Grinding through History – Antique Brass Spice Mills

These are pretty neat, aren’t they?

I picked these up at my local flea-market before it closed for Christmas. The last market of the year – almost everybody was selling stuff off cheap. One last chance to make money before three weeks of nothing. As a result, these were going cheap!

“What the hell are they??” I hear you ask.

Well, they’re antique brass spice mills! Ain’t they just the cutest lil’ things you ever saw in your life??

OK, okay…ok…let’s be a bit more serious now…

What are they, really?

Well that’s a bit of a tricky question to answer, actually.

The short answer is that according to all the research I’ve done, they are spice mills, used for grinding up things like coffee, salt, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and whatever else you can cram inside them. But that’s not entirely true. See, mills of this design were originally meant, not for spices, but coffee beans!

They originated with the Greek army because apparently Greek soldiers needed a lot of coffee to make it through a day’s fighting. The problem was that to get the coffee, they had to grind the beans, and grinding beans on the move was a problem, because of how chunky old-fashioned coffee-mills were. Have you seen those things? They’re huge!

To find a compact and portable alternative, some bright spark came up with these things!

Now, they do come in various sizes. All the way from well over a foot long, down to about five or six inches in height. The small mill is about 7.5in high, which makes it a medium, while the other mill is about 13in high, which makes a large! In fact, I don’t think any current manufacturers produce a mill this big!

“So what are they used for?”

As I said, originally these were coffee mills, but these days, people use them for all kinds of things. They’re very popular as spice-mills, for grinding pepper, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon…basically anything that you can cram inside it! The fineness of the grind is adjusted by the screw or nut inside the base of the grinder. A tighter nut means a finer grind (because the grinding-wheels are closer together) whereas a looser nut means a more coarse grind (from the wheels being further apart).

Mills like these have been popular for over a hundred years. And it’s not hard to see why – they’re beautifully made, extremely robust, and they have a huge capacity! They’re also pretty easy to clean.

“How do they work, then?”

The basic operation is pretty easy. You remove the handle, take off the dome-cap, and then you fill the mill with whatever spice you need to grind. You put the cap and the handle back on, and then start grinding.

As you turn the handle, the wheels grind, and the resultant ground-up spices are collected in the base. This stops them sprinkling and spraying all over the place and keeps things neat and tidy. It’s a ridiculously simple design, and I think, very effective and sensible.

“That thing looks COOL!…I want one! GIMME!”

What!? No! Bugger off! Gitcher own darn spice mill!

In all honesty, if you do want one of these things, they’re pretty easy to find. Spend enough time at your local flea-market and you’ll eventually find one. I’ve seen loads of them go through my market for years. I never bought one because I never saw their appeal until now. They’re usually pretty cheap – these two cost almost nothing – and once they’ve been cleaned and such, they’ll last a lifetime!

If you’re after a new one though, they are still made brand new – and you can buy them online. They’re manufactured in Greece, the country of their birth, by a company called Atlas. These might not carry the earth and heavens on their shoulders, but they can grind up a world of spices for you! And they’ll do it with style. Although I generally reckon – not with half as much style as the older ones do!


“Why Salt and Pepper?”

I found this highly entertaining YouTube video this morning. Was uploaded a few days ago by the channel ‘It’s OK to be Smart’:

Highly informative and mostly accurate, EXCEPT for the part about Medieval cooks putting pepper on rotten meat. That has been a persistent myth for centuries. It never happened. It never happened because pepper in the Middle Ages was EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE. No cook who wished to remain in his master’s employ would dared to have wasted such expensive spices on meat already past its prime.

Other than that, a fascinating look into the history of salt and pepper 🙂


Making a Meal of it – The History of our Meals and Their Times

Sailors in the Royal Navy received three “square meals” a day, served to them in a wooden, square tray, which wouldn’t slide and roll around on a rocking, creaking sailing ship.

Each morning, we break our evening fast, with the first meal of the day. At night, we dine upon dinner, or sup upon supper. We take dinner in the afternoon and supper at night, or lunch in the afternoon and dinner at night, and supper as a late-night snack. We have elevenses, morning tea, afternoon tea, Bruncheon, Tiffin, coffee-breaks, tea-breaks…Where did all our different meal-names and meal-times come from?

Get yourself something to eat while we sink our teeth into the history of our meals.


“We’ve had breakfast, yes! But what about second breakfast!?” 
“I don’t think he knows about second breakfasts, Pip…”LOTR

Breakfast! That meal that’s so important, hobbits have it twice a day!

In our modern lives, breakfast is our regular morning meal, eaten any time between daybreak and noon. But why do we call it ‘breakfast’? Why not sunmeal or upfeed or dawning snack?

The word ‘Breakfast‘ comes from the Middle Ages, when days often started at sun-up, with hard physical labour, working the land. Or started with morning prayers in a monastery or church. Most people would rise at dawn, and not eat until they had tilled fields, split firewood, fed the animals, prayed and handled the most important of household chores during the limited hours of daylight. It was only after this exertion that one could ‘break one’s fast’. Eventually, it just became known as ‘breakfast’.

Breakfast staples such as pancakes, bacon and eggs, toast, and porridge, developed over the centuries. In the days before Lent, people observed Collop Monday and Shrove Tuesday. The two days before Ash Wednesday.

During these days, people had to use up all their meat and perishable foodstuffs before the period of abstinence called Lent, since none of these things would last and would rot during the period of fasting.

So came about pancakes (which used up extra eggs, flour and dairy), and bacon and eggs, which used up excess eggs, and meat. A ‘collop‘ is a slice of meat, so basically ‘Meat Monday’.

Most countries around the world survived on porridge or pottage for breakfast, and every society has its own variation. Rice congee or porridge in Asia, oat or barley porridge in Europe, cornmeal porridge or gruel in the Americas.

In Samuel Johnson’s famous dictionary, the entry of “Oats” is hilariously defined as: “Eaten by people in Scotland, but fit only for horses in England“, to which a reply was typically: “What fine people, and what fine horses!

In England, the ‘Full English’ breakfast was typically the norm for those who could afford it, during the 19th century. Bacon, eggs, sausages, toast, beans, black pudding, and tea. A substantial amount of food to keep the body fueled during hard labour on the farm, or in one of the new manufacturing jobs that was popping up around England during the Victorian era.

Cornflakes and other breakfast cereals started appearing in the late 1800s, in the years after the American Civil War. These were championed as healthfoods by such people as John Harvey Kellogg. J.H. Kellogg, along with his brother William Keith, were vegetarians, and believed strongly in a grain-based diet, without the eggs, meat, bacon, and sausages common on the breakfast tables of the 1800s.

One of the more interesting reasons as to why the Kellogg brothers developed cornflakes was due to their views on sex. As Seventh Day Adventists, they believed in sexual abstinence. Surely, a change in diet would distract people from their morning shag, and make them better, more holy people?

Not if you feed them a rich, healthy, carbohydrate breakfast which gives them lots of energy to enjoy their morning romp even more…

But then, Dr. J. Kellogg was a man who believed in the wholesome benefits of yoghurt enemas.

So much for the dietary views of Dr. Kellogg…

Throughout most of history, breakfast was eaten…whenever. It wasn’t until the 1700s that it started seriously becoming a morning meal. The long working-hours of farmers, industrialists, inventors and the landed gentry…okay maybe not the last one…meant that a meal in the morning before heading off to work was necessary, and it wasn’t practical to go home for a meal halfway through the day, so it was eaten as early as possible before heading off into the humdrum routine of the day. By the Victorian period, Breakfast was well and truly set as the morning meal.


We imagine brunch as a modern thing. Housewives have it with their friends. The rich and idle have it when they wake up late from drowning in their Egyptian cotton sheets. It’s the lazy dude’s meal. Right?


‘Brunch’ as we know it today, first arrived in the Victorian era of the 1890s. It was created as a joke in the popular comic magazine, ‘Punch‘, as a sort of long, Sunday lunch, to be enjoyed after weekend church-services, starting with breakfast foods and slowly morphing into heavier, more substantial luncheon-style foods in the afternoon, all enjoyed in a relaxed, lazy atmosphere.

Brunch has extended its reach and now exists in countries all over the world, from America to China. From enjoying a light meal at a country club, to a casual yumcha in Hong Kong.


Ah, lunch! Not everyone has lunch. Some people think it’s an essential component of life. Others enjoy long, lavish, relaxing luncheons, eaten with friends and colleagues. Some just skip it and survive on two meals a day. But what is it?

‘Lunch’ is the new kid on the block, as far as mealtimes are concerned. Originally, there was breakfast, taken in late morning or midday, and then dinner or supper, taken in the late afternoon. ‘Lunch’ as we know it today did not even exist.

But from the 1700s onwards, with breakfast getting earlier and work-hours forcing dinner further and further back into the evening, it was often several hours between meals. Imagine having breakfast at seven o’clock in the morning, or eight o’clock, and then starving for ten or twelve hours straight until dinnertime?

Something had to be done!

So, people started eating in the middle of the day.

Originally, nobody knew what to call this newfangled meal. ‘Noonings‘ was one suggestion, since it was eaten at midday. Another was ‘Nuncheon‘, a word which had survived from the 14th century, and which meant a light snack or refreshment. Eventually, mankind on a whole, settled on the word as being ‘Luncheon’. Or just ‘lunch’ for short.

