Pancakes are an ancient food that has been around since Neolithic humans domesticated einkorn wheat, (the earliest clear evidence of the domestication of einkorn wheat dates from around 8,650 BC) ground it into flour mixed with bird’s egg and goat’s milk and poured the batter onto a heated rock.

It happened long, long ago on a really nice sunny day, long before pots, pans and microwave ovens, when an ancient cook (he really wasn’t that ancient, probably somewhere in his mid-to-late twenties but there was no NHS back then) dropped a little gruel on a hot rock beside a roaring campfire that resulted in a cake that was tastier than the plain gruel cakes cooked directly in the embers of the fire. Unfortunately for him the name he gave them, gruel-baked-on-a-hot-rock-beside-a-roaring-fire never really caught on.

Imagine! All those billions in lost royalties!

But be that as it may, several millennia later following the iron age and the patenting of the first frying pan, the word pancake appeared in print as early as 1430. Because of this ancient lineage, pancakes have become associated with many rituals in many different countries – Shrove Tuesday, Candlemas, and Chanukah to name a few.

And it was from these rudimentary beginnings that a vast array of bread and pancakes burst forth to populate the crofts and cots of the world. The ancient Greeks used griddles to cook a flat loaf drizzled with honey called ‘kreion’ and cakes of soft cheese while the Romans, as revealed in the cookbook by the epicure Apicius made dishes similar to modern pancakes.

Medieval pancakes, most commonly made from barley or rye and lacking leavening, were pretty awesome affairs. They were quite different from contemporary fluffy or tender versions we know today. Pancakes prevailed as the household bread in homes with no ovens, only an open hearth.

Pancake Day is another name for Shrive Tuesday, from the custom of eating pancakes on this day, which is still generally observed. Shrive is an old Saxon word, of which shrove is a corruption and signifies confession.

The custom of dining on pancakes on Shrove Tuesday is Roman Catholic origin that on the day when all rejoiced alike in the forgiveness of their sins, all should equally feast alike on the same simple dish. Commonly known as “Pancake Day”, Shrove Tuesday was the day when, historically, perishable ingredients had to be used up before the fasting period of Lent. The pancakes were prepared, denoted by the ringing of the ‘pancake bell’ from the church tower.

And pancakes became an essential element of the classic American breakfast while in other parts of the world pancakes somehow evolved to become exclusively Sunday morning breakfast fare and, since they are so easy to make and there are so many different ways to prepare them, pancakes are a favourite hearty party food to cook for a crowd!

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Ten Things You Never Knew About . . . Rice

1) Rice cultivation is thought to have begun in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River which at 6,380 km is the longest river in Asia and the third-longest in the world. It is also the longest in the world to flow entirely within one country.

2) Archaeological excavations throughout Asia indicate that the domestication of rice oryza sativa, occurred some seven thousand years ago in Asia. Many places claim the honour of being the first but evidence suggests that it occurred in many centres of population at roughly the same time.

3) First domesticated on flood-plains as a shallow or deep water crop, the cultivation of rice later extended to the rain-fed uplands and rapidly spread throughout Asia as a principal foodstuff.

4) Rice is a unique crop. Archaeological excavations throughout China indicate that the domestication of rice oryza sativa, occurred some seven thousand years ago.

5) In 1951 Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov put forward the theory that rice domestication occurred in India based on the excavation of rice grains at Hasthinapur, Uttar Pradesh at between one thousand and seven hundred and fifty years BC and the appearance of references to rice in ancient Hindu scripts as far back as fifteen hundred years BC.

6) Effectively  older than wheat, corn and barley the growth of rice production can be seen as running parallel to human civilization formany  thousands of years.

7) The OED’s first citation for the word rice can be found in the household accounts of King Henry III in 1234. Costing 1½d lb rice was considered as a spice and its use was carefully logged and it was kept locked up in the spice cupboard.

8) The Black Death,  which ravaged Europe from 1348 to 1352, and then recurred at irregular intervals as Bubonic Plague, has been credited with the introduction of rice to the northern Mediterranean.

9) In England, in 1585, rice steeped in cow’s milk with white breadcrumbs, powdered fennel seed and a little sugar was thought good for increasing the flow of milk in a nursing mother’s breasts.

10) As the availability of cheap rice from overseas possessions increased rice slid further down the British markets and began being taken by countries far remote from where it grew. Farm workers in 19th century Norway ate a porridge of water and barley on working days, milk and barley on Sundays, but milk and rice for feasts of celebration, while in Finland, rice porridge was served as dessert on Christmas Eve.

An early Japanese rice cooker advertisement.

