Four foods that are far older than you thought

Right now, many of you are probably in the middle of the pre-Christmas rush to get everything ready. Presents to wrap, post office runs to make, baking to do, decoration half-finished. Sometimes it’s nice to take a break from all the holiday stress to just decompress and relax. And read Cat Flag.

In that vein, I decided after finishing “Homeless in Paradise” – which you should all see if you haven’t yet – it was about time to do something simple and fun instead of complex and depressing. You know what? That whole thing I did on Thanksgiving traditions made me wonder about the origins of other everyday foods. In my search, I found that some foods we take for granted are actually way older than I realized. Foods like:


Where we thought it came from: The Great Depression and World War II, when everything was scarce and people had to make do or go without. Often associated with the Midwest, it’s the classic “Just how momma made it” dinner.

Where it actually came from: Ancient Rome. An ancient Roman cookbook called Apicius contains the earliest known meatloaf recipe, which used a kind of minced meat. What’s more, there are many different variations of the dish across Europe and the Middle East, made of such meats as ham, bacon, or lamb and in many cases stuffed with eggs or sausage or cheese or even gherkins. The American version seems to have come from the Pennsylvania Dutch, who made a spiced pork-cornmeal dish known as scrapple.


Where we thought it came from: 19th century Italy, in the age of operas and fine restaurants turning out elegant cuisine for the growing numbers of tourists coming in by train.

Where it actually came from: Ancient Greece. As early as the first century BC, sheets of unleavened dough served with lettuce, spices, and oil are recorded as “lagana”. ┬áThis dish was deep-fried, though, and probably didn’t resemble the lasagna we know today. The earliest modern lasagna probably came from loseyn, a 14th-century English recipe. Yes, English. Not Italian.

Clam Chowder

Where we thought it came from: The lobster fishermen of New England, who would come home from a hard day’s work on the cold ocean and want something warm and hearty to eat.

Where it actually came from: Try 16th-century France. True, it always was the food of fishermen – the idea was that whatever the village’s fishermen caught that day would be thrown in a huge communal pot to make a giant chowder that would be served to the whole village. The tradition was picked up by English fishermen just across the English Channel, and was brought to America from there.

Ice Cream

Where we thought it came from: Obviously, this is one that just HAD to be invented after refrigeration. How else could they keep it cold in the heat of summer?

Where it actually came from: Ancient Persia. They would climb into the mountains, collect snow, and pour grape juice over it, and store it in underground chambers that would keep them cold. Milk was added by the Arabs in the 10th century. The dish was popular with Chinese Emperors, European monarchs, and America’s own Founding Fathers.

So, I guess the moral to this story is that we shouldn’t take things for granted and learn to appreciate that some everyday things have very ancient histories.

Information from Wikipedia, Good Eats, and these sites.