Just as working habits had forced the creation of lunch, so had the time to prepare food forced the creation of a new item in the home – the lunchbox.

It was impractical to stop in the middle of the workday to go all the way home and make and eat lunch. And it was expensive to stop in the middle of the workday to go out and buy lunch all the time. It would be far more convenient to cook or make lunch at home, then bring it to work and eat it on the spot. To transport this new meal called ‘lunch’ came the lunchbox!

Lunchboxes were originally just whatever you could find to carry your lunch in – wooden crates, barrels, empty buckets with lids on top…but eventually, dedicated lunchboxes (typically made of cheap, pressed steel) came onto the market. These would hold two sandwiches, some snack-foods, and maybe a flask of hot coffee, tea, soup, or just ordinary drinking-water.


Lunch varies around the world, and the common or garden-variety lunchbox is not suitable for all situations. In Asia, where most people eat rice or noodle dishes instead of bread, it would be difficult to pack fried rice, dumplings or noodles into a conventional western-style lunchbox and take it to work, or school. Let’s introduce the tiffin-carrier:

My three-tier stainless steel tiffin-carrier

Tiffin‘ is an old English word for a light, refreshing luncheon. A relaxing meal taken in the middle of the day. Commonly used by British expats and colonials living in the Empire’s oriental extremities during the 1800s. It comes from the word ‘tiff‘ meaning a light drink or snack. Eventually, it evolved to mean something a lot more than tea and cucumber sandwiches, however.

The ‘Tiffin-carrier’ is a type of food-container invented in the 1800s for transporting the comestibles which typically made up the midday tiffin – curry, rice, noodles or flatbread, vegetables and soup. Tiffins typically came in two, three, four and five-tier arrangements (in some examples, six or more), but three or four was most common. This was to keep each food-component separate and to make access to the food much easier, by simply opening the carrier…

…and unstacking everything, bowl by bowl…

Until everything was neatly laid out in front of you:

Tiffin-carriers remain extremely popular in Asian countries, and they’re as common over there as thermos-flasks are in the Western world. People in western countries are starting to use tiffin-carriers, however. They find them useful for things like sandwiches, sushi, salad, leftover spaghetti, Chinese food and for storing snacks for lunch. You can still buy them brand-new, or you can buy vintage reproductions, or even fancy antique brass and copper ones at fairs and antiques shops.


Of all the meals we eat today, dinner is probably the one which has seen the most change over the centuries.

Dinner gets its name from the word ‘to dine’ or to eat. Since you eat all the time, ‘dinner’ was basically defined as the main meal of the day. First came your breaking of the evening fast, and then after several long hours, dinner, usually in the afternoon, much earlier than we’re used to today. Expensive firewood and candles meant that it was impractical to eat dinner at night.

Dinnertimes changed throughout history, as working-habits shifted and pushed dinner forwards or backwards on the 24-hour time-scale. In some lower-class households in England, or people who made up the servant-class, ‘Dinner’ was the midday meal, and ‘supper’ was had at night. This was because the demands of domestic service prevented servants from eating ‘dinner’ at night, since they had to cook and serve for their employers.

On a whole, though, dinner was pushed back further and further as time advanced. Originally eaten at midday or early afternoon, it moved to the late afternoon or early evening by the late 1500s. With the arrival of ‘Luncheon’ in the 1700s, ‘Dinner’ was forced back even further. It was now steadily in the late-afternoon, evening timeslot, and kept there by the new working-hours of office-clerks, lawyers, bankers, shopkeepers and other people now involved in the professions and trades brought about by the Industrial Revolution.

With candles becoming cheaper, and with new forms of lighting such as oil, gas and eventually, electricity, it was finally practical and comfortable, to eat dinner at night. Most people will typically have dinner between five and seven o’clock at night, depending on their work and time schedules.


When most people think of ‘supper’, they imagine a late-night snack or meal, but, as with ‘Dinner’, ‘Supper time’ differs depending on where you live and your general social background. Some people consider ‘Dinner’ the midday meal, and ‘supper’ to be the evening meal, while others consider ‘luncheon’ the midday meal and ‘dinner’ to be the evening one.

That being the case, where does supper fall?

The origin of the word ‘supper‘ in English comes from French and German, the words ‘Souper‘ and ‘Suppe‘. ‘Supper’ was originally the evening meal, but as workdays got longer, breakfast earlier and dinner later, which was backed up by ‘lunch’ at noon, Supper, like Dinner, was kicked back further and further. Most people now consider it to be an after-dinner meal. Usually something light, before retiring, or something enjoyed with friends and family after a night out. However, in some places, ‘supper’, ‘dinner’ and even ‘tea’ are all synonyms for the same thing – the main evening meal.

Morning Tea, Afternoon Tea & Elevenses

Anyone who grew up on a literary diet of the Famous Five, The Secret Seven, the Adventurous Four, Paddington Bear and The Wind in the Willows will probably have heard of such English meals as Morning Tea, Afternoon Tea and some mysterious snack called ‘Elevenses’.

What are they?

These typically light meals became popular among the English upper-and-middle classes during the Victorian era. Changing social and work-habits meant that mealtimes changed drastically. While their menfolk were out earning, women of the well-to-do classes would go visiting. It was the man’s job to earn a living. It was the woman’s job to make all the social connections to ensure that the wage or salary brought home would grow as time went on.

Morning tea and afternoon tea centered around tea, naturally. This beverage was once so rare and expensive, women kept their tea-caddies locked and had the keys with them at all times. But with the opening of China in the 1850s, the import of Chinese and Indian teas became cheaper and it was now available to a much wider range of people.

Tea was designed to be light. No heavy roast beef or rice and pasta or noodles. Similar to the Chinese custom of Yumcha, tea was meant to be light, refined and relaxed. Enjoyed with close friends and relations, or business-partners and colleagues. Tea consisted of small cakes, biscuits, and sandwiches – stereotypically, the classic cucumber-sandwich. Light snacks not designed to fill you up, but to distract from hunger until the main meals of the day, such as luncheon, or dinner (depending on if it were morning, or afternoon tea). In some places around the world, ‘tea-time’ grew later and later, from its 2 or 3 o’clock position, to four, five, or even six o’clock at night, becoming synonymous with ‘dinner’.

Instead of morning tea, one might have ‘elevenses’, taken, as the name suggests, around ten or eleven o’clock in the morning. Since the Industrial Revolution forced people to wake up earlier and eat breakfast earlier (six or seven or eight in the morning), by midday, they could be especially hungry. Elevenses or morning tea was designed as a light snack, to be enjoyed halfway between breakfast and lunch. Depending on where around the world elevenses may take place, it might have coffee, or tea. But typically also comes with sandwiches or small cakes. But it shouldn’t be confused with ‘Brunch’ which generally concentrates on heavier, stomach-fillers to keep you going into the afternoon.

Time to Eat

Mealtimes and meal-names have changed and evolved over the centuries. Some have remained fashionable, such as the long, lazy, Sunday Brunch, or the exclusive, Friday or Saturday dinner out at a restaurant. Some have changed drastically, such as the time (and speed) at which we eat breakfast. Some names continue to change or evolve, depending on where you live and your social background. Dinner. Supper. Lunch. Tea. Tiffin…It changes and changes all the time. For more information, explore the fascinating documentary series’ below, which provided much of the information for this posting.

Hungry For More?

A lot of the information gleamed here came from episodes of…

The Supersizers“, presented by Giles Corran and Sue Perkins.

If Walls Could Talk“, presented by Dr. Lucy Worsley.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner“, presented by Clarissa Dickson-Wright (of ‘Two Fat Ladies‘ fame).


The Long Slow History of Fast Food

Sweet, sugary, salty, greasy, filling, sinfully delicious and atrocious for your waistline.

Yeah, whatever…

Fast Food doesn’t have a good reputation. And ever since the 1950s, it’s been blamed for everything from heart-attacks, strokes, diabetes and an increasing global girth.


But just how long has fast food been around? Where did it come from? And how did it take on the form which we know today? Put down your milkshakes, pick up your burgers, and let’s find out…

What is “Fast Food”?

Fast food, by definition, is any food which can be prepared quickly, cheaply, and eaten on the go. Generally, such food ain’t too good for you, on account of the fact that it’s usually full of crap that you probably shouldn’t eat.

…but it tastes so good.

Given this definition, how far back can we trace fast food? Fifty years? A hundred? Two? Three? A thousand or more? Hmm.

The First Fast Food

Fast Food as we might know it today has ancient roots. Literally. Places where you went for quick, cheap bites to eat, which were open to the public, and which provided prompt service for a paltry fee are surprisingly old. Ancient, in fact.

The first people who we know for certain operated fast food outlets were the same people responsible for underfloor heating, sports stadiums, running water and Rent-A-Chariot services – The Ancient Romans!

The Romans were busy people. And when you’re a busy Ancient Roman, going out conquering ancient lands, bringing back animals for the Colosseum or trying to invade Germania, you need cheap, filling meals. Enter fast food.

We know the Romans had fast food because such fast-food establishments have been found in Ancient Roman settlements, most notably, the wonderfully preserved city of Pompeii. So, what did the busy Roman eat?

Forget burgers and fries, Roman fast food was far simpler, and far more alcoholic.

Staples of Ancient Roman fast food included fried fish (but no chips), sausages (but no hotdogs), fried eggs, and bread rolls. To add flavour to their food, the Romans used…ketchup!

