Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Of Pickles, Beyond the “Pickled Peppers”

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked;
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
-“Peter Piper” Lyrics (Roud Folk Song Index number 1945)

With a preschool child in the family, the tunes of nursery rhymes runs through out most of the time. Consequently the well-known alliteration tongue-twister English rhyme was a challenge for both the child and the parents, especially the latter.

Interestingly although John Harris (1756-1846) had published the earliest version of this tongue twister in Peter Piper’s Practical Principles of Plain and Perfect Pronunciation (London,1813); this rhyme was apparently known at least a generation earlier. The subject of the rhyme as asserted by few authors was Pierre Poivre, an eighteenth-century French horticulturalist and government administrator of Mauritius, who once investigated the Seychelles’ potential for spice cultivation.

Following the train of words and thoughts, “pickles” was the food-based research over the weekend. The food preparation technique of “pickling” is the process of preserving or extending the lifespan of food by either anaerobic fermentation in brine or immersion in vinegar or vinaigrette. Typically changing the texture, taste and flavour, there are a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, meats, fish (and even eggs) which can be pickled and varying methods to chose from. Preserving perishable foods for months, the pH of pickles are maintained at 4.6 or less, which kills most bacteria. Additional antimicrobial herbs and spices like mustard seeds, garlic, cinnamon or cloves, may be added. The flavours of the final product of “pickle” depends mainly on the acidity or salinity of the solution, the temperature of fermentation, and the exclusion of oxygen. Although used in moderation for the fear of acidity and spiciness linked to carcinogenic properties, pickles have been a part of the food culture from the beginning.

As far as origins are traced, “pickles” or similar forms had made their appearance as early as 2400 BC with archaeological evidence from the area of Mohenjo Daro civilization (Tigris Valley) of northwest Indian Subcontinent. From being Cleopatra’s prized beauty secrets or in popular writings, “pickles” were the earliest foods considered as a necessity for long sea voyages, road travels, for soldiers or simply to preserve food for the harsh seasons or periods of time.

Though “pickle” had early roots, from an etymology point, this late Middle English word (c.1400) came probably from the Middle Dutch of pekel or East Frisian päkel or German pökel, all meaning “brine”. Going further beyond, the word is of uncertain origin or original meaning.

Pickles aren’t limited to being salty or spicy alone, they can be sweet, sour, hot or a combination of them. Each area has their own method of pickling, most handed down from one generation to the next, as a family tradition. South Asian pickles (popularly known as achar or achaar in most areas, term of ?Persian origins) are varied in their making, include seasonal vegetables, fruits and meats, generally mixed with salt, spices and vegetable oils; set to mature in a moistureless medium. Moving on to Southeast Asia (Singapore, Indonesian and Malaysian) pickles, or “acar” were typically made of cucumber, carrot, bird’s eye chilies, shallots, papaya and pineapple; seasoned with vinegar, sugar and salt. Further east, Koreans have kimchi while the Japanese pickled plums and daikon.

Whereas in the Middle East pickles from peppers, olives to lemons; while in mst of Western Asia pickles (called torshi in Persian, tursu in Turkish and mekhallel in Arabic) are commonly made from turnips, peppers, carrots, green olives, cucumbers, cabbage, green tomatoes, lemons and cauliflower. Eastern Europeans introduced various forms of lacto-fermented cabbage, known as sauerkraut. In Russia, the leftover brine (called rassol in Russian) is used for cooking traditional soups, like shchi, rassolnik and solyanka. When the English and the Europeans had arrived in the Americas; they brought their method for creating sweet pickles with vinegar, sugar and spiced syrup. Pickled cucumbers (most often referred to simply as “pickles”), olives and sauerkraut are most commonly seen in the United States and Canada.

