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Be thankful for what you have. Give thanks.

Other Cultures Can Inspire Us And For That, We Are Thankful

In the US, we typically celebrate thanksgiving, or the season of giving thanks by gathering with family and friends, around a huge meal.  We give thanks for our relationships and everything good in our lives, while we look forward to everything to come in the new year.  Most Americans, however, are unaware of the fact that the tradition of giving thanks is not unique to America.  Giving thanks dates to the earliest of human societies, and is practiced in nearly every culture.  Let’s take a look at what the rest of the world does to give thanks.

Most ancient cultures had harvest festivals, many of which are still celebrated today.  The names and stated reasons tend to change, but the festival dates and purposes are largely the same.  Ancient Egyptians celebrated their springtime corn harvest by worshiping their god Min, while ancient Greeks celebrated a festival to honor the goddess Demeter in early autumn.  The timeframe of both these festivals tends to revolve around the harvest.  Many of the traditions and symbols, like the cornucopia from Greece, carry forward to modern times.

Modern celebrations from different cultures generally blend the old with the new.  In Alaska, natives celebrate both the traditional harvest festival and the American Thanksgiving.  The Alaskan traditional harvest tradition involves thanking the spirits for berry and salmon harvests that includes dancing to attract beneficial spirits.  They also have, for the most part, adopted the turkey and mashed potatoes of the traditional American Thanksgiving.

Canada is a nation that celebrates the survival of colonists, rather than a harvest.  That part of the tradition may be unique to the new world.  As far as the rest of the world is concerned, Thanksgiving has been exported to a good bit of it.  Brazil, for instance, celebrates a bountiful harvest in the same way we do in the states.  A Brazilian ambassador to the US fell in love with the idea of a dedicated holiday,8 and brought it back to Brazil.   Liberia celebrates Thanksgiving like the US, because they followed the US model very closely.  The nation was constructed as a safe place for freed slaves after the US Civil War.

The Netherlands claims to have given many traditions to the US, mainly because a tremendous number of early settlers were Dutch.  On the fourth Thursday in November, they share coffee and cookies – not nearly as elaborate as our Thanksgiving – regardless, the date is significant. Many other European nations borrow from or celebrate the American Thanksgiving in some part.   In Germany, they celebrate Erntedankfest in October, and many have begun serving turkey and stuffing in addition to their traditional chickens and geese.

Even in the East, thanks is given.  The Chinese celebrate the harvest moon festival, or Chung Ch’ui,  on August 15th.  While this celebration is also called the woman festival, it’s believed the moon is brightest and roundest on this day.  They bake small yellow cakes called moon cakes which are gifted to friends and relatives to show appreciation.  This is similar in both timeframe and custom to the Korean practice of ‘Fall Evening’ which is celebrated from the 14th to the 16th of August.  They also make a special food called songpyeon which is eaten after a family gathering in the moonlight to honor ancestors and dance for good fortune.

You’d be hard pressed to find a culture that doesn’t give thanks in some way.  We just tend to go all out on the food here.  Take some time this Thanksgiving to consider the things we share with the rest of the world – humanity is outstanding at thankfulness. And perhaps consider pondering on all the things you can be thankful for…

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Amish Buggy

Sauerkraut – a Microcosm of Cultures

The early settlers to Pennsylvania were mostly from Germany. Colonial Philadelphia, one of the biggest cities in the British empire, is nowadays remembered as a hub of the American Revolution. It was thriving; Benjamin Franklin was printing leaflets while the city went up around him. But before all this there was a Quaker governor of the state who decided to let in persecuted Anabaptists from Germany. This sect of ultra orthodox conservative Protestants were called the Mennonites. The Mennonites had earlier split off into the Amish, forming their own communities; it was these communities that moved into Pennsylvania. Amish believed in isolation from the rest of the sinful world, cutting themselves off from modern conveniences. That may have been easier in 1800, but it’s an ethos that has persevered to this day.

The result is that a few hours drive from the glistening hub of sin, technology and progress that is New York City, sits a community of farmers who have changed little in the past 150 years.

Change, however, is inevitable. Culture and language will always develop. The German spoken by the original settlers has become a hybrid language called Pennsylvania Dutch, no relation to New Amsterdam to the west, but from the word Deutsche meaning German. The Amish have slowly been using washing machines, powering their farm tools with propane generators and slowly moving towards modern technology. Sharing the inherent ability of language to adapt, is food. As the Amish tend to decry visual arts as a waste of time, the best way to observe and experience the culture and understand its history, is by looking at its food.

