Tag Archives: food history

Archaeologists Find Ancient Evidence Of Cheese-Making : The Salt : NPR

Archaeologists Find Ancient Evidence Of Cheese-Making : The Salt : NPR.

 As any cheese maker will tell you, it’s not that hard to make cheese. You just take some fresh milk, warm it up a bit, and add something acidic to curdle it. Then, once it has cooled, you drain off the whey— the liquid part — and you’re left with cheese.

But when did we figure out how to do this? According to a new paper in the journal Nature, at least 7,000 years ago. Since then, the process hasn’t changed much.

Take that, Kraft Singles!

The History of the Martini

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia

 (As with any post or book dealing with Food History, the typical caveats, dealing with regionalism and incomplete records, apply.)

For such a classic cocktail, the history of the Martini is murky, with various stories being thrown about as truths, when in fact most of these are half-truths at best, out and out fabrications at worst.  The most common story out there is that “Professor”  Jerry Thomas invented the drink in San Francisco, and documented it in one of the first book of cocktail recipes called How to Mix Drinks. While the historical aspect of this book should not be undervalued, the fact remains that it has little, if anything to do with the history of the martini.

There is no indication of the martini in the first edition of his book. The closest we get to the recipe is one called Gin Punch. The recipe is as follows:

11. Gin Punch
(From a recipe by Soyer.)
1/2 Pint of old gin.
1 gill of maraschino
The juice of two lemons.
The rind of half of a lemon.
Four ounces of syrup.
1 quart bottle of German Seltzer Water.
Ice Well.

This is the basis of what we know of today as a Tom Collins, but it’s no where close to a Martini.

He does add a recipe called the Martinez in his 1887 edition of The Bar-tender’s Guide or How to mix All Kinds of Plain and Fancy Drinks

Martinez Cocktail.
(Use small bar-glass.)
Take 1 dash of Boker’s bitters.
2 dashes of Maraschino.
1 pony of Old Tom gin.
1 wine-glass of Vermouth.
2 small lumps of ice.

Shake up thoroughly, and strain into a large cocktail
glass. Put a quarter of a slice of lemon in the glass, and serve. If the guest prefers it very sweet, add two dashes of gum syrup.

This is a little closer, but the maraschino makes it a little further away than what I’d like.  But due to the nebulous nature of recipes back then, it is a start. As far as the first documented use of the name “martini,” that comes from Harry Johnson’s The New and Improved Illustrated Bartenders’ Manual; circa 1888.

57 Martini Cocktail

(Use a large bar glass)

Fill the glass up with ice;
2 or 3 dashes of Gum Syrup;
2 or 3 dashes of Bitters; (Boker’s genuine only)
1 dash of Curaçoa;
1/2 wine glassful of Old Tom Gin;
1/2 wine glassful of Vermouth;

stir up well with a psoon, strain it into a fancy cocktail glass, squeeze a piece of lemon peel on top, and serve. (See Illustration, Plate No. 13.)

However, I came across this recipe for a Turf Club Cocktail, from book/pamphlet called How to mix drinks. Bar keepers’ handbook published in 1884. The recipe is straight-forward:

Turf Club Cocktail

Two or three dases of Peruvian Bitters;
One-half wine glass of Tom Gin;
One-half wine glass of Italian Vermouth;
Fill glass three-quarters full of fine ice, stir well with spoon and strain in fancy cocktail glass, then serve.

This recipe is closer to the martini, and was published three years prior to Thomas’ Martinez.

From The Hostess of To-day, by Linda- Hull Larned in 1899


1/2 c Tom gin,

1/2 c Italian Vermouth,

1 tsp orange bitters,

serve with a curled lemon peel in each glass or rub rim of glass with lemon zest then dip in powdered sugar .

A magazine called The Bachelor book, released in September1900, has a similar sweetened recipe for the martini in an article called The Soothing Syrup:

Martini Cocktail

A mixing glass half full of fine ice, three dashes of orange bitters, one half jigger Tom gin, one half jigger Italian vermouth, a piece of lemon peel.  Mix well and strain into a cocktail glass. Many persons add a half teaspoonful of sherry but this is a matter of individual taste

In the May 15, 1903 release The Mixer and Server, Official Journal of the Hotel and Restuarant Employee’s International Alliance and Bartenders’ International League of America, Volume XII No.5, page 64, there was printed this tidbit:

“Golf Cocktail”

Extra Dry

There is always something new under the sun in an up to the minute cafe. New drinks are constantly being launched upon the sea of popularit,y and the palates of the vast army of lovers of well compounded and refreshing beverages do not suffer as a consequence. Jake Didier, author of the “Reminder” has unfolded another drink, which he calls “Golf Cocktail.” A feature of the concoction is that it is “Extra Dry.” People who have delighted in imbibing in extra dry champagne have now turned to the extra dry cocktail. Competent critics declare the cocktail to be one of the best in Jake’s extensive repertoire.