Combining all these methods, “pickling” is indeed an art, with each area, region, country or community having their own special technique of making them. Little wonder that although the National Pickle Day is celebrated by foodimentarians ( primarily in US) on November 14th, the National Pickle Month (July) is indeed to explore and recreate these “global” pickles dishes. With rain on and off, there’s nothing more creative than “recreating historical foods” diverse and variant in their own style.\

Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

From Sundae to “Cones”

With the Ice cream month of July, coming to a near end; indulging in the various combinations and food innovations with ice cream being a primary ingredient is a must. Although summer was never an excuse to indulge in the delights of ice cream, the latter is a good enough reason to beat the intermittent summer heat as well as the monsoon blues.

“Always serve too much hot fudge sauce on hot fudge sundaes. It makes people overjoyed, and puts them in your debt.” Judith Olney

Going creative to serve and enjoy ice cream was what lead to the origin of the ice cream sundae as well as the ice cream cone. Regarding the legends leading to the creation of the ice cream sundae, the frequent underlining factor was that, it was a variation of the popular ice cream soda. Made towards the 20th century, one factor that played a role in it’s creation was the banning of soda on Sundays in Illionis. Quite soon, it’s popularity took over with ice cream sundae becoming the weekend semi-official confection. As accounted by the Ice Cream Trade Journal (1909) along with plain or French sundae, other exotic varieties were listed like Robin Hood sundae, Cocoa Caramel sundae, Black Hawk sundae, Angel Cake sundae, Cinnamon Peak sundae, Opera sundae, Fleur D’Orange sundae, Tally-Ho Sundae, Bismarck and George Washington sundaes, to list a few.

Besides the ice cream, partially what lures some, is the fascinating cone that comes with it. The soft crunchiness adds to the flavours of the ice cream. The ice cream cone, poke (Ireland and Scotland) or cornet is usually made of a wafer similar in texture to a waffle, as a dry pastry which enables ice cream to be had held in the hand. From wafer (or cake) cones, waffle cones to sugar cones, there are different types of ice cream cone; styled also as pretzel cones, chocolate-coated cones or even double wafer cones. From the regular conical, pointed base to flat shaped base, cones can be shaped as the latter to stay upright by self.

As early as 1825, edible cones were mentioned in the French cookbooks with Archambault’s description of rolling a cone from little waffles. Towards the 19th century, English cook A.B.Marshall’s (1888) recipe for “Cornet with Cream” said that “the cornets were made with almonds and baked in the oven, not pressed between irons”. While edible cones were patented independently by two Italian entrepreneurs(1902-03), the fashion of the ice cream cone had gained momentum at the St. Louis World’s Fair (1904). There Arnold Fornachou, a concessionaire who was running an ice cream booth had ran short on paper cups. Buying waffles from Ernest Hamwi, a waffle vendor nearby; Fornachou rolled the waffles into cones to hold the ice cream.

Although this was the most widely circulated story, much dispute is still laid as to where ice-cream cones became mainstream. Credit for the ice cream cone was also claimed by Abe Doumar and the Doumar family can also claim credit for the ice cream cone. Likewise Doumar had also created rolled up the waffles with a scoop of ice cream on top. He began by selling the cones at the St. Louis Exposition which became an instant success. In fact he had set up the Doumar’s Drive In, Norfolk, Virginia (1907). Even today it operates at the same location established initially, making it a Hampton Roads landmark.

“I doubt whether the world holds for anyone a more soul-stirring surprise than the first adventure with ice cream.” Heywood Broun

To complete the ice cream experience; mixing the different styles of ice cream soda, sundae, toppings, flavours served in waffles or cones would add to the fun as well as palatable experimentation, bringing delight not just to the taste cravings or as comfort food, but also as an artistic rendering to the eye. After all ice cream lifts not just the taste cravings but the mood as a whole experience, which is what a part of life is about.

Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Of Ice-cream, Soda and Evolution…

“Summer would not be summer without Ice-cream. Ice-cream is the favorite currency of love.” Puck

For my kids, summer translates into picnics, beaches, barbecues and of course, never to forget it, “the ice-cream“. Being in the National Ice cream Month (July) with the end of the week marking the National Ice cream Day (third Sunday of July), the truce between the “young ones” and their “veggies” was an ice cream a day for dessert. As a part of improvisation of the existing recipes and combinations, delving into the evolution and progress of ice cream makes for an interesting read.