The land in Pennsylvania is hard, it requires work to get vegetables out of the soil, and the staple crop is corn. This is in harsh contrast to the Rhineland vineyards and the fertile soil of the Palatinate. The Amish food system had to adapt. German recipes were pared down to their simplest form, and the ingredients were substituted with what was at hand. The result is a fairly typical rural cuisine but with the twist of a German culinary tradition that never made its way into the age of refrigeration.

The hams and salted beef are combined with sauerkraut and oatmeal, the scrapple of pig’s head is mixed with cornmeal and made into fritters. In a community where refrigeration was a relatively recent turn of events, curing and preserving food remains incredibly important to the cuisine. As the rest of Pennsylvania took their cue from the smoked meats of the south as a method of preservation, the Pennsylvania Dutch gleefully piled salt and sage on their beef or pork, mixing it with innards to create sausages that, while not entirely German, were entirely American.

Typical Amish cooking completely inhabits natural approaches to health. No artificial chemicals are used, only what they can make themselves. This incorporates pickling, salting and preserving. The most common pickle is, of course, sauerkraut. The difference in pickling various vegetables all comes down to the ratio of vinegar, salt, and water. Vegetables that have a fairly thick structure need to be broken down, things like cucumbers are mostly water, so the ratio of vinegar to salt would be much more vinegar to much less water. Things like cabbage, as for sauerkraut, can use heating to break down fully, or time and salt but this was not common in Europe. As an example:

The Amish Version of Sauerkraut from Cooking with the Horse and Buggy People is as follows:

Shred cabbage like for slaw. Press tight in quart jars. Fill jars with boiling water. For 1 qt. add 2 t. vinegar, 1 t. salt and 1 t. white sugar. Cover and let set for 6 weeks.

The German method is slightly more involved. The typical recipe would go something like this:

Shred cabbage. Toss with salt and allow to sit for 45 minutes or until a large amount of water has been drawn from the cabbage. Massage the cabbage, squeeze it and get as much liquid from it as possible. Then place the cabbage and brine into an airtight jar and allow it to ferment for a week or two.

What is the difference in these recipes? Well, the Amish method adds vinegar and sugar instead of allowing the liquid from the cabbage to do the pickling. In essence the Amish are creating a brine of salt, sugar, vinegar and hot water then adding it to the cabbage and allowing the bacteria to grow and ferment over time. The heat is the main catalyst for both bacterial growth and breaking down the tough cabbage. In the German version the cabbage is broken down with the addition of salt, which draws the moisture out. Note the huge difference in preservation time. The Amish let their cabbage sit for 6 weeks before eating it, whereas the more typical German recipe simply waits for, typically, a week. Based on these recipes we can assume, correctly, that the Amish sauerkraut has a milder flavor than its German cousin.

Why did the Amish start boiling the water to add to the cabbage? The Amish sauerkraut method is quicker to do, the time from cabbage to jar is much less, and the shelf life is extended considerably. The German method has a more time consuming prep process, and is better suited to the world of refrigeration and shorter patience. The Amish recipe is an adaption of a classic to better suit the needs of a place without refrigeration and a real need to preserve the crop in a more efficient way. They may refuse modern technology, but the Amish are evolving and adapting, creating better ways to do things, finding new solutions to almost obsolete questions.

I hope you enjoyed this story! I am developing a delicious reuben with the sauerkraut I told you about in this blog, so stop by your local Atlanta Bread and check it out as soon as it’s available. In the meantime, we would love to hear your feedback so please visit our Facebook and Twitter and let us know what you would like to hear about in future blog posts.

Thanks
– John

John Hutt has been a chef all of his professional life and has traveled around the world to experience new cuisines and cultures. Based in New York and Atlanta, he is the head chef of Atlanta Bread where he is currently developing exciting new menu items while also refining many current offerings. He is also a writer, focusing mostly on contemporary art.

Chef John Hutt

Main photo taken by Konstantin Sergeyev.

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Soup provides comfort throughout the world

Soups – Providing Comfort Around the World

There’s nothing quite like a hot bowl of soup on a cold day. When you slurp the warm liquid down, while the steam rising from the bowl obscures your view for a few moments, there’s a feeling of comfort that washes over you. Perhaps we find it comforting because soup has been the traditional offering to help someone feel better when they’re ill. But even if you’re healthy and are enjoying a bowl of soup as a starter, main course, or as a side, it’s definitely a food that provides a great sense of well-being.

 There are theories that soup may date back to the Stone Age*. As far as we can accurately verify, soup had it’s humble beginnings as an item created to clear the pantry, or as an inexpensive meal to feed a family. Today, it can be said that soups are, indeed, universal – with many cultures enjoying the flavors of local ingredients in each bowl.

