight.

Urban Back-to-the-Land Movement
From The San Francisco Chronicle
Urban sustainability projects in San Francisco, including the Institute of Urban Homesteading, which teaches city dwellers urban farming techniques and Sustaining Ourselves Locally, a collective of nine people maintaining a 5,000-square-foot urban garden.

Life (Mostly) Off The Grid

From The New York Times
A video featuring the Dervaes family, who live a green life on 1/5 of an acre in Pasadena, Calif.

Eat Your Lawn
An all-encompassing story about the move towards converting urban yards to sustainable growing lots.

Green Acres II: When Neighbors Become Farmers

From The Wall Street Journal
For one man, a front yard was not enough. So he got his neighbors together and co-opted their lawns too.

The Face of the Global Food Crisis: The Colbert Report

The answer might be sitting right next to you!

The Secret to Perfect Pizza

Wired Magazine has a great article by Joe Brown, a New Yorker transplanted to San Francisco, who wonders why he can't get the flavor of a New York slice in any SF pizza joints.

It could be in the water... Or in the oven.
"Californians do a lot of great stuff with their green-market goods," fellow pizza nerd Mario Batali says, but "some of it's just not pizza." I called the Iron Chef to help me figure out why San Francisco — a formidable food town — can't birth a respectable pie. Part of the reason, of course, is that while Rice-A-Roni and zinfandel are native to Northern California, pizza is not.

"New York has a grand tradition of pizza making and holds it dear," Batali says. Which means institutions like Arturo's have been using the same equipment for decades. "An oven captures the gestalt of beautifully cooked pizza. And it imparts that."

I'm not comfortable attributing a pizza's quality to gestalt — it sounds like something a California pizzeria would list as a topping. But Batali's theory makes sense to David Tisi, a food-development consultant who has spent much of his career studying pizza.

"As you cook, some ingredients vaporize, and these volatilized particles can attach themselves to the walls of the baking cavity," Tisi says. "The next time you use the oven, these bits get caught up in the convection currents and deposited on the food, which adds flavor." Over time, he says, more particles join the mix and mingle with the savory soot from burned wood or coal — the only fuels worth using — to create a flavor that you can't grow in a garden: gestalt, if you will.

Why though, Brown wonders, does that not hold true of some of SF's older pizzerias, which have been making pizza for generations?
"Water," Batali says. "Water is huge. It's probably one of California's biggest problems with pizza." Water binds the dough's few ingredients. Nearly every chemical reaction that produces flavor occurs in water, says Chris Loss, a food scientist with the Culinary Institute of America. "So, naturally, the minerals and chemicals in it will affect every aspect of the way something tastes."

The Face of the Global Food Crisis: U.S.A.

Today's New York Times is reporting that warehouse stores like Sam's Club and Costco are imposing limits on how much rice customers can buy.
American rice futures are hitting record highs amid global food inflation, although one rice expert said the warehouse chains might be reacting less to any shortages than to stockpiling by restaurants and small stores.

Sam’s Club said it would limit customers to four bags at a time of imported jasmine, basmati and long-grain white rice. The limits affect 20-pound bags, the kind that most retail customers are not likely to buy. Costco could not immediately be reached for comment on its limits, which apparently affect bulk purchases in some stores.
A Sam’s Club spokeswoman, Kristy Reed, said she could not comment on whether the problem had been caused by short supplies or by customers stocking up in anticipation of higher prices.

A USA Rice Federation spokesman, David Coia, said there was no rice shortage in the United States. A smaller chain, BJ’s Wholesale Club, said it was not imposing limits for now.

The Face of the Global Food Crisis: Japan

I posted an article a few days ago about the lack of rice in Liberia and how that is affecting the regular diet. In Japan, the problem is not with a shortage of rice but of butter.
Domestically produced butter is scarce at retail stores because of a shortage of raw milk and higher prices of butter imports.

A shortage of butter for commercial use began to hit cake shops and restaurants last fall. The problem has now spread to homes.

Worse, butter makers are planning to raise retail prices in April, when raw milk prices are set to increase. The move will likely keep butter off more mealtime tables.

A second-tier supermarket chain in Tokyo put up a notice at outlets that states: "Butter stocks may run out due to a drop in production."


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

(Almost) Free Ice Cream

Baskin Robbins is honoring America's Firefighters by selling ice cream for $.31 cents per scoop on Wednesday, April 30th between 5 and 10 pm.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Face of the Global Food Crisis: Liberia

An interesting article from the BBC News discusses a change in the traditional Liberian diet, as global rice prices have soared.

Standing behind the wooden counter of his roadside restaurant, Emmanuel Biddle heaps piles of Liberian-style bolognese onto the plates of customers.

When the Liberian chef first added pasta to the menu of his traditional chop house, he didn't expect much success.

But as surging rice prices threaten to halt progress in fragile countries like Liberia, local people are changing life-long habits and switching to cheaper staple foods such as spaghetti.

Liberia imports 90% of its rice from Asia and the US.