No, not really.

Instead, they used a festering fish-based sauce called garum. Garum (which is, shall we say, a matured fish sauce), was added to almost anything. It was incredibly potent and the ancient Romans loved it. And like Heinz Ketchup today, it was carted all over the Empire.

Ancient Romans didn’t have soda or milkshakes to quench their thirsts. Instead, they had…wine! And they loved it!

If you should find yourself suddenly transported to Ancient Pompeii and looking for a quick feed, these fast-food establishments were called cauponae, and in case you couldn’t find any, just look for the signs.

No, not the Golden Arches, this dude:

Anyone who is a connoisseur of fine wine ought to know who this is.  And for those who don’t, meet Bacchus. Roman God of Wine! Along with his buddy Mercury (God of Commerce), paintings of this dynamic duo were often found in, or directly outside fast food joints in Ancient Rome. Praying to these Gods was seen as a way to ensure good business and fine wine.

Sadly, the glory days of Roman fast food died with the Empire. After the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 400s, almost everything that they had created was swept under the rug. Running water, paved roads, fancy robes, tiled rooves, central heating, indoor plumbing…even apartment-blocks! And for centuries, mankind had to survive on what he could grow, catch, kill or create. No quick and easy meals here.

At least, that was the case if you lived in the country.

If you were fortunate enough to live in a major city, such as London, Paris, Venice, or Rome, during the Middle Ages, you could still get fast food.

Don’t forget that during this period, cooking at home was relatively rare. If you were poor, you probably didn’t have a kitchen. Most people only had a fire, and a pot, and cooked whatever they could chuck into it. Actual kitchens were rare, and reserved for the wealthy. The money spent on building brick or clay stoves, the expense of firewood (which had to be bought if you couldn’t get it free), and the price of ingredients often made cooking at home prohibitively expensive.

The Increase of Fast Food

Fast Food of a sort has always been around in one form or another, because there will always be people who can’t, or won’t, cook for themselves. What constituted fast food depended on where you lived.

Coastal regions sold foods such as oysters. In fact, until the end of the 19th century, oysters were considered cheap, filling snacks in the United Kingdom. They were sold on the streets to working stiffs, or sold in public houses and taverns to the drunks. It wasn’t until uncontrolled pollution and over-fishing destroyed Britain’s oyster-beds that they started becoming the sought-after luxury item that we think of today.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, something happened called the Industrial Revolution. The massive increase in urban populations caused by the need for cheap labour to run factories and mills meant that suddenly, lots of people needed food! And most of these people couldn’t afford to cook at home. They either couldn’t, because they lived in tenements (which rarely had proper kitchens), worked long hours and slept whenever they could, or wouldn’t, because they didn’t know how.

To stop the masses of great cities like London from starving to death and dropping dead in the streets, fast-food vendors popped up all over town. People realised that a quick shilling could be made by selling cheap food to the masses. Welks, baked potatoes, oysters, sheep’s trotters, bowls of pease pudding, or pea soup, and other quick, cheap, hot, delicious, albeit, questionable delights were soon all over the place.

Questionable being the key word here. There were absolutely no food-safety laws in existence, and in 19th century Europe and America, a large amount of food sold to the unsuspecting public was adulterated, to make it last longer, increase bulk, or yield, or to make it look more appealing. Building-plaster was added to bread to increase its bulk and make it look really white. Paint was added to clumps of candlewax…toffee, anyone?

The Industrialisation of Fast Food

With the spread of railway networks in the 1800s, fast food got even faster, and cheaper. One of the most significant examples of this is Britain’s national dish – Fish and Chips.

For a long time, fish was rather expensive. It was expensive to catch, it was expensive to transport, it was expensive to store. But with the growth of railways, it was now possible for a fishing-boat to offload its catch, pack it into crates of ice, and send it to London by rail, where it would arrive within 24 hours!

This meant that the price of fish dropped significantly, and in 1860, England’s first fish-and-chip shop opened!

Once considered a poor man’s meal or a working stiff’s lunch, fish and chips gradually became acceptable fare for all classes of British society during the 19th and 20th centuries. In fact, by the 1900s, fish and chips were SO popular, that they were one of the FEW things UNRATIONED during the Second World War (other unrationed foods included vegetables). That said, fish was pretty hard to get during the war. So even if it was off-ration, it wasn’t easy to find. Chips, on the other hand, were freely available – you were limited only by the number of potatoes that you could grow in your ‘Victory Garden’.

It was during the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution that many of our most favourite and desirable fast foods were created. More about that, later…

The Fast Food Restaurant

The notion of a fast-food restaurant, of the kind that we might recognise today, did not arrive until the early 20th century. Most would trace its origins back to about 1902, with the opening of the first “automatic restaurant”, in New York City.

The ‘automat‘ served fresh, hot meals in glass-fronted cabinets. The hungry diner simply walked up to the case, selected the dish he wanted, and fed coins into the slot next to the door. Once the price was paid, the door fell open, and the meal could be retrieved. The door was then closed, and the slot was marked for refilling. The empty slot in the cabinet was refilled with another meal, prepared fresh in the kitchens behind the display-cabinets.

A typical automat setup from the early 20th century

The automat remained one of the most popular forms of fast-food service in the United States until the 1960s. They eventually died out when it was no-longer economical to pay for full meals using loose change. Could you imagine trying to pay for a burger, fries, coke, chicken-nuggets and a slice of chocolate-cake by constantly feeding dimes or quarters into a machine, over, and over, and over again?

Branching off from the automat came the more familiar styles of fast-food restaurants which we know today.

The Burger Kings!

Fast-food restaurants which are familiar to us today had their origins in the early 20th century, and starting in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, many famous names were established, mostly in the United States.

In 1921, White Castle burger-restaurants opened their doors in the United States. The original Kentucky Fried Chicken opened its doors in 1930…in…Kentucky! But it would not become a franchise until 1952.

The most famous of all fast-food restaurants was opened in 1940. Originally run by a pair of brothers named Richard and Maurice McDonald.

I wonder what their restaurant was called?

The First McDonalds

Burger King was opened in 1954. Taco Bell and Subway followed in 1962, and 1965, respectively.

The Main Ingredients

Ask anyone the main components of a typical fast-food meal, and they’d probably say a burger, with fries, or a hotdog, or wedges, or pizza, or something of that nature. But where do they come from?

The Hamburger

The Hamburger comes from…Hamburg, Germany.

Or at least, the word itself does.

Originally “Hamburger” referred to someone from the German port city of Hamburg, just as how Londoner refers to someone from London, or Berliner, a person from Berlin.

The ancestors of the hamburger-sandwich date back almost to antiquity, but one of the first dishes to share the name, and not just some vague similarity, might be the “Hamburgh Sausage“. A recipe for this sausage is mentioned in a book written by English cook, Hannah Glasse, in her famous tome: “The Art of Cookery (Made Plain and Easy)“, from 1763. However, the resultant dish is more of a large sausage, rather than a meat-patty sandwich.

It’s believed that the hamburger may have another ancestor – the Steak Tartare! In this form, ground up, or minced beef recipes immigrated from Russia to the German port of Hamburg during the 1600s. However, neither England, Germany, nor Russia can lay claim to being the birthplace of the hamburger-sandwich.

No. The prize goes to the Americans.

Hamburg was a major port during the 19th century, and large numbers of German and European immigrants to the New World would board steamships departing from Hamburg, bound for ports such as New York. To make a quick buck off hungry German sailors who docked in America, American cooks started making “Hamburg-style” steaks, using the ground-up beef patties which the Germans had inherited from the Russians. They’re similar to the more familiar Salisbury Steaks, but with slightly different ingredients.

From a Hamburg Steak to a hamburger-sandwich was the simple step of…sandwiching…the ground up steak between two slices of bread, or in later years, two halves of a bun.

Exactly WHO created the hamburger as we know it today is unknown. There are loads of conflicting stories, but its creation in America is the one thing that we do know for certain.

French Fries!

Aah. French Fries! Viva La France!

Idiots…can’t have a burger without fries! But to get the authentic thing, you should go to Paris…right?


Sorry folks. French Fries are not actually French! They never were! French Fries actually have their origins in that little country just to the north of France. It’s called Belgium. Most people think that the Belgians only make chocolates, but no, they make fries, too!

But if they originate in Belgium…why are they called French Fries?

It’s believed that they received this name due to the manner in which thin slices or sticks of potato were prepared. They were fried in the “French Style”, meaning that they were cooked in a vat of hot, bubbling oil. Today, we’d call that deep-frying. Originally, they would’ve been “French-fried Potatoes”, meaning potatoes fried in the French manner. In time, the ‘potatoes’ was dropped off, and the term shortened, leaving us with just ‘French Fries’.

However, if you go to France, or Belgium, for that matter, and asked for French Fries, there is still a chance that people wouldn’t understand you. French Fries aren’t called French fries in Belgium. Or Belgian fries, for that matter. They’re called Flemish fries! Try getting your head around that mess…


Mustard? Ketchup? Onion-rings? Cheese? Relish?

What do you put on your hotdogs? Or do you eat them plain? Have you ever wondered where they came from?

Who invented the hotdog, a sausage wedged inside a bun, is unknown. But the sausages which make up the meat in these tubular sandwiches, like the Hamburger before them, came from Germany.