In many countries, soup is often served as a first or third course. In many regions soup is the only course. They can be a traditional item for holy days in Mexico where turtle soup, bean soup and Caldo de Vigilia – a concoction of cactus and smoked fish – are common soups served for Lent.

Soups are traditional meals for the morning and evening in France, where babies and children are fed Panade, a form of bread soup that is provided in place of cereal. Soup may be served for dinner there as well, but typically only to family, not guests.

Borscht is a soup made with beets (usually served with sour cream) in countries such as Russia, Poland, and Ukraine.

Soups are certainly seen as medicinal in places other than the US, where chicken noodle soup is thought to provide a sense of relief from the symptoms of colds. It is also considered one of the “safe” things to eat after a bout of stomach issues. In Japan, women in small villages will describe how certain soups help with various ailments – plantain soup and rock sugar for colds, mugwort or carp soup for fever.

Customs for enjoying soups vary as well. In Japan it is quite customary to slurp soup from the spoon or even to drink it straight from the bowl. In China, letting out a loud belch following a meal is considered to be a compliment. In Portugal, don’t ask for salt and pepper unless it is on the table. Doing so is an insult to the chef’s seasoning abilities.

The staggering variety of soups around the world can leave your head spinning. These meals-in-a-bowl are typically made with local ingredients and often with exotic seasonings and an array of meats and vegetables. It’s somewhat comforting to know that wherever you may travel, you can still get a sense of home when there is soup on the menu. There’s something about putting spoon to mouth and drinking down that warm blend of flavors that is truly a comfort. If you aren’t abroad, you can always try a traditional soup from another land to get a real sense of a far away place.

 Soup is good for the soul. But it’s also a wonder for the taste buds.

 


Sources:

http://www.soupsong.com/icustom.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/11/dining-etiquette-around-the-world_n_3567015.html

 

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Farmer's Markets - local goodness

Farmer’s Markets: More Than Just Locally Grown Goodness

As supermarkets continue to grow and expand various departments, it’s clear that something else gets pushed by the wayside – the charm and sense of community you get when shopping at a small market. Convenience and multiple options are wonderful things, but as more and more people aim to eat healthier and support locally owned and operated businesses, farmer’s markets are becoming more popular. The number of farmer’s markets has increased 60% in the past five years!

Whether you explore on your own with a specific list in mind or make it a family trip to experience the joys of shopping al fresco, visiting a local farmer’s market is a journey you’ll want to repeat. It’s the type of event that can make you feel like you’re a part of your surroundings and inspire you to try new things.

We all spend so much time in our homes, cars, and offices that the opportunity to get out in our community and stroll the street with other shoppers can be a grounding experience. It seems we have forgotten the sheer pleasure of getting to know the people and things around us – to engage all of our senses.

This is the time to talk with farmers and learn how they got started or how they grow their food. While shoulder to shoulder with another visitor who’s picking up a vegetable you’ve never purchased, ask them how to prepare it or how it tastes. Look at the variety of colors, smell the scents of the fresh, local food, feel the texture of the items, and yes, taste the samples.

Your goal may be to support your local community or it could be to step out of the norm. Either way, a trip to a community farmer’s market could be the start of something special. It could become a routine to get out in the fresh air or maybe simply motivation to eat healthy or broadens one’s perspective.

Shopping at a farmer’s market also allow you to do something for your community by supporting local farmers. Coming armed with information helps even more – before going, learn what’s in season. Bring plenty of cash in small bills because not all stands will have enough change. A small cart works best or carry some reusable bags to tote purchases. To truly feel welcome in this community, remember there is generally no bargaining like there is in a flea market. After all, you are supporting local.

With 52% of people surveyed saying it’s more important to them to buy local than it is to buy organic*, locally owned and operated markets, businesses, and restaurants are thriving. It’s about stepping back and appreciating what’s right around you. So, as large supermarket chains continue to expand their stores and their product lines, we encourage you to expand your horizons by going small and local at a farmer’s market.

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Sources:

*http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/food/farmers-market-tips-0

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Quinoa Salad

Vegetarians – Does Eating Out Have to Be a Challenge?

One of the biggest challenges vegetarians face is dining with friends. They sometimes feel guilty about steering the group away from places that would be a better fit for their meat eating friends, but does it need to be a major issue?