The story reports that the price of rice has more than doubled in the last six months, making it unaffordable for many ordinary Liberians. Restaurateurs who serve jollof rice, a traditional West African dish, have been suffering.

Viola Nelson charges customers $2 for a plate of jollof rice, but she says she barely covers her own costs.

"I'm not making a profit these days. I should be raising my prices but I don't want to lose any more customers. If the food crisis gets worse I will be left with nothing," she says.

At the buzzing Old Road Market on the outskirts of Monrovia, the price of a 50 kg bag of rice has shot up to $34.

A crate (40 packets, which provides a similar amount of food to 50kg of rice) of maize or millet-based spaghetti, imported from the US, is sold for $12.

Rice vendor Augustus Geepo, perched on a pile of unsold bags, says sales have dropped dramatically as a result of the food crisis.

A year ago, he could easily sell 40 bags of rice a day. Now he is lucky if he shifts 10.

What's your thirst worth?

If you've been following the news lately, you've likely heard about the skyrocketing prices of grain and other crops and the severe food shortages in places like Korea and Haiti.

But you may not know that your favorite frosty beverage is also imperiled. That's right... a beer famine might be next, according to environmental experts. Climate change is affecting barley yields, and is already threatening the Australian beer industry.

But the problem is not limited to Australia. Growing demand for biofuels and a poor harvest have already increased malting barley prices in the UK, according to the British Beer and Pub Association, and a shortage of hops is increasing the price of a pint in North America as well.

We're already living in a world where a gallon of gas costs nearly $4, which is now the same price as a loaf of organic bread. A gallon of organic milk is nearly twice that.

So what's a little liquid relief going to cost now? At the Whole Foods Market Bowery Beer Room in New York, draught beers range from $6.99 to $13.99 for 64oz. The Heartland Brewery serves 23oz. draughts for $8.50. A 6-pack of 12 oz. bottles of Amstel Light at D'Agostino's is up to $9.99.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Why is my cheese crunchy?

A chemistry lesson, courtesy of The Kitchn:

Ever wonder about the whitish spots of crunch in your cheese? People have a wide variety of theories on those little crystalline bits. No, it's not salt, it's not something deliberately added during cheesemaking, it's not that the cheese is old and it's starting to dry out, and it's not a cheese mite. Today we're setting the record straight in a big reveal of the little known component in some of your favorite cheeses.

Those bits are called tyrosine, and they're actually amino acid clusters that form with age. Tyrosine clusters are signs of a well-aged cheese, which is why you'll find them in some of the world's most loved cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano, aged goudas, and mountain cheeses like gruyere or Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid found mainly in casein, the dominant protein found in milk. The word itself is from the Greek tyros, meaning cheese.

What's most fascinating (from a dorky cheese fanatic perspective) is the reason that these protein clusters form. When cheese is made, fats and proteins are trapped within chains of proteins that have bonded together during acidification. Groupings of these fats and proteins make up the solids, or curds, that form cheese. When cheese spends a long time aging, these protein chains begin to unravel, leaving small, crunchy deposits behind. Tyrosine lends a distinctive textural charm to cheese, and is a welcome interruption within the body of an otherwise smooth paste. And sometimes it even compliments the beverage you may be drinking with your cheese, as in the case of pairing a full-bodied stout with a super-aged cheddar; the crunchiness of the cheese somehow matches the fullness of the beer by contributing its own textural intensity.

Tyrosine is not to be confused with the crunchiness you can find in some washed-rind cheeses. Since this category of cheese is usually washed in some kind of salt water brine, residual salt crystals are often left behind on the crust of these cheeses. When you take a bite of rind and inner paste together, the crunchiness from the outside can be mistaken for existing on the inside. Now go and impress your cheese-loving friends with your new vocabulary word!


Friday, April 11, 2008

Water. The New Wine?

Have you ever wondered what the most expensive bottled waters in the world were? I didn't think so... I wouldn't have thought that many people would spend much time thinking about it, but I always forget how many people there are with more money than brains.

Michael Mascha hasn't forgotten. In fact, he wrote a book called Fine Waters: A Connoisseur's Guide to the World's Most Distinctive Bottled Waters. The book, he says, introduces people to "the epicurean delights of water."

Bottled water is the next wine, Mascha tells Forbes Traveler. Like wine, he says bottled water has terroir, or a sense of place.

While this insanity rages, charity: water is trying to raise awareness about the lack of safe drinking water in so many parts of the world. They've released a fairly provocative PSA produced by the director of Hotel Rwanda. The video, embedded below, shows a mother in New York City walking to Central Park with a jerry can to collect water from the lake, just as millions of people in the developing world do every day.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Not a drop to drink

Who needs horror films when reality is this scary? The above clip comes from a movie called FLOW: For Love Of Water. I don't know whether people will see this movie and, even if they do, whether it will make an impact. But it's another resource to add to the list of "things that are running out."

Just today, the news came out that a number of city restaurants are banning bottled water. "It takes 41 million barrels of oil a year to make, transport and refrigerate water bottles," the New York Post article, reports, and "a crushing 30 million plastic water containers end up in landfills each day."