Cooking Tips

Fun Food Facts

Family Games

For food history buffs who want to know more about the traditions and histories behind my recipes, read on....

To make my recipe introductions short and sweet, I couldn’t include pages and pages of food history for each recipe; I had to pick and choose among many facts and distill them into a single paragraph (or two). Here are all the fascinating facts that didn’t make it into the book.

Fruitcake Fruitcake is popularly served at weddings in England. According to tradition, if you take home a piece of wedding cake and sleep with it under your pillow, you’ll dream of whom you’ll marry.

Roast Pork Loin   The famous Victorian cookbook author Isabella Beeton found pigs’ eating habits repulsive (who doesn’t?), but nevertheless she devoted several recipes in her renowned cookery book to bacon, ham, and pork.

Citrus Sandwich Cake with Mango Filling An Indian legend concerning the mango: Once upon a time, the king of the land fell in love with the daughter of the sun. A wicked enchantress wished to destroy the beautiful goddess, so she changed herself into a lotus flower. The sorceress burned the flower, which turned to ashes. But out of the ashes grew a mango tree, and the king was delighted with the fruit. When the fruit ripened and fell to the ground, the sun daughter was released. The king recognized his true love and they lived happily ever after.

Chicken and Mushroom Pie Etymologists (people who study the origins of words) speculate that the word “pie” comes from “magpie.” A magpie is a bird known for collecting a variety of objects. In medieval times, a pie could contain all sorts of foods, as various as a magpie’s collection.

Double Strawberry Ice Cream According to Norse mythology, Frigga (Odin’s wife, a Norse god) carried the spirits of human children inside strawberries to the afterlife. The name of the berry possibly comes from the straying runners (stray berry).

Vol-au-Vents The following was the original introduction to this recipe but was shortened due to space constraints:

            Marie Antione Careme, known as the King of Chefs and the Chef of Kings, invented this beautiful and tasty  appetizer in around 1800. Its French name means “flying on the wind.” Picture the scene: the curled waxed black mustache (he was clean-shaven, but no matter), the round, rosy, apple cheeks (he was thin, but who cares), the white chef’s hat (the toque, which he also invented). The exclamation, as the pastry is removed from the oven, “Oh, la, la! Mais certainement, zees ees so light, eet’s blowing like ze weend!” And then five minutes later, brushing the crumbs from his mustache: “But alas, eet eez also vraiment gone weess ze weend!”   

            You can fill the pastry cases with whatever you want; you are limited only by your imagination. The fillings here require no cooking, although traditionally a filling mixed with a velouté (a sauce thickened with a roux, a paste made of flour and butter) is used.

The Roast Beef of Old England The following was the original introduction to this recipe but was shortened due to space constraints:

    The English developed a reputation for excellence in roasting beef, but for some reason when the French want to insult them they call them rosbifs (maybe they’re jealous because they want all the credit for fine cuisine, who knows). But the English have one better: when they want to insult the French they call them frogs for their frogs’ legs dish. Roast beef is so important to the Britons that they even have a song about it called “The Roast Beef of Old England,” which in turn inspired a famous painting of someone holding a humongous chunk of raw beef. Interestingly, the U.S. military plays this song when roast beef is served at formal dinners.

Classic Roast Chicken Did you know that the term “pecking order” comes from the behavior of chickens, who always establish one in their flocks? Hens will fight over the same spot—and if no one wins, they may lay eggs right on top of each other. Talk about compromise.

Glazed Carrots The following was the original introduction to this recipe but was shortened due to space constraints:

    Here are some carrot fun facts, some of which are surprising:

1.Ancient carrots came in white, purple, red, and yellow, tasted bitter and, were used for medicinal purposes. You can still buy these colors at health food stores.

2.The Roman cookbook Apicius mentions carrots to be eaten as food.

3.The Dutch perfected the sweet orange carrot we know today to reflect the House of Orange and honor the prince, William of Orange.

4.Fashionable Elizabethan women adorned their hair, hats, and clothes with the flowers and feathery stalks of the wild carrot, also called Queen Anne’s Lace.