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Granny Robertson Meets Granny Smith

The Granny Smith apple was discovered in Australia in the 1860’s. A chance seedling on a compost heap in the orchard of Maria Ann Smith led to the first apple to be introduced into the United Kingdom in the 30’s.

Their flesh is bright white and crisp in texture with a tart, acidic, yet subtly sweet flavour. They are often used in cooking because of their high acidity and ability to hold their shape when cooked.

They can be baked into sweet or savoury pies and tarts, added to savoury bread stuffing, risotto or potato pancakes.

Their sweet-tart flavour is a great addition to soups, smoothies and sauces.

The Granny Smith Cultivar originated in Eastwood, New South Wales, Australia (now a suburb of Sydney) in 1868. Its discoverer, Maria Ann Smith, had emigrated to the district from Beckley, East Sussex in 1839 with her husband Thomas.

They purchased a small orchard in the area in 1855-1856 and began cultivating fruit, for which the area was well known, in colonial Australia. Smith had eight children and was a prominent figure in the district, earning the nickname “Granny” in her later years.

The first description of the origin of the Granny Smith apple, published in 1924 in Farmer and Settler was the account of a local historian who had interviewed two men who had known Smith. One of those recalled that in 1868, he and his father had been invited to Smith’s farm to inspect a chance seedling that had sprung near a creek.

The story recounted that Smith had been testing French crab-apples for cooking, and, throwing the apple cores out her window as she worked, had found that the new seedling had sprung up underneath her kitchen windowsill.

Granny Smith took it upon herself to propagate the new apple. Finding the fruits to have ‘all the appearances of a cooking apple’ but were ‘sweet and crisp to eat’ she took a stall at Sydney’s George Street market, where the apples became ‘exceptionally popular’ and once a week sold her produce there.

Granny Smith died a few short years after her discovery but her work had been noticed by other local planters. Edward Gallard was one such planter, who extensively planted Granny Smith trees on his property and bought the Smith farm when Thomas died in 1876.

Gallard was successful in marketing the apple locally and in 1890 it was exhibited as ‘Smith’s Seedling’ at the Castle Hill Agricultural and Horticultural Show.

The following year it won the prize for cooking apples under the name “Granny Smith’s Seedling. In 1895, the New South Wales Department of Agriculture recognised the cultivar and had begun growing the trees at the Government Experimental Station in Bathurst, New South Wales.

Its worldwide fame as a late-picking cooking apple with a good potential for export grew from the fact that it could be picked from March and stored till November led to the government actively promoting it, leading to its widespread adoption. They became one of the first varieties of apple to be widely available in supermarkets and their excellent storing qualities made them suitable for export. With their bright green skin, often speckled with pale white spots they are medium to large in size and suitably round in shape.

Today Granny Smith apples grow in Australia, Europe, New Zealand, South America and the United States. They tend to ripen best in warmer climates where they get a significant amount of sunshine.

According to the United States Apple Association website it is one of the fifteen most popular apple cultivars in the United States.

So much so that in 1968 The Beatles used an image of a Granny Smith apple as the logo for their corporation, Apple Corps Limited and for their record label, Apple Records.

One side of vinyl albums featured the exterior of the fruit whilst the other side of the recording featured a cross-section of the apple.

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Further Grim Warnings

As a follow up to the previous post of ‘cautionary tales’ taken from Bunty, a story book from the seventies aimed at teenage girls, and with this post I conclude the round half dozen.

But once again the consequences are severe, the messages perfectly clear. And, as before the material is subversive and against all the protocols of political correctness!

Once again teenage girls of a certain age are targeted, but one of the storylines in particular is a bit close to the bone in light of more modern understanding!

The final three are the Untidiness story, the Toothy story and lastly the Slimming story.

The nifty drawing and delightfully composed verses continue with the rich seam of rather black humour of the previous tales, adding, if anything an even darker edge!


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Beyond Sarajevo – The Home Front

Following the outbreak of war in 1914, Germany instituted a campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare with the intention of exposing France, Italy, Britain and all other  countries heavily reliant on food imports, to a long term food crisis.

These countries viewed the submarine campaign as a deadly threat. They attempted to increase their own food production and on 8 August 1914 the Defence of the Realm Act was passed ‘for the securing of public safety’. This gave the act a very wide interpretation and regulated virtually every aspect of the British home front and was expanded as the war went on.

There are a number of more surprising measures introduced by DORA, some of which still affect life in Britain today and include:

Whistling for London taxis which was banned in case it should be mistaken for an air raid warning.

A prohibition was implemented on loitering near bridges and tunnels or lighting bonfires.

