An Inessential History of Food, Part II
by Gay Lyons
I’ve been having fun once again at one of my favorite websites, www.foodtimeline.org . Bring on Trivial Pursuit “The Culinary Edition.”
Marshmallows were around before anyone thought of roasting them or using them on sweet potato casseroles. By 2000 BC, Egyptians mixed the root of the marsh mallow plant with honey to create confections. Later, marshmallows were made using the sap of the marsh mallow plant mixed with gum, egg white and sugar—pretty much the same as today, except they no longer contain marsh mallow sap.
Worcestershire sauce, invented in Worcester, England, by chemists John Lea and William Perrins, came from the chemists’ attempts to duplicate an Indian recipe brought to them by Lord Sandys, the former governor of Bengal. Interestingly, the sauce was only pronounced “good” after it was later stored in a cellar and inadvertently pickled. The A-1 Steak Sauce name came from the pronouncement that the sauce was “A-1” by King George IV when it was served to him by his royal chef, Henderson William Brand, who left the palace in 1831 to open Brand and Company, purveyor of sauces.
The red devil on cans of Underwood Deviled Ham, the oldest trademark still in use in the United States, did not appear until around 1870, but for decades prior to that, Underwood canned goods were packed in many westward-bound covered wagons. My only experiences with deviled ham were on fishing trips with my father whose picnics always consisted of saltines, deviled ham and Vienna sausages, items notable mostly for their portability under any conditions.
Fig Newtons are named after their town of birth, Newton, Mass., not after Isaac Newton. Hershey bars were conceived in Hershey, Pa., a town named after company founder Milton S. Hershey who built the company and the town, which was previously named Derry Township. Attractions include the Hershey Hotel and the Hershey Spa, which offers chocolate hydrotherapy, a chocolate sugar scrub and a chocolate fondue wrap. There’s also Hershey Theme Park where the roller coaster seats are a rich chocolate brown.
This Southern biscuit-eating girl learned that biscuits were also cookies from Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Nabisco, creator of Oreos and Mallomars. Oreos were first sold as one-third of a cookie set called Trio. The other two, the Mother Goose Biscuit and the Veronese Biscuit, have long since disappeared. Oreos are popular, but the cookie with the biggest cult following may be Mallomars. Because these are sold seasonally (September through April), Mallomar lovers stockpile the cookies in their freezers for warm weather consumption.
Forrest Mars was inspired to create M&M’s during the Spanish Civil War when he encountered soldiers eating pellets of chocolate encased in a hard sugary coating that prevented melting. First sold in cardboard tubes, the candy was later popular with American soldiers during World War II. Originally, all M&M’s were brown. Red, yellow and green were added in 1960. Red M&M’s were removed in 1976 during concerns about red dye No. 2, although that particular dye was not used in M&M’s. Red M&M’s returned in 1987 amid much hoopla. Another big color event occurred in 1995 when 54 percent of 10 million voters selected blue as the first new M&M color in many years.
Kool-Aid was the invention of Edwin Perkins who saw potential in a product named “Fruit Smack,” which was shipped in concentrate in glass bottles, a much less expensive drink than bottled cola beverages which became popular at around the same time. Perkins’ idea was to dehydrate Fruit Smack so that it could be shipped more economically. Hastings, Neb., became the birthplace of Perkins’ mixture of dextrose, citric acid and tartaric acid in five flavors: raspberry, cherry, grape, lemon, orange and root beer. During the Depression, Kool-Aid’s price—5 cents a package—made it an affordable treat.
Like me, you may have thought that Tang, another popular powdered drink mix, was developed by NASA for the astronauts, but you’d be wrong. General Foods introduced Tang as a “modern breakfast beverage” in 1957. However, sales didn’t really take off until 1965 after it was used by the Gemini astronauts. After that, General Foods marketed Tang as the “drink of the astronauts.”
It only takes a few thousand years to get from Egyptians picking marsh mallows to extract the essence of the root for confections fit only for royalty and gods to get to the color controversies surrounding the candy that “melts in your mouth not in your hand.” I’m especially intrigued by what I read about Mallomars. I don’t think I’ve ever had one. My son-of-New-Yorkers husband doesn’t think he has either. A couple of quick phone calls confirmed that Mallomars may not be locally available. More research—and possibly a field trip—will obviously be required.