Although the origins of this “summer dessert” have been rough traced back to the 4th century B.C.; the modern day versions with the wide variety of flavours as well as presentations were made feasible only by the 18th century. Early records of it’s popularity include the Roman emperor Nero (37-68 CE) who ordered ice to be brought from the mountains and combined with fruit toppings and King Tang (618-97 CE) of Shang, China who had a method of creating ice and milk concoctions. While “Ice cream” may have been likely brought to Europe from China. As legends go, when Italian duchess Catherine de’ Medici married the Duke of Orléans (1533), the French court had few Italian chefs who had recipes for flavored ices or sorbets. A century later, Charles I of England was impressed by the “frozen snow” that he offered his own ice cream maker a lifetime pension in return for keeping the formula a secret, so that ice cream could be a royal prerogative. While there is no historical evidence to support these legends, the recipes for ices, sherbets and milk ices had evolved gradually over time and were usually served in the fashionable royal courts or in the upper class society.

“Without ice cream, there would be darkness and chaos.” Don Kardong

As recipes for flavoured ices began to be published for the household cooks and ice storing became more feasible, flavoured ices were enjoyed by the middle class society. Towards the early 19th century, Augustus Jackson had created several popular ice cream flavours, packed them into tin cans and distributed them to the ice cream parlours of Philadelphia. Credited with inventing an improved method for manufacturing of ice cream, he is technically considered as the modern day father of ice cream.

Going years ahead, the Franklin’s Institute semi-centennial celebration (1874) saw the creation of the ice cream float by Robert McCay Green, Pennsylvania. The traditional account was on that particularly hot day, Mr. Green ran out of ice for the flavored drinks he was selling and used vanilla ice cream from a neighboring vendor, thereby inventing a new drink. As published by his own account in the Soda Fountain magazine (1910), states that after some experimenting (after effect of competition with nearby vendors), he had decided to combine ice cream and soda water. During the celebration, he sold vanilla ice cream with soda water and a choice of 16 flavored syrups. Although there are at least three other claimants for the invention of ice cream float, namely Sanders, Mohr and Guy; wherein the latter is said to have absentmindedly mixed ice cream and soda (1872), to his customer’s delight. However may the legends go, the combination of ice cream and soda have stayed on.

“Sometimes life is just what it is, and the best you can hope for is ice cream.”  Abbi Waxman

From being in a boxed container to served with soda, sprinkles, toppings and more, ice cream has evolved from being a simple street or roadside treat to an artistic rendering for functions. Ice cream with its’ many variants like ice lolly, Malyasian Ais kacang, Turkish dondurma, gelato, kulfi and the like; are all here to stay and evolve, changing the “sweet trends” of dessert over time.



Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

OF Fries, Origin and Evolution

Thin or thick, served hot, soft or crispy and had as snack food or in accompaniment to main course of lunch or dinner; french fries or just fries (known as chips or finger fries) are batonnet or allumette-cut deep fried potatoes. An all time favourite especially for children, foodies, surprise occasions; they can be had salted or plain, or with ketchup, vinegar, mayonnaise, local specialty sauces and dips, or even be topped more heavily as chilli cheese fries, poutine and the like.

“Even if I’m eating healthy, I let myself indulge with french fries. That’s my favorite thing. You only live once!” Kate Mara

Like all the best things in the “food dictionary”, the origin or creator of these “golden strips” aren’t exactly known. Although the general consensus is that the “French Fry” is more of “Belgian origin than French.”

Potatoes were first introduced to Europe through the Spanish. On the Spanish exploration of Americas, they had encountered potatoes among the native food supply. As accounts of Jimenez de Quesada and the Spanish forces ( 1537) detail the discovery of potatoes among the native villages of Colombia, where they were called as “truffles” initially. When potatoes were brought back to Spain and introduced to Italy too. Then these potatoes were quite small, bitter and didn’t grow well in both places. Over time, larger and less bitter varieties were cultivated and gradually accepted elsewhere in Europe. Spain then controlled much of the modern day Belgium. While historical accounts indicate that Belgians were frying up ( or sauteing) thin strips of potatoes ( 17th to 18th century) in the Meuse Valley between Dinat and Liege. This idea could possibly arise from the original Belgian cuisine which usually fried small fish as part of their staple meals. With shortage of fish in winter, potatoes were an alternative.