British Summer Time was instituted in May 1916 in order to maximise working hours in the day, particularly for agriculture.

Claims that war production was being hampered by drunkenness led to pub opening times and alcohol strength being reduced.

The ‘No Treating Order’ also made it an offence to buy drinks for others. (A restriction I adhere to, to this very day!)

The possession and supply of cocaine or opium by other than authorised professionals such as doctors, dentists and anaethetists became a criminal offence.

The blackout was introduced in towns and cities throughout the country as part of the new Air Raid Regulations.

Both press and private censorship was introduced, severely limiting the reporting of war news whilst many publications were also banned and Military censors examined 300,000 pieces of private correspondence, mainly telegrams, in 1916 alone.

Fines were issued for making white flour instead of whole-wheat and for allowing rats to invade wheat stores. Further restrictions on food production eventually led to the introduction of rationing in 1918.

The war took men and horses away from farm work, imports of nitrate fertilizers were disrupted and a reduced agricultural output forced up prices and encouraged hoarding. Governments responded by putting price controls on all staple foodstuffs which resulted in food queues (below) formed of women and children becoming a common sight not only in Britain but in many cities across Europe.

Hunger stalked the civilian populations of all the combatant nations. Agriculture and food distribution suffered from strains imposed by the war and naval blockades reduced food imports. Some countries met this threat more successfully than others.

Britain introduced rationing in early 1918 throughout the nation and the British public defied German expectations by accepting such a massive intrusion into their daily lives. Ration cards were issued and everyone had to register with a local butcher and grocer.

The first item to be rationed was sugar in January 1918, but by the end of April meat, butter, cheese and margarine were added to the list.

The need to queue was lessened when rationing was introduced but it also ensured an equality of food distribution.

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The Raisins The Sun-Maid

Where would this blog be without a massive infusion of dried fruits? From sun-soaked South Africa to the mediteranean climes of California dried fruits have been sent out to the entire world. Without them where would be the the Plum Pudding, the Birthday Cake the Christmas Cake and the Mince Pie? These pages come from a pamphlet issued by the California Raisin Advisory Board around the late seventies, early eighties.

In 1873, Francis T. Eisen planted an experimental vineyard of Muscat grapes on 25 acres along Fancher Creek, just east of Fresno, California.

Once raisins were established as a marketable crop which grew and dried well under the Californian sun, raisin grape-growing areas expanded rapidly in the late 19th century.

Packing houses quickly became a vital link between the grower and the consumer, employing hundreds of people. These facilities received the sun-dried raisins from growers, and stored, processed, packaged, and shipped throughout the United States.

When the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, farmers and growers were able to quickly transport products from the West to new markets and the earliest successful efforts to form a cooperative business by raisin growers began in 1898.

By 1903 a privately owned cooperative of raisin growers had become the largest raisin and dried fruit processor in the world, producing 120 million lbs of raisins a year and was established in 1912 as the California Associated Raisin Company. In 1915, the brand name Sun-Maid, coined by advertising executive E.A. Berg and was adopted by the organization in 1922 and re-branded as the Sun-Maid Growers of California to identify more closely with its nationally recognized brand. The Sun-Maid cooperative comprised some 850 family farmers growing raisins within a 100 mile radius of the processing plant.

Packaged in a red box featuring the iconic ‘Sun-Maid Girl’ wearing a red sunbonnet, the raisins are picked at harvest time, usually late August to early September having beem dried naturally in the sun, either by hand-picking and laying them out or by allowing them to dry-on-the-vine for mechanical harvesting, after some fourteen days, they are processed, packaged and shipped to customers around the world.

Today Sun-Maid produces more than 200 million lbs of natural raisins along with line of dried fruit, such as figs, dates, cranberries, apples, prunes, apricots and tropical fruits. Sun-Maid also packs yogurt-covered raisins, such as those dipped in dark chocolate, vanilla, orange cream, strawberry-Greek and cherry-chocolate flavoured yogurt.

In 1964, further modernization and growth led to the construction of, and move to, a new facility in Kingsburg. The 640,000-square-foot facility sits on more than 100 acres some 20 miles south of Fresno. To this day, the Kingsburg plant serves as the headquarters of the Sun-Maid Growers of California.

The original “Sun-Maid Girl” was a real person named Lorraine Collett. The Sun-Maid girls promoted the raisin industry at the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition by handing out raisin samples to visitors while wearing white blouses with blue piping and blue sunbonnets.

In May 1916, company executives agreed Collett would become the personification of the company.

Her image with sunbonnet and tray of grapes was updated in 1956 and again in 1970, using drawings made a decade earlier of company employee Delia von Meyer although Collett continued to make special appearances as the original Sun-Maid Girl until her death at 90.



