Tag Archives: ancient

In which we are reminded of the importance of specificity. And also the deliciousness of apples.

7 Oct

So the food I set out to dig some info up on today is a pretty difficult one to research: apple cider! You’re probably thinking, “Jules, what’s so difficult about that?” In response to which I might punch you! It turns out, there is a lot that’s difficult about that.

Not only is cider about as old as apples (the only question seems to be whether the Egyptians were making it; while they grew apples, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that they were making any kind of juice or beverage from them), but trying to figure out which particular cider any given source is talking about is pretty tricky, too. American cider, which is unsweetened, unclarified juice (cloudy and brown, as opposed to the clear yellow stuff sold as juice), is completely different from what we call hard cider and the rest of the world just calls cider, which is also clear and yellow but will get you drunk! This brings me to a very important Serious Historical Research Tip: always specify your terms. A lot of the sources out there are just throwing “cider” around without any modifiers whatsoever. Is that useful to the Serious Historical Expert? It is not. Not when you’re trying to find information on one particular kind, anyway.

As far as other early mentions, a couple of different sources mentioned that when the Romans reached Britain, the locals in Kent introduced them to some kind of apple-based drink. But the earliest records of cider-making in England are from after the Norman Conquest, although there were references from France early in the ninth century, from no less a source than Charlemagne. It also turns out that in the late nineteenth century, cider actually outstripped wine as the beverage of choice in Paris! In America, meanwhile, during the early years of the colonial period, apples were a lot quicker and easier to grow than grains, so cider was generally more prevalent than beer.

But this ended up being as much a chance to talk about the Serious Historical Research Process as delicious autumnal beverages. Here’s the thing: in a lot of the sources where I found this information, I ended up having to deduce for myself which kind of cider the author was referring to (usually hard). In the case of an article from a website dedicated to alcoholic beverages, this was kind of a no-brainer, but in other cases, I’d have to go on references contrasting cider with beer, remarking on the differences in “fermentation processes”, and mentioning that a general decline in popularity was followed by the blow of Prohibition. These are the kinds of context clues that the Serious Historical Expert needs to be on the lookout for, you see. And while it’s easy to write one source off, especially one found by the Grueling Research Method of googling for two minutes, the need to pay attention to context because no one would specify whether they were talking about hard or soft cider was a constant one–even a New York Times article confused me for awhile until its middle, where there were references to alcohol content. This timeline, further, has an interesting graph at the bottom. I had assumed (from the fact that the URL is a UK-based one, and it’s generally only Americans who refer to soft cider as merely “cider”, without any modifiers) that it was generally tracking hard cider, and if you’ll look at that graph, you’ll notice something else that corroborates that assumption: there’s a huge drop-off in US cider consumption right after 1919. Again, this is an important context clue–Prohibition went into effect shortly after, and that would’ve affected hard cider sales drastically.

Personally, for dinner tonight I’m going to make these pork chops braised in (soft) cider. I suspect they will go down in history for DELICIOUSNESS.

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In which there is awkwardness all around.

5 Oct

The happy little stars this layout uses for bullet points just add to the effect, really.

  • Hey remember when you made a big deal out of Holocaust denial and then it got out that your family converted from Judaism when you were little? Hahaha, man, that was awkward.
  • Or hey remember when you were a German pen company and you marked the birth of a dude who embraced an ascetic lifestyle and “shunned foreign-made products” and was pretty known for making hunger strikes by selling a $25,000 pen? Oh man, that was awkward.
  • Oh man remember that time you used the White Man’s Burden as an excuse to wipe out the indigenous people and then it turned out they had canal systems thousands of years before you got there? Hoo boy was that awkward.

Oh man, sorry dudes, I am out with a pretty fierce cold the past few days so I pretty much got nothing. Also why would you need a $25,000 pen at all, seriously.

In which I run the risk of bewildering people…

14 Sep

…with my love for ancient stone axes. Specifically, in this case, a number of stone axes found in the Kalahari Desert, in the dry lake basin of Lake Makgadikgadi. As you can see from the picture along with the article, they are pretty big. The picture also looks like they’re made of flint—if not, something relatively soft you can flake away, because those have definitely been flaked. Mostly I mention this Totally Fascinating Piece Of Information because I spent a semester cataloging flint tools at the British Museum and it’d be nice to think that didn’t go to waste in the interval while I’m saving up for grad school.

Even if you’re not kind of a dork about Stone Age flint tools, this is pretty exciting. Professor Thomas of Oxford University explains that “the interior of southern Africa has usually been seen as being devoid of significant archaeology,” but they’ve found a bunch of artifacts around the lake dating from the Stone Age.

Also, in response to a request from reader lyndseyjenkins, I saw my way to making an About page! I am not sure exactly what is supposed to go on these, since I figured no one would be that interested in me in particular. If there is anything essential that I’m missing from that (or you think I’d be a valuable addition to your workplace), let me know!