“I try to have no absolute nos. I love french fries, I like a good burger, and I like pie. And that’s okay.” Michelle Obama

To explain the “French” of the French fries would be possible when two historical events are taken into account. What once the French had considered as hog feed or cause of various diseases, the change in their opinion due to potatoes was largely credited to the French Army medical officer Antoine-Augustine Parmentier, who was a captive of the Seven Years War and had survived on potatoes as a part of his prison rations. On his return back to France, he had aggressively campaigned as well as cultivated potatoes, promoting it’s benefits to the upper classes as well.

Also during the Franco-Austrian War, which had taken place near around the modern day Belgium, the possibility that French soldiers were introduced to the potato fries by the Belgians exists. Although gradually potato was accepted and cultivated in France; the famine of 1785 made potatoes popular in France. Slowly newer recipes and modes of cooking these spuds were tried. Once discovered or invented or improvised (from Belgian fries?), these fries became popular, especially in Paris, where they were known as “frites” and sold by push-cart vendors on the streets.

“Show me a person who doesn’t like french fries and we’ll swap lies.” Joan Lunden

Whether from Belgium or France, once these “frites” became popular, through colonization, migration as well as wars; they had become a much loved food on the menus across Europe, Britain and Americas. With the spread of fast food chains, these “frites” began to be introduced to the world largely as “French Fries”.

“If I could eat French fries every day of my life, I would.” Adrienne C. Moore

The modern day french fries, though best loved when salted, spiced and fried in oil; for more healthier options can be baked (or even grilled) with seasonings, toppings and all. From the various types of cut fries (crinkle-cut or wavy, curly, shoestring, steak, tornado, waffle) to different preparations like french fry sandwiches, chilli cheese fries, chorrillana to mention a few as well as alternatives like sweet potatoes or potato wedges; one can go creative with these frites. To celebrate the National French Fry day ( July 13th) it would be fun to go on a limb and try the regular to the different combination of the modern fries. For the more experimental ones, it would be interesting to combine fries to the regular dishes. For those of us who dislike potatoes or want healthier options, try baking sweet potatoes, thinly sliced carrots or beetroot with seasoning and all. After all the whole point of food is to relish various flavours, experiment, enjoy and simply have fun.

Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Of Piña Colada, Origin and Evolution

“Blend or shake 6 ounces of pineapple juice, 3 ounces of coconut cream, 1½ ounces of white rum and crushed ice until smooth. Serve in chilled glasses, garnished with pineapple wedge and/or a maraschino cherry.” – Piña Colada (1954 recipe)

Proclaimed as the national drink by Puerto Rico (1978), this cocktail although steadily popular in all Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries, is widely enjoyed across the world. The popularity is affirmed by it being a part of the world of entertainment, from music, popular lyrics to cinemas. For instance, “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” by American musician Rupert Holmes (1979) had reached the number one spot and stayed there for few weeks.

While the name piña colada literally means “strained pineapple” in Spanish; this sweet cocktail is made with rum, coconut cream or coconut milk and pineapple juice. Usually served either blended or shaken with ice, it may be garnished with either a pineapple wedge, maraschino cherry or both.

Legends abound the origin of this cocktail. The earliest known legend states that Puerto Rican pirate Roberto Cofresí, to boost his crew’s morale, gave them a beverage or cocktail that contained coconut, pineapple and white rum; what would be later known as the famous piña colada (19th century). This recipe was believed to be lost with his death (1825). Yet this story is widely disputed by food historians.