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The Origins Of Vegetarianism

The images illustrating this article are from Womans Own magazine of the forties and early fifties when vegetarianism was still somewhat of a new fangled fad to the average family. The health benefits were being widely promoted but the old ideal that a meal was incomplete without meat still prevailed and was going to take some time to modify. Oddly enough wartime rationing in Europe as a whole had inadvertantly aided the cause.

The deliberate avoidance of flesh eating has appeared sporadically throughout the ages either as a temporary purification or as qualification for a ritual priestly function. Around the middle of the 1st millennium BC it crept more or less simultaneously into India and the eastern Mediterranean.

In the Mediterranean the avoidance of flesh is first recorded as a teaching of Pythagoras of Samos (530 BC) and his followers. The Pythagoreans also rejected beans and mallows, possibly influenced by Egyptian priestly customs in the Fertile Crescent. The Pythagoreans claimed that the sphere of all animal existence was a basis for human benevolence toward other creatures,  and that as such they should not be killed for food.

Many of the pagan philosophers, from Plato and Epicurus to Plutarch recommended a fleshless diet since the idea carried with it a condemnation of bloody sacrifices in worship and was often associated with a belief in the reincarnation of souls, with a search for principles of cosmic harmony by which human beings could live.

In India the Buddhists and Jains refused to kill animals for food, on ethical and ascetic grounds, claiming that human being should not inflict harm on any sentient creature. The idea was soon taken up in Brahman circles and was applied especially to the cow. The idea carried with it condemnation of bloody sacrifices and was often associated with a feeling for cosmic harmonies.

In India, though Buddhism was gradually declining, the ideal of harmlessness spread steadily in the 1st millennium AD until many of the upper castes and even some of the lower, had adopted it. Beyond India it was carried widely northward and eastward, as far as China and Japan. In some countries, fish were included in an otherwise fleshless diet.

The monotheistic traditions that grew up and came to power in the West were less favorable to vegetarianism. In the Hebrew Bible it is recorded that in Paradise the earliest human beings had not eaten flesh and that it was permitted only after Noah’s flood though the blood in it, being the very life of it, was not to be consumed.

Jewish groups and some early Christian leaders disapproved of flesh eating as a luxury, gluttonous, cruel, and expensive while some Christian monastic orders ruled out flesh eating, and its avoidance has been a penance even for lay persons. Many Muslims have been hostile to vegetarianism though some Muslim Sufi mystics, the chief guides of Muslim spiritual life, recommended a meatless diet for spiritual seekers until Akbar, the 16th-century Muslim emperor in India, recommended a fleshless diet as a Sufi custom.

With the transformation of Western and then world life in modern times, vegetarianism also entered a new phase as part of the humanitarianism of the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe sensitivity to animal suffering was revived and with it the Pythagorean disapproval of flesh eating. Certain Protestant groups came to the fleshless diet by way of their perfectionistic reading of the Bible, while Voltaire, Shelley and Thoreau offered diverse philosophic views that advocated vegetarianism.

Vegetarians of the early 19th century usually condemned the use of alcohol as well as flesh and appealed as much to the nutritional advantages of light fare, in contrast with the rich, meat heavy diet of the day. As always, vegetarianism tended to be combined with other efforts toward a humane and a cosmically harmonious way of life.

During the 19th century the movement began to produce results even among non-vegetarians and by the early 20th century it was contributing substantially to the drive to vary and lighten the non-vegetarian’s diet. Foods such as peanut butter and cornflakes were invented by vegetarians in the United States while in other places a vegetarian diet was regarded simply as one of many disciplines recommended for specific disorders.

In Germany, the fleshless diet was regarded as only one element in vegetarianism, which was expected to be a comprehensive reform of life habits, the term being derived not from ‘vegetable food’ but directly from the Latin vegetus, meaning ‘active, vigorous’.

The movement as a whole was always carried forward by ethically inclined individuals, such as Leo Tolstoy and George Bernard Shaw as well as by certain religious sects, while some Biblical Christian sects in both England and the United States took the lead in establishing national vegetarian societies, with the first such being formed in England in 1847.

On the back of a growing number of vegetarian societies throughout the world the International Vegetarian Union was created in 1908. In the West a special industry to process high-protein vegetable foods to simulate various meats in form and flavour has grown up to ease the transition from flesh eating to health food. Stores offer products conforming to vegetarian tastes while vegetarian societies publish recipes that centre on the tasty use of legumes, nuts, cheeses, and eggs while the International Vegetarian Union works toward developing foods and medicines more in line with vegetarian ethical standards.

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