Not for nothing are sausages also called Frankfurters, or Wieners. That’s because the varieties of sausages used in hotdogs came from the German city of Frankfurt, or from the capital city of Austria, Vienna. Vienna also gave us another delicious nibble – the Wiener Schnitzel!

Although it is unknown who invented the hotdog, historical records tell us that they have existed since at least the last quarter of the 19th century, and were first sold in New York City, starting in the 1870s.

That said, hotdogs were not called hotdogs in the 1870s. Although ‘dog’ had been a common nickname for sausages since the 1880s, the complete phrase ‘hotdog’ did not make its first appearance in the English language until the 1890s. Fred Shapiro, the editor of a number of publications detailing the histories of famous quotes, words and phrases, could trace the word ‘hotdog’ back no further than 1892.


I don’t care who you are. Everyone loves milkshakes! But where do they come from?

Milkshakes in their present form, being a drink made of milk, ice-cream/cream, sugar, fruits and other delicious additives, date back to roughly the same time as the hotdog, the 1880s-1900s. They received the name ‘milkshake’ because prior to the spread of easily-accessed electricity (and the subsequent invention of the electric blender/mixer), milkshakes were quite literally shaken by hand. The ingredients were added into a metal cup, which was then sealed. The whole concoction was then shaken up, much like a cocktail-shaker, and then the drink was served.

With the invention of proper milkshake blenders in the early 1900s, milkshakes became wildly popular, and there were (and still are) countless varieties out there. Peak time for milkshakes was during the postwar “Long Boom”, of the 1950s and 60s. Teenagers flocking to drugstores, corner shops, and cafes, theatres and drive-in cinemas made the drink extremely popular – a popularity that has never waned.


Mmm, ketchup! Rich, sweet, tangy, slightly sweet sauce, that goes well with almost anything.

But what is it?

The word ‘ketchup‘ originally referred to any sort of slightly-thickened, slightly sweet table-sauce. It could be made out of almost anything! Mushroom ketchup, oyster ketchup…How about Banana ketchup? That was invented in the Philippines during the Second World War, when rationing made it impossible to obtain the necessary tomatoes. Sauce-makers simply removed the crushed tomatoes and added pureed bananas to the mix, instead!

Ketchup as we know it today, tomato ketchup, or tomato-sauce as it’s called outside the ‘States, is generally made of crushed tomatoes, vinegar, salt and sugar, thickened or flavoured with the addition of other spices or herbs.

But where does the word ‘ketchup’ come from?

Believe it or not, it’s Chinese.

‘Ketchup’ was originally a sauce used for flavouring fish-dishes. It was called “Gui Zhi“, in Chinese, or more familiarly – “Gwai-Zap“, in Cantonese. Eventually, the Cantonese pronunciation (from the south of China) won out, and the words eventually morphed from the Canto “Gwai-Zap”, to…Ketchup.

Ketchup was invented in China sometime in the 1600s. It migrated across Asia and Europe thanks to the Silk Road, arriving in England by the end of the century. Originally, it was called “Catchup”, but the more familiar ‘ketchup’ had replaced this spelling by the early 18th century.

Ketchup used to be homemade. And indeed, even after commercial varieties were available, some people continued to make it at home. There’s a memorable scene in the 1944 film “Meet Me in St. Louis” (set from 1903-1904), where Mrs. Smith and Katie the cook are trying to make up a batch of ketchup in the family kitchen – only for every other member of the Smith family to find some reason to suggest altering the recipe!

The most famous brand of ketchup is of course, Heinz Ketchup. 57 varieties of it! Heinz started making ketchup in 1876, and it became wildly popular. By the start of the 20th century, it was being exported all over the world.

The Rise of the Fast Food Restaurant

The “Long Boom” of the 1950s and 60s saw the number of fast-food restaurants rise dramatically, and spread around the world. Everything from corner drugstores and diners, to large, purpose-built fast-food outlets. The rise of institutions like drive-in cinemas and increased movie-watching also spurred on the rise of fast-food. Sales of pizza, fish-and-chips, burgers, fries, soft-drinks, ice-cream and hotdogs all shot up in popularity, all gradually contributing to the fast-food culture which we have in the 21st century. Whoever complained that fast food was a scourge of modern living, however, would be very wrong indeed. Fast Food in one way or another, has always existed, and probably always will.

Hungry for More?


A Random History of Popular Foodstuffs – #2

This is a continuation of a previous posting, which I wrote a couple of years back. And it will cover the histories behind more popular foods which we take for granted today.


Mmm, jelly. Cold, jiggly, wobbly, sweet, wiggly, wriggly jelly! Or, as the Americans call it…Jello, which is actually a brand-name, not an actual foodstuff. But jelly it certainly is.

These days, we associate jelly with dessert, with children, with ice-cream, and with catchy little TV jingles (“I like Aeroplane Jelly, Aeroplane Jelly for me…“). But for centuries, jelly was a luxury food. Incredibly laborious and time-consuming to produce, it could only be eaten by the richest of people, during only the most special of special feasts, dinners, parties, holidays or other significant occasions in a history that dates back to medieval times.

We’re familiar with jelly as that stuff that you buy in a packet. You pour the powder into a bowl, you mix it with water, you pour the sloshy, syrupy mixture into a mold, and then chuck it in the fridge or freezer to cool and set, into pretty, jiggly shapes which are red, and green, and yellow and purple, and which look like everything from flowers to pyramids.

That’s what jelly is today. But in older times, jelly was obtained only after hours and hours and hours of extremely labour-intensive work. Jelly wasn’t simply mixed with water and chucked in a cold spot. It was boiled, and strained, and purified, in a process that would eat up almost all the hours of the day. This is why it was eaten by only the wealthiest people, who could afford the servants and the time to make it.

So how do you make jelly the old fashioned way?

To make jelly as they might’ve done back in the Middle Ages, you first required gelatin. Gelatin comes from collagen, a type of protein. And you get collagen from…


For centuries, well up to the Georgian era, the only way to make jelly was to boil the feet of pigs or cattle. In an incredibly time-consuming process, the salvaged pig’s feet would be placed in a pot of boiling water. The pig’s feet and water would be left to boil for the better part of eight or ten hours. This intense boiling extracted the gelatin from within the pigs’ feet, and mixed it with the water. Once the gelatin had been boiled out, the entire mixture had to be strained. First, it was strained to remove the pigs’ feet. Then it was strained to remove any debris. Then it was strained to remove any fat. Then it was strained to remove any impurities. And then it was strained again. And again. And again.

The repeated straining and purification removed all the impurities from the mixture so that in the end, you were left with nothing but water, and gelatin.

Left on its own in a suitably cool spot, the gelatin would eventually solidify. If you wanted flavoured jelly, then it was simply a matter of mixing in the required fruit-juices, such as lemon, lime, orange, strawberries and so-forth. These extra ingredients being added, the entire mixture was stirred up, poured into a mold, and then dunked in the cellar (or other suitably cold room) to solidify and set.

It seems easy, but when making jelly could take the better part of the entire day, and could require the efforts of at least two people (there’s a lot of water to strain!), you can understand why, for centuries, it remained a food for the wealthy. Poor people simply did not have the time, the money, or the space to dedicate, or waste, on such a frivolous dessert.

It was not until the mid-1800s, when it was discovered that you could dry out the mixture and create gelatin powder, that it was possible to sell gelatin in a convenient packet for the average consumer. All the buyer had to do was mix it with water to help the powder congeal, flavour it to his or her taste, pour the mixture into a mold, and set it. Before that was possible, hardcore boiling and tiresome straining and purifying was the only way to make jelly.


Oooh, we all love sausages. Beef, pork, chicken, lamb…delicious!

These days, sausages are made out of synthetic casings, although there is a significant number of sausage-makers and butcheries, which are manufacturing sausages the old-fashioned way.

We love sausages. Convenient, easy to cook, easy to hold, easy to store and easy to hang up on a peg. We even have gourmet sausages stuffed with herbs and spices and cheese. But the origin of the sausage is far from gourmet.

Imagine a cow, or sheep, or chicken, or a pig. You’ve gutted it, you’ve taken off the ham, the bacon, the ribs, the cutlets, the various cuts of steak, the wings, the legs, the breasts, and everything really worth eating. What did you do with the rest? The carcass that’s left over?

Bones might be used to boil up for soup. Feathers, wool or fur might be removed for clothing. But there’s still the leftover carcass and the organs and innards that nobody wants. Now what?

If you lived in older times, you certainly did not throw it out. Catching and killing animals was hard work, and cooks were encouraged to cook and eat every single part of an animal which was worth eating…even the organs. Or the feet (if they weren’t being saved for jelly…). Or the head. The cheeks. Anything that wasn’t already removed. The offal, basically.

But how to dress the dregs of animals so that they looked appealing?

One way to do this was to take the intestines of the animal, pump water through them, wash them clean, and then fill the intestines with ground up animal leftovers, twist them into convenient lengths…and sell that, if you were a butcher, to your unsuspecting customers, or serve it to your diners, if you were a cook. It was still meat. It was still beef. Or pork. Or chicken. Or lamb. It was just…um…’modified’.

And that’s all a sausage is.

…did I put you off of your dinner yet?

In older times, all the leftovers from a dead animal were diced, sliced and minced up. Then, these animal unmentionables were pumped into the cleaned out intestines of the animal in question. The big long sausage was twisted around, every few inches, to make sausages of convenient lengths, and then the whole thing was cooked up.

