About Time

By / Magazine / April 20th, 2013 / 3

We talk, follow and preach the new-new thing. But what if we went back in time? What was new as dishes were being developed centuries, or even a millennia ago? Let’s look at it now.

Homo sapiens living in caves — for survival rather than sport — began eating their (only) newish thing: berries and fruit. As the years passed, man finally learned that animals provided a better sustainable food source, and with the discovery of fire, could kill their prey and crudely carve up the edible parts and — via heat — another new-new thing.

In the first century, Bible-era foods began to develop and the sophistication of ancient Rome resulted in the evolution of recipes; think fried chicken, French toast, and yes, even foie gras.

And as we hopscotch through the development of these new-new things, 10 to 15 centuries later, things like ravioli, pancakes and waffles, scrambled eggs, guacamole, applesauce, sweetbreads, quiche, even puff pastry were evolving. Things are starting to look familiar now. (It’s worthy to note that even the way people ate changed when the Medicis introduced the idea of cutlery and china to the communal eating table. Before this important development, food was usually served on a kind of thick bread known as a sop. A dirtier word never existed.)

By the 17th century, when French onion soup and even bagels made their first appearance, so too did the idea of writing and transcribing authentic recipes. The era of what was to become sophisticated food could now (thanks to the printing press) be disseminated over a wider audience. The late 1800s brought dozens of different cookbooks for the masses, leading perhaps with the still-famous Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking-School Cookbook.

But what about our search for healthy living? Processed and prepared foods were the mainstay of the early 20th century. The second half of the 20th century brought this idea of nutrition, slow food and ingredient consciousness to the world — remember this is less than 100 years after Escoffier’s butter-slathered tome was published.

So as we look ourselves in the mirror today, we can contemplate a different perspective of the new-new thing. I’ve laid out a sample of how man has constantly engineered, developed and, with imagination, presented new ideas for the food we eat. If anything we have a greater abundance than was imaginable even 100 years ago — a walk down your grocery aisle will confirm that. So as we move forward, is it the ‘pop’ food heaped on a plate or food chemistry manipulated by a genius chef like Heston Blumenthal that will prove to be food’s new-new thing? Only time and our palates will tell.


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