A goblet 2/3 full of cracked ice, 3 dashes of Hostetter’s bitters, 1/3 drink of French Vermouth, 2/3 drink of Gordon gin;  stir well, strain into cocktail glass put in olive, and serve.

That, my friends, is a recipe for a dry martini. it is the missing link between the Sweetened Martini recipes of the nineteenth century and the dry recipe of today.

By 1913, we see advertisements in various magazines differentiating between a martini and a dry martini. Somewhere in the previous ten years, the golf cocktail takes off, but is defined as a drier derivation of the more traditional sweet martini. But up until prohibition, the traditional martini used Tom Gin, rather than a London dry. The proliferation of faux “London Dry” gins during prohibition sounded the death knell for the sweetened martini, and its popularity waned. The dry version become the defacto defintion of “martini”.

So, the history of the martini in a nutshell? It started off as a sweetened cocktail in the late 1800′s, roughly around 1880, give or take. A dry version was introduced around 1900, and took off in popularity. Prohibition saw the end of production of Tom Gin, but the bathtub gins led to the popularity of the dry version of the drink, so much so, that when America came out of Prohibition, the martini was thought of as first, foremost, and only as a dry cocktail.

Delmonico’s: It’s All About The History

Delmonico's circa 1902

If ever there were an example that gave insight into my own character, this is likely it. Here I am, a week or so from heading to New York City, a city filled with world renown restaurants, and me with the resources to choose which one I could go to. My decision?


Why? Because for a history geek like myself, Delmonico’s is chock full of the ghosts of the past. I get giddy just thinking about it.

Delmonico’s, as a name, has been around for a long time. It  is older than the city in which I currently reside – Seattle. It is older than the state of Washington, older than organized baseball, and older than the American Civil War.

Yes, yes, I know. The current incarnation is a mere recreation, trading off of the name. It is not the original, or even the second coming. If my math is right, the current version of Delmonico’s is actually the fourteenth version, if you count the initial pastry shop that the brothers Delmonico founded in 1827. But it’s the idea that’s grabbed me.

Why? Because Delmonico’s brought restaurant dining to New York, and later the rest of America. I talked before about the culinary landscape of New York City at the time Delmonico’s came into being, and it’s important to understand just what this new type of business added to the city. It was (supposedly) here that  à la carte ordering made its debut in America, as well as the ability to eat your own table, unshared by strangers.

Think about that for a moment – a New York City without restaurants, without a place where you can sit down and be both separate from yet intrinsically part of the food scene of New York City.  The restaurant scene of the Big Apple is a direct descendant of the legacy that Delmonico’s at least inspired, if not outright created.

It was a restaurant visited by the like of Charles Dickens, and the place where Mark Twain celebrated his 70th birthday. It was the place where (purportedly) the Lobster Newberg was invented, along with the Baked Alaska, Eggs Benedict, and, of course, the Delmonico Steak. Delmonico’s is a name weighted with the past, and carries with it the authority of tradition and quality. Why else would the name last through nearly two centuries, with the past 90 years being without an actual Delmonico on site?

I recognize that today’s restaurant is merely trading on the name. But for me, that is enough. It knows its past. And if I can have a meal that connects me to the New York City of 1837, even loosely, then I’m okay with that. I will be there with my friends and loved ones, and for a moment or two, I’ll get to think about what it must have been like to eat at Delmonico’s at its heyday.

How did New Yorkers Eat in the Early 1800′s?

The above picture is a lithograph of a dinner celebrating the life and celebrity of Washington Irving. While I have interesting in the first Knickerbocker, he’s not the purpose of this post. Instead, look at the style of the banquet hall – long tables, shaped like the interior Hogwart’s dining hall. The picture gives a good indication on how the upper class ate in social engagements.

But, as with all banquets, these are the exceptions to every day eating, not the rule.  So what was the food culture of the era of 1825-1863? Let’s set aside Delmonico’s, the first name often brought up when talking about eating in that era. Delmonico’s should be noted, but again, they are the exception, not the rule. The idea of “restaurants” had yet to take off in Gotham.