In which there is a lot of saturated fat.

13 Sep

Wow, looking at my stats apparently there has actually been traffic to this blog lately! I am surprised, and now I am sure I’ve jinxed it and I’m probably going to forget all about it soon. Consider yourselves warned. I should also apologize for my lack of interaction; besides generally being terrible at replying to comments and having a pretty terrible couple of days (I spent about six hours straight on Friday crying for no really good reason, that was good times), I am not used to having comments to reply to! It is a strange and somewhat disturbing development. But I really appreciate the thoughts, and, heck, the traffic. It is very cool to know that people are interested in hearing me yammer about things. Well, okay, let’s be honest: complain about things.

Anyhoo, I feel like I have neglected the whole history aspect of this blog pretty badly lately, and that is a shame! Like I say, I had a pretty lousy couple of days, so today my mother and I got together and made brown-butter oatmeal cookies. I saw this recipe in the June issue of Vogue while waiting around for a job interview yesterday, and I didn’t quite trust myself to be stealthy enough to rip it out, nor was I quite shameless enough to just rip it out regardless of stares. Fortunately, the Internet exists, so I used the magic of Google and turned it up at another blog! Hooray!

I would give you delightful photos, but alas, I have lost the charger for my camera’s battery. Instead, because I am sure you are wondering what the heck this has to do with history (we can have a philosophical debate about this, I’m sure—rather, people can, but I am pretty crappy at philosophical debates, so I will probably not have much to say—but I’m fairly certain the June ’09 issue of Vogue does not have that much significance as a primary historical source just yet), here are a few facts about butter throughout history! Who doesn’t love lists of random facts about butter.

  1. According to Peter Hammond’s Food & Feast in Medieval England, gentry families could (did is probably another matter, but they could) purchase butter all year ’round, although “fresh butter must have been in very short supply at some times in the year”. Hammond also says that butter was apparently “very heavily salted”, citing by way of example that “in 1305 the Bishop of Worcester used 1lb of salt for every 10lbs of butter or cheese”.
  2. This 1835 article on butter suggests that “The Romans, who adopted it as an unguent or medicine to anoint the bodies of their children, learnt the invention from the Germans; but neither Greeks nor Romans applied it to the art of cookery.” However, historian Andrew Dalby finds that Northern Europeans did eat butter during the classical period. Frankly I consider that article even more interesting than the facts it contains, since I find the way historical studies and writing have progressed to be pretty interesting in and of themselves. Personally, I’m reassured by the fact that I am not the first person to think it would be interesting to learn a little more about the history of butter. When you start saying to yourself that butter might be interesting to learn about you also start to get a little troubled by the state of your life.
  3. How far back brown butter might go, I’m not sure; a little cursory Googling turned up a recipe from 1918, and no instructions for how to brown butter are given, which suggests that it would’ve at least been common knowledge among chefs. It’s not hard to imagine that someone, somewhere along the line, probably came up with the idea of cooking butter, especially since it’s made in much the same way as clarified butters like ghee.
  4. Just a couple of weeks ago, a couple of peat workers in Ireland found an Iron Age barrel filled with butter out in a bog. Alas, it’s now hardened into a waxy substance called adipocere, so there can be no exciting museum heists that result in cookies made with three-thousand-year-old butter. :(
  5. The seventeenth century finds samp (dried and powdered corn) mixed with milk and butter and “eaten hot or cold” as a breakfast staple in the North American colonies; it comes recommended by Roger Williams! If it’s good enough for the founder of Rhode Island, it’s good enough for you.
  6. The first time I tried to type out “other” in Item #3 there, I came up with “udder”. Apparently I cannot resist a pun.

Plus, the cookies were incredible.

In which there is some 3700-year-old excitement

8 Sep

CNN reports that a 3700-year-old wall in Jerusalem—rather, the segments of it that have been uncovered thus far—is causing a bit of a stir! It’s about eight meters high, made with massive boulders (one archaeologist says about 4 or 5 tons on average). This is not only impressive but it is pretty baffling, because no one is quite sure how they might’ve done it: four or five tons is what we Serious Historical Experts refer to as “pretty fucking enormous”, and “no way am I moving that on my own, fuck you”, and a fair bit of Serious Historical Study has determined that there wasn’t much in the way of construction equipment with which to move 4- or 5-ton boulders 3700 years ago.

…OR THERE WASN’T THAT WE KNOW OF. Which is basically the point and is why this is so exciting: this is how science works, too, which is that once in awhile something will happen that you really do not expect to happen, and then you figure out what caused the difference, and that’s how knowledge moves forward.

Plus, big wall! Made of enormous fucking rocks! Admittedly, I’m a fairly dull person, but I think this is pretty cool.