By popular belief, the creation of the piña colada was credited to bartender Ramon “Monchito” Marrero (1954). Working in the Beachcombers Bar of the Caribe Hilton, one of the premier luxury hotels in San Juan; he was asked by hotel management to create a signature drink that captured the flavors of the island. By his account, Marrero had spent three months experimenting with hundreds of combinations before perfecting his sweet, frothy concoction of rum, cream of coconut and pineapple juice. Once introduced it had gained mass popularity. Marrero mixed up and served his creation at the hotel for 35 years until his retirement (1989). Concurrently another barman, Spaniard Ricardo Gracia who had served drinks at the Caribe Hilton, had claimed that he invented the cool, creamy cocktail. As per the interview to the Coastal Living magazine (2005), a strike by a coconut-cutters union (1954) had prevented him from serving up the popular mixed drink of rum, cream of coconut and crushed ice in its traditional sliced coconut. When forced to improvise, Gracia had poured the drink into a hollowed-out pineapple. When the fruit’s added flavor proved popular, Gracia said he added freshly pressed and strained pineapple juice to the previous combination of rum and cream of coconut, to create the piña colada.

Concurrently two miles west of the Caribe Hilton, another San Juan hotspot stakes its claim as the birthplace of piña colada. As attested by the marble plaque outside the entrance of the Restaurant Barrachina ( established late 1850s), Ramon Portas Mingot, a Spanish mixologist who wrote cocktail books and worked in the top bars of Buenos Aires, had made the first piña colada (1963) inside its doors.

Although the piña colada, was born in Puerto Rican capital of San Juan; the identity of the bartender who first mixed up the iconic rum-based cocktail remains a point of contention. However the modern-day beach cocktail wouldn’t be possible until the invention of Coco Lopez, a pre-made cream of coconut (1954). Developed by Ramon Lopez-Irizarry, an agriculture professor at the University of Puerto Rico; he had blended cream from the hearts of Caribbean coconuts with natural cane sugar, which later became an integral part of the island’s piña coladas.

Over the years, different proportions of the core ingredients, as well as different types of rum, may all be used in the piña colada to create different and new signature varieties. While frozen piña coladas are also served today; other named variations like the Amaretto colada (amaretto substituted for rum),  Chi chi (vodka in place of rum), the Virgin piña colada or piñita colada ( non alcoholic, without the rum) or even the Soda colada (resembles the original recipe, but soda is used instead of coconut milk) to list a few. For the more resourceful or food connoisseurs and experimenters, piña colada can be blended into smoothies, milk shakes, cupcakes or even into cheesecake.

With National Piña Colada (July 10th) being celebrated tomorrow, it would be fun to experiment and create a similar based concoction, or simply enjoy the flavours of the original piña colada to mark special occasions.


2 ounces rum
1 ounce cream of coconut
1 ounce heavy cream
6 ounces fresh pineapple juice
1/2 cup crushed ice

Mix rum, cream of coconut, heavy cream and pineapple juice in a blender. Add ice and mix for 15 seconds. Serve in a 12-ounce glass and garnish with fresh pineapple and a cherry.

Posted in Daily, Food

Of “Portable Pies”

Although the modern lifestyle had attracted the tradition of “having food on the go” ranging from well wrapped portable sandwiches, cupcakes, tarts, salads to mention a few; portable pies were in existence since ancient times. Popularly known as “turnovers”, these portable pies were made by placing a filling on a piece of dough, folding the dough over, sealing, and baking it. Made sweet or savory, “turnovers” are often made as a sort of portable meal or dessert, similar to a sandwich; had for breakfast, snacks, desserts or quick picnics. From being baked to fried, fillings include fruits (apples, blueberries and cherries), meats ( chicken, beef and pork), vegetables (sweet potatoes, carrots, peas), eggs or even cheese. Specialty versions are made with fillings of wild rabbit and leek.

Traditionally turnovers are usually sweet, with popular pastry being the classical puff pastry. Known as sweet tarts initially, the term turnovers had come to reference around the eighteenth century. Made then as a sort of small, typically individual pie or pasty, in which the filling is placed on one side of a piece of rolled-out pastry and the other side is then turned over’ to cover it, forming a semicircular shape (Sporting Magazine, 1798).