Some butchers still make sausages like that today, although most cheaper sausages use edible plastic or synthetic sausage-skins instead. But it is, nonetheless, how it was done.

…Hotdog, anyone?


Pies…Cake is the lie

Mmm. We like pies. Chicken pie, beef pie, steak and kidney, apple, blueberry, custard-cream…sweet, savory, spicy, simple, splendid. We love pies!

One of the reasons we love pies is because they’re fun to make. We love creating pretty, patterned crusts, with cris-crossing strips, vents held open by pie-birds, pastry-leaves, and pretty, rippling, wavering sides.

A pie-bird. These painted clay birdies are stuck into the middle of pies to stop the pie-crusts from sagging during baking, and to provide a vent for steam to escape

But for all the effort, we know that before long, the crust and sides will be broken up, carved up, and devoured. And all our efforts will be dashed in a flurry of gravy, cream, sugar and crumbs.

But our love-affair with pies is only the end of a very long journey.

With pies, cakes and tarts, comes an interesting history.

Takeout Pies

For a long time, pies were not even baked at home. We have a romantic image of pies cooling on the window-sill after they’ve been baked, the wonderful smells wafting around the neighbourhood. Which they may well have done; but it’s a rather modern thing.

For centuries, pies were never baked at home. Until the introduction of the range stove in the 1700s, it was well outside the ability of the ordinary man or woman to do his own baking at home. Most homes did not have ovens. They had fireplaces. Fireplaces are great for roasting meat, for cooking stews, boiling soup and providing heat and warmth, but they’re impossible for baking on. The smoke and flames and soot from the fire would destroy the pie, and the constantly wavering heat from the flames meant that the pie wouldn’t bake properly, anyway.

For a long time, pies were actually sent out to the nearest bakery to be baked. Here, the village baker would bake your pies for you. You dropped them off, and he marked the top of your pie in a manner that made it stand out (so you knew which one was yours, to differentiate it from the dozens of other pies in town!). He baked it, and then you came back later and picked it up.

The nursery-rhyme ‘Pat-a-Cake‘ recalls this era of history:

“Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake,
Baker’s man, 
Bake me a cake as fast as you can,
Prick it, and poke it, and mark it with a B,
And put it in the oven, for baby and me!”

In the rhyme, just like in real life, a cake or pie was marked (‘with a B’, in this case), to differentiate Baby’s cake, or pie, from all the others in town, which were being baked at the same time, in the communal oven.

But before you even baked the pie, you had to put something into it. Filling! Back in medieval times, pie-fillings were a little more creative than what they are today. Two of the most common filling-choices gave us two of the most lasting, pie-related nuggets from history.

Before people got the idea of grinding up animal-guts and turning them into sausages, animal entrails were chopped up, boiled, and stuffed into a pie-casing. This pie was baked in an oven, and then served to the peasantry, low-ranking servants, and paupers. Entrails and guts and organs were called “umbles”. Serving “umble pie” to the poor gave the peasantry a constant reminder (as if they ever needed one!) that they were on the lowest rung of the social ladder, because all they could eat was…’Umble Pie”, or “humble pie”, as it eventually became to be called.

These days, we’re used to separating sweet from savoury. You’d hardly have a beef and custard pie, would you?

…would you?


Believe it or not, but in medieval times, pies that mixed sweet with meat, were pretty common! Beef would be mixed with raisins and dates and prunes, and baked together in a pie. This wasn’t necessarily because people liked it…but rather because it was one of the few ways that people had, to stop food going stale!

The natural sugars found in fruit were used as a preservative to prevent the meat from going rotten. And often, fruit and meat were baked together, for this purpose.

These days, we don’t bake our meat and fruit together in a pie anymore. But we do have a leftover from that period – the Christmas “mince pie”. There isn’t any beef mince in these pies, but they’re called mince pies because they were originally made with meat, with the fruit acting as a preservative. Over time, the beef was removed, giving us a simple fruit ‘mince’ pie, the kind we know today.

Empty Shells

No, not shotgun-shells or bullet-casings…pie-casings!

The tradition of eating a pie, sweet, savoury, or a mix of the two, together with the crunchy pastry crust and casing, is actually a pretty modern development.

For much of history, when a pie was eaten, the pastry lid was removed, the contents (today, the fillings) eaten, and then the pie-casing (and the lid) was put back in the kitchen to be reused!…Again…and again…and again! For as long as the crust and casing remained fresh.

Why bother using the crust and casing when you have a pie-dish, though?

You have to understand a couple of things here…

This is a time before widespread refrigeration. Meat had to be cooked and eaten within 48 hours of being purchased fresh from the local market. There was nowhere to store it for longer than overnight without it going stale (unless you froze it, smoked it, or salted it).

To prevent meat going bad, cooks would bake it in a pie. And cooking the meat meant that it lasted longer and you could eat it, of course!

But why save the pie-crusts?

Until relatively recently, flour, the main ingredient in pie-casings, was an expensive commodity. Very expensive. In medieval times, the only way most people could get flour was to grow their own wheat, thresh their own grain, winnow their own wheatgrain, and then grind it by hand, or grind it at the mill owned by the local landlord (for which the peasantry had to pay taxes to use!). Even in later times, flour was expensive, and only the wealthy could afford to eat the fine, sifted, refined white flour which we love so much today. This was because the extra effort required to refine it made it more expensive.

The result? Most people couldn’t afford enough flour to bake a pie for every day of the week. You’d use up your flour to bake your pie and the meat inside. Then you’d use the same pie-crust over and over and over again until it started going bad, before eating it on the last night of the week. This was to make your flour last for as long as possible.

And the pie-crusts of older times are a lot different to the ones made today. Most people would complain…loudly…if you served them a pie with a crust that was too thick, since it would be impossible to crunch into, or get a fork or knife through. In the days of serfdom and lords, pie-crusts could be upwards of an inch or two in thickness! This was so that they would last through the repeated bakings without burning and charring in the oven.


Not for nothing is bread nicknamed “the staff of life”. For centuries, millenia even, all over the world, mankind has survived on bread of some variety. Whitebread, wholemeal, mixed-grain, sourdough, rice-bread, cornbread, pita-bread…the list is almost endless. But what is the history of bread?

The origins of bread go back to the dawn of civilization. And its importance is just as up-there as its history. Hell, the Romans even created a whole ROOM just for bread. Ever wondered why your kitchen has a ‘pantry’? It comes from the Latin word ‘Panna’ or…bread. A ‘pantry’ was the room in which bread, a staple of life, was stored. But here’s a few things you may not know about bread…

The Upper Crust

The “upper crust” is a common expression meaning those of a higher social status, up there in the upper-class economic group. But have you ever wondered where the term ‘upper crust’ came from?

Yep. Bread.

Before the first modern stoves were invented in the Western world (Ca. 1700), baking bread was a hot, dangerous and ashy affair. Here’s how it was done…

The dome-shaped bread oven was filled with wood, which was then set on fire. The oven door was left open and the huge fire inside the oven was allowed to burn for hours, until it finally burnt out. Once the fire was out, the baker had the unenviable task of raking out the hot ash, charcoal and cinders, and shoving in dozens of loaves of bread at a time, using those big, wooden baking-paddles (so he didn’t burn his hands).

Burning a fire in the oven, and letting it burn down to ash made the brick (or stone) inside the oven extremely hot. And it’s this heat, and not the heat from the fire, which actually bakes the bread. Once the bread was shoved in as quickly as possible, the oven door was shoved on, and extra bread-dough was stuffed around the edges of the door. This had the double-job of sealing in the heat, but also acting as an oven-timer. You could tell when the bread inside was baked by checking whether or not the dough on the door was also baked.

When the bread was baked, the door was ripped off, and the bread hauled out on paddles again.

Everything about baking bread relied on speed. It took so long to build, light and burn down the fire that bakers wanted to get the ash out of there, and the bread in there, as fast as possible. The result is that there was always a thin layer of ash on the oven-base. And during baking, this ash and soot would stick to the bottom of the loaves of bread. Eugh!

Picky rich people who wanted the best bread, would slice the loaves horizontally instead of vertically, so that the burnt, sooty bottom crust of the bread was given to the poor – the paupers, beggars and lepers, while they…the rich…kept the crunchy, soft, soot-free…upper-crust…for themselves!

Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree…

Anyone who’s ever baked bread at home will know that one of the most frustrating things is the wait while the dough rises. After the bread-dough has been mixed and kneaded, it’s necessary to leave it alone so that the yeast inside the dough can expand and let off gas, which allows the dough to rise, before it can be put into the oven.

But what if you didn’t have yeast, one of the key ingredients in breadmaking?

If you don’t have yeast, you could do what medieval bakers used to do. Take the bread out into the back yard, or nearest available orchard, find a suitable apple tree, and stick the yet-to-rise bread-dough underneath it! And let nature take its course, as they say.

Yes. This actually works. And it works because apples, which grow on apple trees (see, you learn something reading this blog…), are full of yeast. And apples on the ground, rotting off, let off yeast fumes, which will help your flaccid loaf to fluff into life before its date with destiny. The yeast in the apples is the same reason why it’s possible to make alcoholic apple cider; yeast is also a key ingredient in beer!

Hungry for More?

The “If Walls Could Talk” documentary episode “The Kitchen”, and the documentary “Tudor Feast” will supply you with some tasty information.