Most modern restaurants have vegetarian options and will even customize a dish to your diet upon request. The exceptions would be places where a customer has simply never requested a vegetarian option, such as rural diners in the Midwest or barbecue joints.   Even places you wouldn’t consider vegetarian friendly will serve salads and sides that are meat free. These options may not be ideal but they’re likely adequate. Who wants to settle for adequate, though?

What about meat eaters who have vegetarian friends? It’s more probablewe’re the ones making plans. Many meat-eaters have never considered vegetarian foods until they are exposed to a friend or acquaintance who expresses a desire to avoid meats. How do we ensure we find a place that includes our vegetarian friends? In this case, the Internet is your best asset.

Most restaurants publish their menu online, but certain restaurant types are a safe bet even without looking. For instance, a place that serves gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches will almost always have a selection of meat-free options. Pizza is another safe bet, as making meat free pizza is simple. Pasta is another safe choice, because many pasta dishes are not only vegetarian, but vegan friendly. Basil pesto pasta, anyone?

Nothing is simpler than a sandwich shop. Almost every sandwich shop in the US has vegetarian sandwiches. Even if the shop doesn’t offer vegetarian options, a request to ‘hold the meat’ on an otherwise perfect sandwich will usually work. A specialty sandwich shop without a selection of vegetarian options is almost unheard of these days.

Breakfast is always a good choice, and many restaurants will serve breakfast foods all day. Even for a meat-eater, breakfast for lunch can be a fun change of pace – Belgian waffles are not just for Sunday brunch anymore. Given the number of vegetarian items on the normal breakfast menu, finding something delicious should be simple.

Most people who look at a tremendous array of options on a menu don’t consider the limited options that may be available for vegetarians. As long as we are aware of the needs and wants of every member of our group, we can make more informed choices. The most important thing to remember is that a mindful choice and a little creativity will go a long way.

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Turkey Cranberry Sandwich

The Evolution of Sandwiches – A History of Taste

The sandwich is an enormous part of American culture, but where did it come from? Any geography buff would tell you there is an island chain in the south Atlantic called the South Sandwich Archipelago, but why would anyone name it that? The chain of islands was named for the same man as the food, and both in the 1700s, although that’s where the similarities end.

 The first written accounts of meat and bread date back to the second century BC, and ancient middle-eastern people ate them all the time. No one named the concoction until arguably 1762 when the 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, needed something he could eat that wouldn’t interrupt his gambling. Edward Gibbon first wrote the word ‘sandwich’ in his journal as a culinary reference on November 24th of that year, but the first recipe using the word wasn’t published until 1773.  The Americas were still colonial at that time, and would be, as far as the British were concerned, for another decade.

Americans didn’t widely start using the word until the 1830s. ‘Sandwich’ did, however, start appearing in cookbooks as early as 1816. The former colonists simply weren’t keen on calling anything by its British name so soon after the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. By 1924, however, the New York Times was calling for celebration of sandwiches as a convenient food, and heralding the arrival of the ‘sandwich house,’ a new type of lunch room primarily dedicated to sandwiches and their consumers. Many of the sandwiches from that era seem fairly unappetizing compared to the wonderful examples we have today, but some have survived. One of the earliest American sandwiches, the ham sandwich, is still served everywhere.

In the early days, many of the sandwiches offered by sandwich houses were vegetarian in nature. They used mostly vegetables and spreads, and the focal point was the bread. The meat centric sandwiches were essentially butter, or prepared mustard, with meat and bread. Thankfully, we’ve evolved the sandwich to an amazing array of breads, toppings, fillings and condiments.

Today, sandwich shops have a dizzying array of ingredients to choose from, like bacon and avocado, fresh vegetables, fruits, and nearly any meat you can name. Some of the most delicious sandwiches you can imagine have ingredients that you wouldn’t have considered even a decade ago. Literally anything can be put between two slices of bread and called a sandwich, but knowing which ingredients pair well together and how to bring out the best flavors and textures takes a special kind of skill.

Now we have hot sandwiches like paninis, cold sandwiches like banh mi, vegetarian sandwiches that make good use of cucumber and tomato, the always popular grilled cheese. We have sandwiches with Indian, southwest, Asian, Mediterranean, and a host of other flavors.  All of these choices can make selection a little daunting.

So, what’s with the American love affair with sandwiches? Is it the convenience of a food that can be prepared and taken anywhere? Is it the incredible variety? Is it the unending potential for customization? Many like to think it’s all of the above, but when the average American adult eats over 200 sandwiches per year, one thing is certain: sandwiches are here to stay, and they just keep getting better.

 


Sources:

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-kent-18010424

http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/SandwichHistory.htm

http://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/history-sandwich/

http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodsandwiches.html