Saturday, January 6, 2024

Goulash--Two Kinds?

American "goulash"    
Gulyás, in a traditional cauldron.    
What is goulash?  

Goulash, or gulyás, is a stew or soup that may contain vegetables and is spiced generally with paprika (introduced by the Ottoman Turks around the 15th century CE).  The original gulyás was made by herders in the 9th and 10th centuries and can be thought of as a Hungarian counterpart to the stews of American cowboys.  Nowadays such goulashes are often eaten poured over egg noodles.  I posted an article about the original goulash in 2014; you can read it here.

But there is an "American" goulash that started appearing in cookbooks around 1914. Wikipedia claims that "Originally a dish of seasoned beef, core ingredients of American goulash now usually include elbow macaroni, cubed steak, ground beef or 'hamburger,' and tomatoes in some form, whether canned whole, as tomato sauce, and/or tomato paste." It may even contain cheese.  I suspect that this kind of 'goulash' was heavily influenced by Italian-American cooking and owes very little to any traditional Hungarian recipes. Significantly, "American" goulash typically contains paprika in small amounts (i.e., less than a tablespoon) compared to Hungarian recipes, modern or otherwise. 

The following websites contain a bit more information about both types of goulash.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Imperium Romanum on Roman Food


Those of my readers here who also follow my historic costume blog, Loose Threads: Yet Another Costuming Blog, will be aware that I have found a new YouTube channel, Imperium Romanum, which has ambitious plans for a series of videos on Roman material culture and history.   

The embedded video below is a short, but very good, summary of the underpinning of Roman food.  (Hint:  It starts with wheat and barley, originally eaten as porridge).  Better still, the Imperium Romanum videos are gorgeously produced, full of historically clad reenactors and images of historical food.  I commend it to your attention, and am looking forward to seeing more of their work on YouTube in the future.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

The History of Snack Food

Recently, I found what looks to be a fairly new blog (though the owner calls it a "newsletter").  It's called "Snack Stack," and can be found here.

Snack Stack is about the history of snack food, particularly the kind of snacks some of us now call "junk food."  Beer cheese, Pop Rocks (bonus points to readers who have been around enough to recall what those are!), Chick-o-Sticks appear on the list of recent articles.  

Right now, the articles I've read on the site are all about fads of the last 200 years or so.  But perhaps the author will branch out into different eras over time.

NOTE:  This site has articles that may be read for free, provided the would-be reader signs up for a free subscription.  However, other articles require a paid subscription to access.  So this isn't quite like the blogs of old.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Just How Long Have Things Gone Better with Bacon?

A common saying that turns up on the Internet these days is that "things go better with bacon."  

A few days ago, I found an article on an interesting blog suggesting that, in Europe at least, bacon has been making things better for a long time.  The post appears on, and the article can be read here

The author notes that in medieval Europe, bacon was the meat usually eaten by the lower and middle classes and was primarily preserved by curing, i.e., packing the cut meat with salt to draw as much moisture out of the meat as possible.   In early modern times (i.e., after 1600 CE) bacon was also smoked--exposed in a warm place to woodsmoke), but the smoking process is not, and was understood not to be, sufficient to preserve the meat alone so it was combined with curing to produce a better-flavored product.  Small amounts of sugar were added to the curing material for the same reason.  

I commend the article to my readers' attention as an interesting discussion of how bacon preparation methods--and of necessity the flavor profile that must have resulted--changed over time. 

NOTE:  Edited to change a clause in the third paragraph to read "but the smoking process is not, and was understood not to be, sufficient to preserve the meat alone so it was combined with curing to produce a better-flavored product."  The original said, incorrectly, that "smoking" was combined with "smoking" in the manufacture of early modern bacon. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2023


Cassoulet in a traditional pan. Wikimedia Commons.
A friend of mine sent me a link to an article called "The Eternal Comfort of the Casserole."  In the article, the author expresses the opinion that casseroles are around because they serve a purpose; they are emotionally sustaining when that is what people require.   The article may be read here.  It contains images of several casserole recipes ranging in dates from the 1930s to the 1970s, complete with dates and original sources, that may be of interest to those interested in mid-twentieth century American food.
I have never liked casseroles. Don't get me wrong; I'm not fanatical about counting fats, carbs, and calories, and I'm as fond of starchy, fatty comfort foods as the next person: pizza, meatloaf, shepherd's pie, beef stews.  What I don't enjoy are the layered starches stuck together with cheese and/or meat that to me spell "casserole".  Foods such as lasagnas, beef-and-macaroni dishes, and things like green bean casserole.  The type of green bean casserole (with or without the traditional crunchy onions) described in the article I find especially unappetizing.