Sweet, Cold and Delicious: The History of Ice-Cream

As I write this, the second-southernmost state of the Commonwealth of Australia is steadily being slow-roasted into hellish oblivion. For the third week in a row, we’re having temperatures over 30’c. And that is what has inspired this posting about the history of ice-cream.

Heaven, I’m in Heaven, and my heart beats so, that I can hardly speak.
And I seem to find the happiness I seek… 

Where Does Ice-Cream Come From?

Variations of ice-cream have existed for centuries. Cold, sweet foods which contained ice as a main ingredient date back to ancient times, in cultures as far apart as China and Ancient Persia (Iran, today), all the way to the Roman Empire. But how did ancient man produce these sweet, cooling treats, without freezers or refrigerators?

The First ‘Ice-Cream’

The first versions of ice-cream, which emerged in these ancient cultures, used crushed snow as the main ingredient. To the snow (stored in caves during hot weather, or harvested from mountains which remained cold all-year-round), various ingredients were added, depending on the tastes of the consumers, and the country of manufacture.

The first ice-creams of a sort, were fruit-based, and one of the main ingredients were fruit-juices, or purees. Of course, you could add anything you wanted to the ice; other ingredients included rosewater, saffron, or the crushed pulp of berries.

Living in the boiling climates that they do, it was the Arabians who developed ice-cream as we might know it today. Originally, the fruit that they added to crushed ice was not only to give it flavour, but also to sweeten it.

Eventually, Arabian innovators changed the recipe to improve taste and texture. To do this, sweetened milk was added to the ice instead of fruit, to create bulk and substance. And they used pure sugar, rather than the sugars found in fruit, to provide the sweetness. For the first time in history (about 900A.D.), we had our first ‘iced cream’, which literally combined ice, and cream (okay, milk…), to form a dessert that would remain popular for millenia.

The Spread of Ice-Cream

It took a while, but by the early 1700s, ice-cream was becoming popular all over the world. Recipes varied from country to country, but it was catching on fast. There were a few false starts and mistakes during the early years, but even these apparent failures gave us desserts which have survived the test of time, and became regional varieties of ice-cream; Italian gelato is one example of this.

Ice-cream became very popular in Europe. In France and Italy, and then eventually in England, too. By the late 1600s and early 1700s, ice-cream recipes had appeared, printed in a number of languages, including French and English. One of the earliest recipes for ice-cream in English dates to 1718! “Ice Cream” first appears as a dictionary-entry in 1744!

During the 1790s and the early 1800s, French aggression (remember a little chap named Bonaparte?) on the European mainland was driving Italians away from their homes. Italian refugees fled across the Channel to England, bringing their ice-creaming technology and skills with them.

Even before then, however, the popularity of ice-cream was spreading even further, and this sweet, cool dessert reached the Americas in the mid-and-late 1700s. The first ice-cream parlour in the ‘States opened in New York City in 1776. Ice-cream had been introduced to the colonials by Quaker migrants from Europe. Thomas Jefferson’s favourite flavour was supposedly vanilla.

How Do you Make Ice-Cream?

I hear you. How do you make ice-cream? They didn’t have freezers back then. They didn’t have fridges. And surely you can’t get ice and snow all year ’round? How did they make it in the summer, for example, when ice-cream would’ve been most popular? What, and more importantly, how, to do, when all the ice and snow is gone!?

Come to our aid, O great science of chemistry.

As far back as the early 1700s, housewives and professional ice-cream sellers had cracked the code of making ice-cream without all the fancy freezing and chilling apparatus which we take for granted today. Here’s how it’s done.

First, you need a pot or a can made of metal. Into this can, you put the ingredients of your ice-cream. The cream or milk, the flavorings and so-forth.

Find a larger pot. Line the bottom of the pot with ice. Lots of it. Put the smaller pot inside the larger pot, and pack in the space on the sides with even more ice. Now, just add salt.

A LOT of salt.

One particular recipe calls for a whole pound of salt.

what happens here, you ask?

The salt mixes with the ice, and the ice begins to melt.

The salty water is kept cold by the ice that hasn’t melted yet. And since salty water has a lower freezing temperature than pure water, the remaining ice can act on the salty water for a lot longer than it might otherwise do. And this drives the temperature of the salt-water-ice mix down even further.

This whole process is aided by putting the entire concoction of ice, salt, water and ice-cream, into the basement or cellar. The cold air slows down the melting of the ice that hasn’t already melted, and so the whole process is prolonged and lengthened out. The result is that the ice and saltwater slurry chills the sides of the interior pot or canister inside the main ice-pot. This, in turn, freezes the ice-cream mix inside the inner pot. Once the process is complete…you have ice-cream!


Okay, not so simple.

The problem with this method is that, while it worked, it took a very long time. Up to four hours. When’s the last time you waited four hours to eat ice-cream?

A faster method of making ice-cream was needed. And in the early 1800s, that method arrived, in the United States…

Machine-Made Ice-Cream!

Since the early 1700s, ice-cream had been made the slow way. You filled a can with ice-cream, you sat it in a basin of ice and salt, and let basic laws of science do the rest. It produced a great result, at the expense of a lot of time. Something better had to be found to produce ice-cream in greater quantities, or at least, smaller quantities at a faster pace!


Believe it or not, but this is the world’s first-ever purpose-built ice-cream maker.

Yes. That.

It was invented in 1843 by Nancy Johnson, a lady from New Jersey, in the United States.

How does it work, you ask? It works more or less the same as the previous method mentioned above, except this one takes more muscle. It produces ice-cream in the following way:

1. Put your ice-cream mixture into the interior canister.

2. Fill the bucket with ice, and salt.

3. Turn the crank.

And how exactly does this produce ice-cream?

Constantly turning the crank moved the interior can around in the slurry of saltwater and ice. This nonstop agitation mixed up the ice and water, but also mixed up the ice-cream. The result is that more of the ice-cream mixture gets to contact the freezing cold sides of its metal container, which means that the temperature of the ice-cream batch on a whole, decreases much faster. The faster you crank, the faster this happens, and the sooner you get ice-cream!

A bonus of the Johnson method of ice-cream making was that you also got ice-cream of a much better texture. The previous method, of simply freezing the cream in a bucket of icy saltwater produced a sort of ice-cream lump, similar to an ice-cube. The constant agitation produced by the hand-cranked freezer was that mixing the ice-cream around inside its receptacle prevented it from clumping together into chunks and blocks, and aerated it at the same time. The result was smoother, creamier ice-cream!

The result of this was that in 1843, you had the Johnson Patent Ice Cream Freezer. There are conflicting reports about whether or not Ms. Johnson ever patented her machine. Some say she did, in September of 1843, while others say say it was never patented at all. A Mr. William Young patented a similar machine and named it after her, in May, 1848. Whichever version of events is true, we have Nancy Johnson to thank for the first machine-made ice-cream in the world!

Ice-Cream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice-Cream!

From its crude beginnings in the Middle East, up until the mid-1800s, ice-cream was a delicacy and a treat. Phenomenally expensive and extremely fiddly, labour-intensive and tricky to make in any decent quantity, ice-cream was originally available only to the super-rich.

But it’s so easy. You get the cream, the sugar, the flavourings, you put it in a pot, you put the pot in the ice-water and the salt and…

It’s not so easy.

First, you need the ice. To get that, you had to carve it out of frozen lakes. Or haul it down from the mountains and store it in ice-houses during winter. And you needed to have an ice-house to begin with! And the labourers or slaves to cut, dig and haul the ice.

Then, you needed the salt. Salt was so tricky for most people to get that for centuries, it was traded as currency. It’s where we get the word ‘salary’ from, because people used to paid in salt, or paid money so that they could then go and buy salt for themselves. Salt was only obtained at great expense in time, from evaporating great quantities of seawater to obtain the salt-crystals, which would then have to be washed and dried and purified. Or else it had to be dug out of salt-flats, crushed, and purified again. This made salt extremely expensive, and out of the reach of mere mortals like you and me.

The relative scarcity of the ice required to cool down the cream, and the salt needed to provide the reaction, meant that large quantities of ice-cream were very difficult to make, and thus, were only available to the richest of people, who could afford the expense of the ice and salt. Most ordinary people wouldn’t have bothered to waste precious salt (used to preserving fish and meat) on something as wasteful and as extravagant as ice-cream! The damn thing melted if you left it on the kitchen table. What use was that all that fuss over something that didn’t last?

It wasn’t until large quantities of ice and salt were able to be produced, harvested or sold cheaply enough for anyone to buy it, that making ice-cream for everyone really became a going concern. Before then, it was simply too expensive.

Nancy Johnson’s ice-cream machine from the 1840s made efficient manufacture of ice-cream possible for the first time. Granted, these early hand-cranked machines could only freeze a small amount of ice-cream at a time, but they were a big improvement on waiting for hours and hours and hours for the same thing from a can sitting in a pot of salty slush!

Building on inventions such as the Johnson ice-cream freezer, by the mid-1800s, it was possible to produce ice-cream in commercial quantities, and the first company to do so was based in Maryland, in the United States.

The man responsible for the birth of commercial ice-cream manufacture was named Jacob Fussell. Fussell was a dairy-produce seller. He made pretty good money out of it, but he struggled constantly to sell his containers of cream. Frustrated about the fact that this cream would otherwise constantly go to waste, Fussell opened his first ice-cream factory in 1851.