5.British fighter pilots, to keep radar technology from the Germans, claimed that their super night vision came from eating a lot of carrots. Hard to believe, but the Germans bought it.

6.Carrots really are good for your eyes. But you will still have to wear your glasses. Sorry, but they only improve night vision (those British fighter pilots weren’t so far off the mark).

Steak and Kidney Pudding Steak and kidney pudding with oysters in it is called Pickwick pudding, after the dish that appears in Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers.

Irish Stew The English have a song about roast beef, and the Irish have a song about Irish stew. Irish stew is a national dish of Ireland since around 1800, when the song was written. It ends with “Then hurrah for an Irish stew/That will stick to your belly like glue,/The sons of St. Patrick forever,/And three cheers for a real Irish stew.” There’s even a band called Irish Stew.

Haggis The national dish of Scotland, Robert Burns even wrote a poem about it called “Address to a Haggis.”

Black Pudding Here’s all you need to know about black pudding:

1.The first thing you need to know is that black pudding, also called blood sausage, is made of, well, blood, mixed with animal fat such as suet, oats, onion, salt, and seasonings, stuffed into casings and boiled in water.

2.You can’t make your own, because it’s illegal to sell animal blood in the U.S.

3.Homer, the ancient Greek poet, may have eaten it. He describes the roasting over a fire of an animal stomach filled with blood and fat in The Odyssey.

4.Blood sausages have been made since animals have been slaughtered for their meat, as proved by the many cultures who eat it: boudin noir in France, sanguinaccio in Italy, blutwurst in Germany, morcilla in Spain, and black pudding in England.

5.Since the War of the Roses, a major festival takes place every year in a city near Manchester. The contestants who participate in the World Black Pudding Throwing Championships sling black puddings at stacks of Yorkshire puddings. Whoever knocks off the most puddings wins.

Apple Pie  Apple pie is an old, old food. A recipe even appears in The Forme of Curye (which means “The Art of Cookery”) from 1390. If you change the spelling it’s almost understandable: “Take good apples and good spices and figs and raisins and pears and when they are well brayed [beaten] colored with saffron well and do it in a coffin [pie crust] and do it forth to bake well.” The main difference in the filling ingredients is that this ancient pie contains no sugar or honey.

Blancmange  While in England blancmange is often tinted pink or other colors and thickened with cornstarch, the one served at Hogwarts would have been closer to the original French version: white, as its name says, thickened with gelatin, and flavored with almond milk.

Jam Tarts Jam tarts are mentioned in another famous children’s book, the classic Alice in Wonderland.

Cranberry Sauce The English used to harvest their own cranberries until the bogs where they grew in abundance dried up. Today, cranberries are grown and harvested mostly in North America, and Britain imports loads of the berries annually.

Christmas Pudding In Devon in the early 1800s a 900-pound Christmas pudding was made. But the largest pudding ever made weighed over 7,000 pounds—more recently, in 1992, in Lancashire.

Eggnog Eggnog is the descendent of the medieval posset, a mixture of wine and hot milk.

Nougat A popular tale: Once upon a time, a little old lady who lived in France made candy from egg whites, sugar, honey, and almonds, which she handed out to the neighborhood children. The grateful children then said, “Tante Manon, tu nous gates!” which is French for, “Aunt Manon, you spoil us!” But this story is probably not true. Even if kids were better behaved in those days, it’s hard to imagine them coming up with that line. The truth is, nougat comes from the Latin word nux for nuts.

Dark Chocolate Truffles Dark chocolate truffles are dusted with cocoa powder to resemble real, freshly dug truffles, a type of mushroom that is so expensive that most of us have to make do with the chocolate imitation. Real truffles are hard to find, so trained pigs are used to snuffle out the truffles.

Bon Bons Bonbon is a French word that literally means goody (bon means good). In the old days, gentlemen would present their ladies with fancy boxes filled with bonbons, which today people think of as small, spherical, handmade confections.