The first thing we have to remember was that New York City, more than another other city on the planet at that time, was designed as a financial center. The first way this manifested itself was through shipping, which meant merchants, which meant people buying and selling cargo. This also meant that the city attracted business men. It has been reported that on any given day in New York City during this era, one should add an additional 60,000 people to its citizenry, all temporary residents who stayed an average of three days. This people had to be fed somehow, and the primary way was through the hotels and boarding houses where they stayed. Those who put up these boarders were expected, through etiquette and tradition, to feed those who stayed with them.  Hotels were expensive, and often had their meals reflect that status. Boardinghouses were middling to cheap, and the food served at these places were famously poor.

Other places where people could eat included the chophouses I mentioned yesterday, with some of these evolving into eating houses that sat next to or near the various playhouses and theaters that were popping up throughout New York City, including a place called Windust’s that sat next to the Park Theater in 1824. The idea of catching a dinner and a show, has its roots way before the idea of “Broadway” could even be fathomed.

Also around the theaters, and peppered throughout the city were the bakeries who provided the daily bread and pastry fix, to the confectioners, now far removed from their apothecarial past. Then there were the taverns, where drinking was the primary order of the day, and food was provided to keep people drinking. Coffee houses had similar a similar outlook, with the intent of keeping people on site as long as New Yorkers could bear.

And for those who had less money to spend, or no time to get home during the work day, food peddlers provided cheap food directl, calling out their wares which included everything from oysters and clams, to baked beans, strawberries and mint, hot yams, and corn on the cob peddled by the hot-corn girls.

All of this was in place by the time Delmonico’s arrived on the scene, and changed the landscape of the New York Dining scene. But, I’m getting just a bit ahead of myself.

What is a Chophouse?

This post will make more sense when combined with one that will be published later this week. But I do have to set some measure of  groundwork, at least from a historical perspective.

When doing a quick search on the Internet, it quickly becomes apparent that the idea of a “chophouse” is seen as the exact same way as a “steakhouse”. This may be true from a modern, current-day perspective. However, historically speaking the two are not the same. Similar, yes. The same? Not quite.

Before we get much further, let me pull out an old definition of chophouse, from The Royal English dictionary, published in 1763:

..a kind of cook’s shop, where meat is ready dressed, so called from their dealing mostly in mutton chops.

So, yes, it was, at it’s heart, a meat shop, and yes, it was a distinctly British idea. But remember, the idea of a restaurant was still about twenty years away by this point. So the question becomes – what makes a chophouse not a restaurant?

Two things, primarily. For one, the menu – it never changed, and it rarely expanded beyond a cook cut of meat or two. Yes, sides of bread, cheese,broth,  and other similar products could and would be sold, and a drink might be available. But for the most part, the chophouse was known to serve meat and only meat. Think of it as a “restaurant” who only had one item on the menu. one that was served one way and one way only. There would be no option to order it rare one day, and well-done the next.

Secondly, the chophouse was a first-come, first-served type of place, where the customer would sit on a bench next to complete strangers.

All of this is a broad definition, and it needs to be considered that, as with any similar business, the quality varied from the respected to the disgusting.

This is quite different from the idea of the restaurant, where a person would sit at their own table, could choose from a variety of options on the menu, have that meal cooked for them specifically, and be attended to by an individual.

So, how does a “steakhouse” fit into this equation? A steakhouse, in today’s parlance, is the old chophouse ideal mixed with the serving philosophy of the restaurant. Historically speaking, a steakhouse is not the same thing as a chophouse, but can trace its roots to the chophouse tradition.  Or, to put it another way: (chophouse)+(restaurant)=steakhouse.

Who the Hell Invented Gin Anyways?

If one does a brief check of the internet in order to discover who “invented” gin, the first thing one encounters is a vast series of misinformation and misunderstanding.  At least three different people get credit for creating gin, and there’s little evidence to support any of them. However, in the interest of fairness, I’ve decided to list them all here, and tell you who has the better shot of being credited with the popularity of the storied spirit.

  1. Franciscus Sylvius - 17th Century:  Born in Germany but lived in the Netherlands, Sylvius is often the first person given credit for gin’s creation. He’s also the less likely to actually have done so. An anatomist by trade, he is rightfully credited for defining and mapping parts of the brain.
  2. Sylvius de Bouve – 16th Century: Certainly a better candidate than “Brainy” Sylvius, de Bouve was a Flemish alchemist who actually worked with distillation and created a series of concoctions as medicine with this technique.
  3. Jacob van Maerlant – 13th Century: Another Dutch, van Maelant documented juniper based medicine in his series Der naturen bloeme, a 20 volume manuscript detailing the natural world.

