If you said Richard Branson, Jennifer Aniston or Michelle Obama we’re going to give you a big thumbs down. If you said Rome, Paris or Hong Kong, you’re getting warmer. If you said food… ding ding ding.
The foods we eat (like the celebrities we follow) have traveled the world. Yes, really! While we’d love for America to lay claim to giving the world all of its deliciousness, the fact of the matter is, we didn’t. So where did our food come from and who do we have to thank for that? Explorers! In light of Columbus Day, it only seemed fitting that we share with you foods that explorers helped to jet set to America and your table!
Lettuce: Since it’s National Vegetarian Month, we’ll start with one of the world’s oldest known vegetables, lettuce. First cultivated by the ancient Egyptians as early as 2,680 BC, lettuce was turned from a weed, whose seeds were used to produce oil, to a plant, grown for its leaves. Resembling today’s romaine lettuce, these leaves were considered a sacred plant of the reproduction god Min and used to celebrate during festivals.
While the Egyptians were the first to cultivate lettuce, the Ancient Greeks and Romans were equally as embracing of it. The Greeks believed that lettuce contained sleep inducing properties and hence, served it at the end of a meal. It wasn’t until Emperor Domitian that lettuce would be served as a starter. He brought it out at the beginning of his feasts to torture his guests to stay awake in his presence. Nice, right?
Despite this distasteful dictator, the popularity of lettuce continued with people proclaiming its healthful properties. Emperor Caesar Augustus was one such person. He was so enamored with the plant and its healing abilities that he put up a statue to honor it after being cured of a serious illness. How’s that for the simple things in life? This ancient crop finally made its way to America when Christopher Columbus brought lettuce (seeds that is) to the New World when he set sail in 1492.
Wheat: Wheat grain has been used for thousands of years but is believed to have originated in the Middle East. Some of the earliest remains of the crop have been found in Syria, Jordan and Turkey. While we’re clearly thankful for its cultivation (think bread, pizza and beer) its development was and is more monumental than the dishes that would benefit from its grains. Wheat introduced permanent settlements and a stable food supply to previously nomadic people.
With a growing food supply, the trading of wheat would quickly develop. By 4,000 BC wheat farming had spread to Asia, Europe and North Africa. Wheat finally found its way America thanks to European explorers. They first grew the plant on an island near Massachusetts in 1602. It wouldn’t become an important crop though until settlers moved west to the prairies where the land and climate were more suited for growing wheat.
Chocolate: Chocolate, originally derived from the cacao plant, was first found in Mesoamerica. From the Olmecs, who were the first to grow cacao and process the beans in to chocolate, to the Mayas and Mexicas, chocolate played an important role in their traditions, religion and legends. But the chocolate they indulged in would have been nearly unrecognizable to you. For them, chocolate was a beverage made from the cacao plant and water. Bitter in taste, it was appropriately named after xocolātl, the Mexica word for “bitter water.”
Despite its acidity, conquistador Hernán Cortés brought this chocolate to the court of King Charles V. It didn’t take long for the drink to become all the rage among Spanish nobility. By 1660, chocolate was the beverage of choice for the French court at Versailles and shortly thereafter, chocolate shops opened in London. Chocolate as we know it though didn’t exist until Dutch chemist, Coenraad van Houten, invented a machine to process cacao in 1828. From there, the rest is history!
We invite you to join us tonight in celebrating Columbus Day with some tasty dishes inspired by and courtesy of none other than explorers! What dish will you be indulging in?