Fussell spread the gospel of ice-cream, and as more ice-cream manufacturers sprang up around the ‘States, you had ice-cream for the common man.

Ice-Cream in Modern Times

By the 1900s, ice-cream was becoming popular everywhere. In the 1920s, the first electric refrigerators, and by extension, the first electric freezers, made ice-cream production, selling, buying, storing and of course, eating, much easier. It was during this time that companies and distributors like Good Humor (1920), Streets (1930s) and Baskin-Robin (1945) began making names for themselves…and which they still do today.

Since the invention of the Johnson ice-cream freezer in the 1840s, ice-cream could now be made faster and cheaper. Refrigeration technology, and the technology to manufacture enormous, commercial quantities of ice also aided in the ability to make ice-cream available for everyone. This also led to ice-cream being served in different ways for the first time in history.

Ice-Cream on a Stick!

If as a child, or even as an adult, you ever went to the corner milk-bar, drugstore or convenience-shop, and opened the ice-cream bin, and pulled out an ice-cream bar on a little wooden paddle or stick, then you have two little boys to thank:

Frank Epperson, and Harry Burt Jnr.

Ice-cream-bars, or frozen, citrus-based popsicles, or icy-poles, were invented in the early 20th century by two boys living in the United States.

The first popsicle was invented in 1904, by little Frank Epperson. Epperson was eleven years old when he tried to make his own, homemade soft-drink. He poured the necessary ingredients into a cup, and stuck a wooden paddle-stick into it to stir the contents around. Epperson left the mix outside in the garden overnight, and went to sleep.

During the night, the temperature plunged to frigid, subzero temperatures. When little Frankie woke up the next day, he found that his mixture had frozen solid inside the cup! Undaunted, as all little boys are, he simply turned the cup upside down, knocked out the frozen soda-pop, grabbed his new invention by the stirrer-cum-handle, and just started sucking on it. The world’s first-ever popsicle!

The invention of the world’s first ice-cream bar can be attributed to young Harry Burt.

Okay, so Burt wasn’t so young. But he did invent the ice-cream bar on a stick.

Burt’s father, Harry Burt senior, was experimenting with a way to serve ice-cream on the go. To make the ice-cream easier to sell, he set the cream into blocks. To keep the customer’s hands clean, he dipped the blocks in chocolate and froze them so that clean hands need not be soiled by contact with melting ice-cream.

The problem was that…what happens when the chocolate melts?

This was the point brought up by Harry’s daughter, Ruth Burt. Harry wasn’t sure what to do about it. That was when Ruth’s younger brother, 20-year-old Harry Junior, came up with the idea of freezing the ice-cream with little wooden sticks already inside them, to give the customer something to hold onto, and minimise the chances of ice-cream going all over the customer’s hands.

Daddy liked the idea so much that he gave it a shot, and success ensued! Between them, the three Burts had invented the ice-cream bar on a stick!

Sundaes on Sundays?

Ah. The joys of having a dish made almost entirely out of ice-cream. Sinful, isn’t it?

Apparently, someone thought so, because in the United States, it was illegal to eat ice-cream on Sunday!

Is that true?

Honestly, nobody knows. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. The legend goes that since selling  ice-cream was illegal on Sundays, ice-cream vendors would sell ‘sundaes’ instead, deliberately mis-spelling the name to circumvent the religious morality laws (‘blue laws’) which were killing their businesses.

Something else that nobody knows is where the sundae as an entity, was invented. The United States. But which city? And state? Nobody knows for sure.

Whoever invented sundaes, and for whatever variety of reasons, we should thank them for inventing one of the most enjoyable and most variable ways of consuming ice-cream  ever thought of.

…Banana split, anybody?

Sweet, Creamy Goodness

Looking for more information? Here are some links…–views/media-kits/ice-cream/the-history-of-ice-cream/


A Sprinkling of History – Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice

Head into your kitchen and take a look around. If it’s anything like mine, or like any other average kitchen, it’s full of stuff like salt, pepper, cinnamon, cumin, powdered gelatin, sugar, mint, basil, onion, garlic, pork, beef, chicken, eggs, bread, butter, coffee, tea…all things we see, use, and eat on a regular, daily basis.

What today are common and popular condiments, foodstuffs and seasonings that we use every day, and which we can purchase at any time, were once expensive, hard-to-find luxury goods, available to only the richest and most prosperous of people. This posting  will outline the histories behind, and the significance of a selection of the flavorings, spices, foodstuffs and condiments found in almost every kitchen in the world today.

The History of Salt and Pepper

Any kitchen, any restaurant, any dining-table in the world, any fast-food eatery, cafe, diner and mobile food-wagon is going to have these two most important of all seasonings. Salt and pepper.

While we take these two staples for granted today; white, crunchy, tangy, musky, woody and spicy, they were once luxury goods available to only the most privileged of peoples, and available in only very small amounts. This is their history.


The importance of salt can hardly be exaggerated. It doesn’t just make food taste nice, but throughout history, salt has held a place of great significance. It was used for everything from flavoring meat, preserving food, and even as currency! A lot of expressions in the English language relate to salt and its one-time status as a rare and valuable commodity.

Today, you can buy salt from any supermarket in any number of forms. But in older times, salt was hard to come by, and incredibly expensive. Salt is acquired by one of two means, depending on which is the most effective:

The first is the simple evaporation of seawater. Gathering seawater into large, open troughs or pans and letting the water evaporate, is one of the most common ways of getting salt, even today. Once the seawater was evaporated by the sun, the salt-crystals would remain behind. Then, it was simply a matter of gathering the salt-crystals, washing them, purifying them, and repeatedly evaporating them until they were clean, clear, white and ready to use.

The second method of procuring salt was salt-mining. When vast inland lakes and seas dried up, they left large deposits of salt on the earth’s crust. Today, we know them as salt-flats. Salt in this form is known as ‘rock salt’ because it’s clumped up into large crystals. Accessing this salt is as simple as shoveling it out of the ground, mining for it, and purifying it, much like with the seawater.

But doing all this by hand, without the aid of modern mass-production, meant that for thousands of years, salt was a relative luxury. Industrial quantities of salt were used for preserving meat and fish. Food such as pork, beef, ham, bacon, and any number of sea-creatures were packed in salt to keep it fresh. The large chunks or chips of salt used in this curing and preserving process were called ‘corns’ of salt. Hence the term ‘corned beef’; literally, beef preserved by being packed in with large flakes and chips of salt.

Salt was so valuable and relatively hard to come by that as far back as the Ancient Romans, salt was used a currency. Soldiers were paid in salt, and only a man…”worth his salt“…would be allowed his allotted ration. When soldiers weren’t paid in salt, they were paid in coinage that would allow them to buy the salt which the money represented. This form of payment was known as a salarium. Working people are still paid their regular ‘salaries‘ to this day.

The relative scarcity of salt meant that it was a massive status symbol. These days, salt is sold and presented at-table in any number of ways: In cheap plastic salt-grinders or shakers, in plastic zip-lock bags and in shrink-wrapped packets inside pretty cardboard boxes. But it wasn’t always like this.

Salt was so important that once it was presented at the table, it was housed in a specially-manufactured piece of tableware: The salt-cellar.

You can still buy salt-cellars today, but antique cellars, made of glass and sterling silver were prized pieces of the household’s table-setting. The number of salt-cellars on the table showed off how wealthy the homeowner was, and the position of the cellars on the table determined and indicated a diner’s relationship to the homeowner!

A king, lord, or wealthy merchant would have closest access to the salt-cellar. The people in his immediate vicinity, and who were able to reach the salt-cellar, did so at the king’s invitation, and were said to be ‘above the salt‘. People who were less deserving, and therefore, who couldn’t gain access to the coveted salt-cellar on the table, were seated further down the table, and therefore ‘below the salt‘.

Salt was so important and prized that whole wars were fought over this simple, white crystal. Taxes were levied against salt, and restriction of prohibition of its passage through a country was even hoped to affect the outcomes of wars and battles. During the American Revolution, the British and loyalist colonials hijacked, stole or hid valuable cargoes of salt bound for the Patriots. While this may seem funny today…don’t forget that salt was required to preserve food! Without the salt, meat and fish could not be kept fresh for long journeys and big battles, which, the British hoped, would turn the tide of the war in their favour.

So important was salt that government mishandling of this precious flavouring could cause the population to turn against it in a hurry! In 1648, the Russian Government unwisely put a heavy tax on salt. Taxation in Russia was easily circumvented, and many people of relative means were able to get away with not paying their taxes.

In the early 1600s, Russia was in a transitional stage. The last tsar of the Rurik Dynasty had died and there was a fierce power-struggle, which ended in the 1610s and 1620s, with the establishment of the Romanov Dynasty, which would rule Russia until the Revolution of 1917.

The fighting caused by this power-struggle had left the Russian Treasury empty. To get much needed money for the government, and to stop the widespread tax-evasion of the time, the Russian Government decided that the fastest way to get money was to tax the one thing that everyone relied on…salt.

Salt was essential to the Russian diet. It was required by everyone to salt and preserve the fish and meat which was at the time, a staple to the Russian people. The salt tax infuriated the Russian citizens and in 1648, everything came to a head with the Moscow Salt Riot.

You wouldn’t think that much would happen. A bunch of peasants and serfs, middling sorts and shopkeepers rioting over a lack of salt couldn’t be that big, could it?