Wikipedia pretty much agrees with the author's definition of casserole.  Wikipedia defines "casserole," at least as the term is understood in the United States, as "a baked food with three main components: pieces of meat (such as chicken or ground meat) or fish (such as tuna) or other protein (such as beans or tofu), various chopped or canned vegetables (such as green beans or peas), and a starchy binder (such as flour, potato, or pasta); sometimes, there is also a crunchy or cheesy topping."  

Other countries use the term "casserole" to describe dishes that are more like the stews I prefer.  Wikipedia says:  "In English-speaking Commonwealth countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, the term casserole is most commonly used to refer to a dish of meat or chicken with vegetables and a gravy-style sauce; dishes containing a large proportion of starchy ingredients, e.g. pasta or potatoes, or those cooked in creamy sauces are not generally referred to as casseroles, and might be called 'bakes' or 'gratins.'  The French term "cassoulet," which describes a bean stew with meat, may be the source of our term "casserole."  It is traditionally made in a ceramic pot of an unusual shape, unlike the slow cooker I use or the deep squarish pan used to make casseroles in the oven.  (A picture of the French-style cassoulet pan appears above.)

The article's author expresses the belief that the American-style casserole arose from the conjunction of two different elements:  the Scandinavian customs that arrived with the people who settled the American Midwest; and the economic scarcity that troubled mid-twentieth century America.   

"This is how the casserole worked its way onto our tables. A dish born of poverty and convenience. A dish both overly processed and perfectly delicious. Casserole is ubiquitous and to the haters, bland. (To which I say, add spice! Casseroles are what you make them.) But the point is a fair one. A casserole in its essence is a dish of comfort and a dish of hot, ready, cheap proteins and carbs." 

Though the types of recipe featured in the article are not tempting to me, the article is a good read about the conditions under which the modern "casserole" sprang.  I commend it to my readers' attention.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

More on Moretum, or "Pesto, the Hard Way"

A few years ago, I blogged about making my own moretum, a spreadable cheese food enjoyed by the Romans.

Today, I found a video on YouTube on the "How To Make Everything" channel that was about how to make pesto, the cousin of moretum, from scratch--including the making of a Roman-style mortar (called mortarium) and pestle.  It cost the presenter $263 USD but resulted in a wonderful educational experience.  The video is embedded below.  Enjoy!  Have a wonderful New Year, and I hope I'll be posting more often in 2023.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Hard Times Food

It turns out that there are a number of articles and blogs discussing, and giving recipes for, historical dishes that can be cheaply made with stock pantry staples.  Given the number of people who spent the COVID lockdowns trying to distract/entertain themselves by cooking, and the larger number of people who are out of work and trying to make do on an increasingly limited budget, I shouldn't have been surprised.  What surprised me more was finding several lists of the "X dishes from tough times that you can make at home!" variety.  Some of these look interesting, at least from an intellectual perspective.  An awful lot of them focus on 1930s/Depression era cooking, and I'm cutting the number of references I make to those foods to a minimum to avoid retreading too much old ground.

So here's a list my readers can amuse themselves with.  I may look for additional sites to add to this post as time goes on.

From Atlas Obscura

7 Dishes Born From Tough Times That You Can Make At Home.  Most of these recipes aren't that old, or even that unusual, but they do qualify as foods one wouldn't try without a financial or boredom-related need to do so.  The simplest of these is the Peanut Butter and Mayo Sandwich which is exactly what it sounds like; a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with mayonnaise taking the place of the jelly.  An item with potential if you like mayo; an abomination to be avoided if you don't.

Even More Historic Dishes Born From Tough Times to Make at Home  Most of these dishes are North American and date from about the Great Depression of the 1930s, such as Mock Apple Pie and Vinegar Cake.  

From and Food and Drink: 

These Recipes Were Invented in Tough Times.  This one is set up as a slideshow.  It includes foods I think of as modern classics that I don't associate with hard times, such as carrot cake and meatloaf.  

From 12

9 Foods We Grew Up With That Were Actually Poverty Meals. I grew up in the 1960s, and most of these foods I think of as working class meals, for example:  boxed mac-and-cheese, fried egg sandwiches, beans and rice.

From Prepper's Will:

Great Depression Foods That Helped Americans Survive Famine.  The blog's title indicates that this site comes from the "prepper" culture (people who spend a lot of time making sure their household can survive famine, natural disasters, or other events that could disrupt modern living).  This blog post purports to list the top 10 foods of the Great Depression.   Two items I had not previously encountered were Milkorno and peanut butter stuffed onions.