Here’s the thing – None of these guys likely “invented” gin, any more than the John Montagu invented the sandwich*. Out of the three candidates above, only Sylvius de Bouve worked with distillation on a regular basis (although Franciscus Sylvius had access to labratories). The nature of the world back in the 1500′s and 1600′s was that the majority of people, including alchemists, were students of the oral tradition, and only the wealthy had access to books and manuscripts, and only the wealthy and upper middle classes had the resources to learn how to read.

Alchemy, from which genever very likely evolved, would have been known by more than a few people, and juniper was a common adjunct at the time, and added to various concoctions, including beer. Being a society based on the oral tradition, juniper infused alcohol that had been distilled could have occurred anywhere from Scotland to Switzerland. In fact, there is evidence that the whiskeys of the time (the unaged, white-lightning variety) were often flavored with one type of herb or another, up to and including the aforementioned juniper.

So why do I think de Bouve deserves some credit? Because it is very likely that he was the first to write  a variation of the recipe down, and then sell his concoction to great popularity. Similar to the case of Montagu, de Bouve became the de facto person known for  an already established product.

History is rarely as clean and tidy as having one person be responsible for the discovery of any one thing. Solo efforts are the exception, not the rule.  The history of gin follows that same rule.

(*NOTE:  Nothing is sillier to me than the idea that Montagu invented putting meat on bread and then eating it by hand. It discounts so many different cultures, including the history of Middle Eastern cuisine, that it surprises me that so many people accept the “invention” of the sandwich as fact.)


What is Vermouth?

A classic Martini is two ingredient – gin and vermouth.  Gin I’ve talked about for quite a bit (and still have quite a ways to go), but I have yet to bring up just what in the hell is vermouth?

The short answer is that it is a wine. A slightly longer answer is that it’s a fortified wine, flavored with anything from wormwood to sugar, and nearly any herb and/or spice you may think of.  In fact, the name “vermouth” is an anglicized derivation of the German word “wermut”, which translates into wormwood. From this, we can hypothesize that wormwood had at least a small chapter in vermouth’s history.

Way back in 2005, I wrote up a brief history of Vermouth, and I proclaimed:

 Vermouth is an aromatized wine, created at some point in the 1700′s. “Aromatised” means that various additives, such as herbs, flowers and other botanicals, are macerated into the wine to add to the flavor.

I was wrong. Oh was I wrong.  Or, more to the point,  the history of Vermouth is not the same as the history of aromatised wine.  People have been putting various additives into wine since probably the beginning of wine’s history, and the idea of adding wormwood would not have been that novel of an idea in the 1700′s.

As with the history of anything alcohol-related, the first place one should look as to why something came into being is its perceived physical benefits.  Vermouth is no different, and the addition of items such as wormwood would have been seen as a quick and easy way to get some medicinal benefit out of the fortified wine.  We see this across the entire history of bitters, cordials, apertifs, and liqueurs, so much so, that a fair number of the older liqueurs out there can trace their heritage to apothecaries rather than distillers.  Vermouth is no different.

So how was Vermouth made? Interestingly enough, one can get some insight into the process in the Congressional Record of 1889-1890 of all places. In there,  where they report on the Universal Exposition of 1889 held in Paris, they document:

Various quantities of absinthe, germander, hyssop, sage, centaury, saffron, enule, galauguen, aromatic cane, gentian, benzoin, calisaya, quassia, cinnamon, zedorcia, cloves, coriander, aniseed, mushroom, and orange peel are put into a linen bag and hung in a white wine which is kept at a temperature of about 150 F. for four or five days; The bag is then squeezed into the wine and replaced, and the steeping continued for a month, the bag being squeezed at intervals of five or six days. The vermouth is then filtered and put into casks or bottles for shipment. The various bitters of trade are made much in the same way.

So, to put it bluntly, Vermouth is flavored wine.

Today, it has changed a bit from how it was created and sold in the late 1800′s. There are, generally speaking, two types of vermouth recognized: White and dry, or Red and Sweet, with different herbs and spices meant to support whatever outlook one has for their vermouth.  Each producer of vermouth will have a different recipe for their product, and no two vermouths should be considered to have the same flavor profile (and neither should good gins, I’m finding out, but that’s a different post).

Over the next few months, I’m going to revisit various types of vermouth. I had done a bit of this in 2005, but this taste testing eventually faded away into the background. With my goal of finding the best Martini, my hope is that I will be more driven to complete this task.