By the end of roughly ten days of rioting, half of Moscow lay in ruins, burned to the ground by people who refused to pay taxes on such an essential component of Russian life.

Such is the importance and significance, rarity and necessity of salt.


There are several varieties of pepper. It holds the world record as being the most commonly used spice in the world. The most common pepper that people are familiar with is Piper Nigrum…’Black Pepper’.

Pepper was once a prized and rare spice. It’s native to the Asian regions of the world, around India, and the South Pacific countries. Access to this desirable but faraway spice caused the opening of the Spice Trade. The Spice Trade had existed for centuries. It started in the Mediterranean, and spread east from there, to countries such as Persia, Afghanistan, Siam, China, India, Korea, Malaya, and Indochina. The Spice Trade was done by sea, with routes running through the Mediterranean and Red Seas, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The Trade was also run through overland routes, such as the famous “Silk Road” through China. A lot more than pepper was traded, however. Popular spices included cinnamon, cumin, ginger and turmeric. Along with spices, silks, exotic woods, ivory, cloth and other exotic items were also traded. Pepper remained the backbone of the Spice Trade, however, because it was heavily used, much like salt, to flavour food, and/or to disguise the taste of less-than-fresh meat or fish.

Sugar and Spice, and Everything Nice

Aaah, sugar. Sweet, sweet, wonderful sugar. Brown, white, crunchy and sweet. The bane of dentists, dietitians and purveyors of health-food. This legendary substance has been used in everything from candy to chocolate, sauces, cakes, pies, muffins, cookies, and even meat! But, like salt before it, sugar was once a valuable commodity used only by the very rich.

Sugar is native to India. There, it is grown in the sugarcane plant. The juice or water extracted from the cane-reeds is a sweet liquid (…which is incredible to drink, by the way…) which for many years, remained untapped. For most of the world, the main sweetener was still honey, extracted from beehives. But when Indians learnt how to refine the sugar-water, and extract pure sugar-crystals from it, the sugar-trade exploded!…or not.

The issue was that sugar produced from sugar-cane was expensive and had a relatively low yield. As a result, sugar was incredibly expensive, and remained a luxury item and status-symbol throughout the Middle Ages and Early Modern period. If you could afford sugar, you were rich!

Sugar started becoming cheaper when, in the 1700s, it was discovered that another plant, the sugar beet, was also high in natural sugar. Sugar-beets were easier to grow and more plentiful. The discovery of the beet and it’s link to sugar was made in the mid-1700s, but it wasn’t until the 1810s that sugar-beet production and harvesting really took off! By the Victorian-era, sugar was becoming much cheaper, and the candy industry, with boiled sweets, chocolate-bars, cookies, cakes, pies and puddings really began to take off. Sugar-consumption shot up significantly during the 1800s.


Honey is something that everyone is likely to have in their house. It’s sweet, sticky and delicious. And it’s also healthy and good for you! Among other things…

Honey has been known to mankind for centuries. And before the rise of sugar in the early 19th century, it was the main sweetening agent used in cooking. Honey was used for a lot more than making things sweet, though. Just like salt, honey is a natural preservative. Food could be sealed in honey to keep it fresh for weeks and months at a time. Fruit and nuts were often stored in jars of honey to keep them fresh and sweet, during the summer months, so that they could still be eaten during the winter months, when fruits were less plentiful. Honey is such a good preservative that jars of ancient honey found by archaeologists are still good to eat today, thousands of years later. In some countries, honey was even used to preserve dead bodies.

Honey is also an antiseptic, and was used to treat and clean wounds on the battlefield in ancient times. English monarch, King Henry V, was shot in the face with an arrow during the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, while fighting under his father’s command. The battlefield surgeon cleaned the wound with honey, removed the arrowhead and bandaged the then-prince’s face. Prince Henry survived his injury, and the battle, and succeeded his father, Henry IV, in 1413.

From those reading this who suffer from bowel-issues, you might be relieved to know that honey is also a laxative. Raw honey, in as pure, and as unprocessed a state as it’s possible to buy, has a lubricating effect on the body, which helps relieve digestive issues such as constipation. Feeling a bit blocked up? Make yourself a couple of pots of tea with a good dose of raw honey mixed in. Not only is it delicious, but you’ll feel much better after a couple of hours…

Butter and Margarine

Anyone who’s ever done the schoolboy experiment of dropping two marbles into a jar of cream, sealing the lid and shaking the jar until your arms drop off, will know how butter is created (and yes, that is how butter is created…constant agitation of cream).

Butter is one of the most essential ingredients in the world. For cakes, for pies, for cookies, for sandwiches, for hot toast on cold nights, for greasing up the toastie-maker before making a grilled-cheese sandwich.

Butter has been around for centuries. Commercial exporting of butter is traced back to the 1100s in Northern Europe. For a long time, butter was considered a peasant’s food, fit to be consumed only by farmers and peasants. Eventually, however, butter became accepted as food for all classes, from kings and emperors downwards.

Because it’s a dairy product, storing butter was a problem. It had to be kept in such a way that it didn’t melt or spoil. Where possible, it was kept cold, underground, or in ice-houses or ice-boxes. Where the ground-conditions allowed it, butter was stored in barrels and buried in peat-bogs! This method of preservation was common in Ireland up until the end of the 1700s.

Butter became wildly popular in the 1800s. Sauces and dressings for salads and a variety of savory dishes were made using butter. In France in the 1860s, butter became so widely used that there was a severe butter-shortage! Emperor Napoleon III famously set up a nationwide competition! A prize, to anyone who could mass produce a cheap, effective and worthy substitute for butter, that would feed the poor and provide sustenance to the French Army! The prize was finally claimed in 1869, by French chemist Hippolyte Mege-Mouries. Mege-Mouries built on research done by other chemists, and developed the wonder-spread that would save France from a butter-drought! He named it..Oleomargarine…or just ‘margarine’ for short.

Margarine, made from vegetable fats and oils, instead of milk-fat, as butter is, has  always had a bit of a stigma. It’s seen as the poor-man’s butter. The cheap substitute that it was back in the 1860s is a stigma that is yet to be removed from its character. In fact, margarine was seen as so offensive, that it was actually prohibited in certain countries!

Because manufacturing cheap margarine would harm the local dairy industries, in the United States and Canada, the production and sale of margarine was made illegal! And…just like in the U.S.A. in the 1920s…it led to bootleg margarine. Hard to imagine, but it did! In the end, margarine-bans were ended (Canada, in 1948, America, during the late 1960s), but taxes and ‘margarine licenses’ meant that it wasn’t quite as cheap as probably it should’ve been. In the United States, there was a Margarine Tax (2c/lb). 2 cents a pound doesn’t sound like much, but back then, 2 cents was the price of a newspaper!


…Yes. Potatoes.

The humble spud has some pretty interesting stories to tell. It was once considered inedible and filthy. It came from the ground, covered in crud that you had to scrape off, after all…who wants to eat that!?

The potato comes from South America. It was introduced to Europe by the Spanish in the Early Modern Period. But acceptance was slow and grudging. It was considered cheap, peasanty food, not worth for anything but pig-feed. In fact, in the 1780s and 90s, when France was undergoing a record famine due to crop-failures, the French would rather starve to death than eat potatoes!

The potato-promoter extraordinaire was a Frenchman. His name was Antoine-Augustin Parmentier.  It was he who suggested that the potato, a versatile and adaptable food, would be the savior of the French people during their time of need! He was so convinced of this that he hosted dinners at which NOTHING was served…but potatoes…in one way, or another. For every single course. He even did this to the French king, Louis XVI! In the 1770s, the French medical society finally agreed that the potato was not the filthy, poisonous, and dangerous thing that came out of the ground, but, grudgingly, accepted that it could be eaten…this still didn’t stop the French from avoiding it like the plague, though…

The potato was the staple food of the Irish people for much of the 1800s. When the potato crops failed in the 1840s and 50s, thousands of desperate Irish men, women and children immigrated to the United States to save themselves from starvation.

But the most famous story about the potato is not how it became accepted into polite society, or how it affected patterns of immigration, but rather, how it became the popular potato-chip.

If you dug deep enough, you could (and some people have) found proof that this happened before this date, but the generally accepted story is that the crunchy, salted potato chip was invented in the following manner:

Moon’s Lake House, Saratoga Springs, New York, U.S.A. 1853. Moon’s Lake House is a popular eatery and holiday resort in the town of Saratoga Springs. The resident chef is an African-American, a young (by then, in his early 30s) man named George Crum. The fashion of the time was to slice potatoes into thick chunks, sort of like wedges, and fry them, so that they could be eaten with a knife and fork. A customer repeatedly sent back his fried potatoes to the kitchen, insisting that the slices were too thick, and so soggy that they kept breaking apart on his fork!

Insulted by this, Crum shaved the next order of potatoes until they were paper-thin! He flash-fried them in oil until they were crunchy and hard, and then showered them all over with a huge amount of salt! He sent the potatoes back out…

To his surprise, his new invention was a hit! Potato-chips made Crum rich! In a restaurant that he opened himself, after the American Civil War, Crum served potato chips in baskets on all the tables, as a snack-food for his diners before their meals.

Did Crum invent potato chips? There are some who believe so. There are some who believe that they existed before then, but were not named as such. However they arrived on the scene, they have remained popular for over a hundred and fifty years…