the love apple -- 5/20/15

Today's selection -- from The American Plate by Libby H. O'Connell. Many foods we associate with European and Asian countries actually originated in the Americas:

"Zesty tomato sauce from Italy. Baked Irish potatoes, hot and comforting. Robust Indian curry with red pepper spiciness. You may think of them as originating in foreign countries, but these traditional dishes are actually all based on flavors from the New World, foods that traveled eastward from North America across the Atlantic in the hulls of Spanish ships more than five hundred years ago. They would revolutionize the way people ate around the world.

"Less culturally defining, or perhaps just more routine, are the lowly beans and squashes that regularly appear on plates and in bowls around the world. These New World foods also changed diets, extending life expectancy and increasing population growth all over the globe, and while they may not have the zing of some of their more flavorful counterparts, they're equally important. And don't forget American corn, or maize, with its central role in much of American Indian culture. It is one of the most important food crops today.

"The Americas have a remarkable variety of indigenous foods, and many foreign cuisines wouldn't look the same without them. South America gave us the potato in its various sizes and colors, which shaped the eating habits of northern Europeans -- with devastating effect in nineteenth-century Ireland where the population had become too reliant on this one crop for sustenance. It's hard to imagine Italian cooking without tomatoes, which originated in Mesoamerica (Central America) thousands of years ago, but there was a time when the future of pastas looked decidedly pale.

"In the 1500s, Spanish conquistadors introduced tomatoes to Europeans, who eyed them skeptically. For one thing, tomatoes did not flourish in the damp, cool weather of northern Europe and Britain. Plus, their luscious appearance clearly labeled them as aphrodisiacs, while their leaves, so similar their cousin, the deadly nightshade, linked them to poison. Fear trumped appetite, sexual or otherwise, so it is hardly surprising that the soft red fruit took a while to catch on. When it finally became clear that daring epicures did not die from eating what some people styled as 'love apples,' tomatoes florished in the sunny kitchen gardens of southern Europe. Interestingly, 11 tomatoes and potatoes would travel back to the North American Atlantic Seaboard almost two hundred years later practically as novelties.

"Other American Indian foods flourished in what today is the United States. These are the crops that many tribes grew, harvested, prepared, and bartered. The Three Sisters --corn, beans, and squash -- and other food supplies made up the provisions that the American Indians generously shared with newly arrived British settlers along the Atlantic coast. The initial survival of the earliest colonies in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and Jamestown, Virginia, largely depended on the hospitality of the indigenous people with their food and cooking."



Libby O'Connell


The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bites


Sourcebooks, Inc.


Copyright 2014 by Libby H. O'Connell


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