Though these “turnovers” may have been there across different cuisine, albeit under other popular names. From the empanada of South and Central America (mixture of chopped meats, hard-boiled eggs, minced vegetables, olives, raisins, highly seasoned), the Russian pirozhki (meat, fish, cabbage, mushrooms or cheese), the famous Cornish pasties (large turnovers filled with beef, onions, turnips), Chinese dimsum (meat, fish, vegetables), Indian Samosas (chickpeas, potatoes, spices), Polish Pierogies, Middle Eastern Sanbousic (cheese and dill) and the Greek Spanokopitas (fillings of spinach, cottage and feta cheese with olives) are few among the many “global turnover” choices to experiment with as “quick meals or snacks” on the go.

With arising global popularity, little wonder then Turnovers have their own days. To mark celebrated food days of the National Apple Turnover Day (July 5th) as well as the World Chocolate Day (July 7th), sweet apple turnovers drizzled with chocolate may be a good way to mark them. For kitchen chefs, experimenting with turnovers may be a change from the regular desserts or savoury versions can be stuffed with meat leftovers, vegetables or just sweet fillings, depending on the mood of the hour. From sweet, savoury to spicy or cheesy; “turnover pies” have a variety of taste to offer, besides being a “quick solution” for sudden brunches, high teas or simply cravings.

Posted in Daily, Food, Photography Art

Cooking to Culinary Arts

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

For most gastronomes, culinary specialists, chefs, nutritionists as well as home cooks, food being cooked, served or even eaten reflects a lot of the “mood within”. For instance, if one is extremely tired after a long day, the easiest meal to make in a jiffy for a home cook is pasta and cheese followed by ice cream for the sweet end. On the other hand, to mark any special occasion, the requirement of a full three course meal (salad or appetizer, main course and meat) completed by a splendid (if not necessarily elaborate) dessert is a must. When in an angry mood, every chef at heart will go with their inner basic meal, not tuning to art of the eye, but just ensuring that the basic taste is palatable. Too irritated or bothered to cook, it will be pizza or “Chinese order” on the house. And when the mood is sad, it will be the comfort food , homemade, with a striking resemblance to one’s childhood or mother’s style, or the fast food version.

“The preparation of good food is merely another expression of art, one of the joys of civilized living.” Dione Lucas

Essentially, cooking is a very sensitive art. While one mayn’t have the intensive training or qualification to be a chef of Michelin three or five star rated restaurant, but if one can make a complete wholesome meal for self, family and friends, that alone is enough. In fact, cooking is an expression of love. For every ingredient which balances the meal, it is a reflection of the care, precision and the basics of science behind it.

“Anybody can make you enjoy the first bite of a dish, but only a real chef can make you enjoy the last.” Francois Minot

The “effective cooking” of today, is a balance of food and fun, of taste, experimentation and readily available ingredients. While baking involves following the written or “handed down” instructions to the point; cooking involves a little experimentation of ingredients, spices as well as art. The evolution of cooking into “culinary arts” over the years, has resulted in a whole new range of varied dishes blended together with taste, nutrition, quality, tradition, serving, managing as well as visual presentation to complete the effect.

“The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity, than the discovery of a new star.” Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Entering into the month of “culinary arts” (July); the professional cooks and chefs who bring innovative cuisine from their kitchens to our tables every day are being recognized not just for their talent but devotion as well as contribution to cooking as an art form. For the home cook to experiment with technique and style, vast differences can be made by the order of adding the ingredients, plating as well as trying and blending the new recipes with the old ones. To start off, experimenting in small amounts can be tried. While most of the time, home cooking involves the regular, to celebrate this month, it would be good to plate the regular different or try something new altogether. For every cook, is indeed a chef with a hidden artistic side.

“Culinary tradition is not always based on fact. Sometimes it’s based on history, on habits that come out of a time when kitchens were fueled by charcoal.” Alton Brown

“In the abstract art of cooking,
ingredients trump appliances,
passion supersedes expertise,
creativity triumphs over technique,
spontaneity inspires invention,
and wine makes even the worst culinary disaster taste delicious.”
Bob Blumer