Grub Americana

articles

Donuts: Coffee’s Perfect Partner

You’ll find them in offices, boardrooms, classrooms, breakrooms, and newsrooms throughout the nation. They’ve become popular at baby showers, birthday parties, and other social events– even weddings. They’ve been featured in movies, television sitcoms, cartoons, video games, children’s books, and music albums. And, it’s purported that they’re a staple in just about every police station, […]

Sugar’s Fried Pies

Some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around the daily meals my momma prepared for our family. Momma (or "Sugar" as everyone called her) was an Oklahoma farm girl and a terrific homemaker and fantastic cook who always seemed to enjoy maintaining a fastidiously clean house and caring for my father, younger sister, and me. […]

Mrs. Burnett’s Sensational Red Velvet Cake

There were really only three kinds of cake that I ever remember my momma being fond of–her own Coconut-Pineapple White Cake with Seven Minute Icing, the gooey coconut, pecan goodness of her sister Mattie’s German Chocolate Cake, and our neighbor Mrs. Burnett’s Red Velvet Cake with Ermine Frosting. As for me, I dearly loved my […]

Fannie Farmer: Mother of Level Measurements

As a professional chef of almost 40 years, my personal collection of cookbooks and culinary references currently number more than three hundred, many of which are classics. One of those is the 1918 collector’s edition of the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer given to me by my mother early in my cooking […]

Farina or Cream of Wheat

One morning on a recent road trip, I stopped at the local diner in a small Mississippi town. While sitting at the counter having breakfast, I overheard several guys discussing the proper way to season their grits. One gentleman remarked that he and his fellow Arkansans favored sugar while a couple of the local boys […]

Cornbread: America’s Iconic Quick Bread

The first baked goods I ever mastered was cornbread, that iconic quick bread so loved by just about everyone in American, especially in the South. Cornbread was a dinner staple in my home growing up, and I suppose that’s why my mother was so adamant about me learning to make it. It may have also […]

Root Beer: An Exclusively American Soft Drink

As a young boy growing up in a very modest home in North Texas suburbia, much of what is taken for granted in today’s society was for me an extravagance. That especially included bottled soda, which was a treat reserved for special occasions such as watching a baseball game at LaGrave Field with my father, […]

Biscuits and Gravy: My Favorite Classic Southern Breakfast Food

I’m not really sure when I developed my fondness for biscuits and gravy, as it was certainly not a regular part of my momma’s breakfast repertoire. Now don’t get me wrong. My momma was an outstanding country cook, but homemade breads (other than cornbread) was just not something she normally did. On the other hand, […]

Chili, the American Dish with Mexican Roots

There is one fact about that popular, spicy concoction we call chili (or chili con carne) that should be cleared up right from the very start–it did not come from Mexico. If there is any doubt of what the citizenry of our southernmost neighbors think of this dish, one needs only to consult the Diccionario […]

Chocolate Chip Cookie: The Mistake America Loves

When Ruth Wakefield ran out of Baker’s chocolate to make her chocolate cookies and decided to use pieces of a chocolate bar to finish the task, she never thought it would result in the creation of America’s favorite cookie. But it did, and the rest, so they say, is history. Ruth Graves Wakefield graduated in […]

The All American Peanut Butter Cookie

Although the cookie was introduced in America by Dutch settlers in the early seventeenth century, it wasn’t until the early 1900s, with the development of peanut butter, that the first recipe for peanut butter cookies first appeared. When the cotton crop was heavily damaged by the boll weevil, the now famous African-American botanist and agricultural […]

Cornmeal: Perhaps America’s Most Traditional Food

No other food exemplifies America and its plentiful bounty like corn. This is the second in a series of articles that explores the history and culinary uses of this versatile grain. Thousands of years before Europeans first landed on the shores of the New World, corn had become a staple food of Native Americans. Among […]

Corn: The Grain That Built America

Corn–born in the Americas, domesticated in the Americas, first cultivated in the Americas, and most of its uses developed in America. No other food exemplifies this country like corn. In its honor, this is the first in a series of short articles exploring the history and culinary aspects of this versatile native grain. The origin […]

New Year’s Food Traditions: For Luck and Prosperity

Probably no other holiday in America is more deeply entrenched in food tradition and superstition than New Year’s. While the first recorded festivities celebrating the arrival of the new year date back 4,000 years to ancient Babylon, it was Julius Caesar who originally established January 1 as the first day of the year, with the […]

Fruitcake: Holiday Tradition or Joke?

“The worst Christmas gift is fruitcake,” cracked Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show. “There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other, year after year.” We all hear the infamous fruitcake jokes year after year: “Why does fruitcake make the perfect gift? Because the U.S. Postal Service […]

Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies

What would Christmas in America be without cookies? There would be no snack for Santa, no visions of sugar plums for the children and no edible decorations for the tree. Christmas it seems was, above all other holidays, invented with cookies in mind. While Christmas cookies have been around since Medieval Europe, it was the […]

Grapette: America’s Once Favorite Grape Soda Makes a Comeback

Whether you call it pop, soda, soda pop, or coke (a generic term), the soft drink industry in this country is huge–more than 50,000-gallons-per-American-per-year huge! By the late nineteenth century, bottled soda had come of age in America with over five hundred bottling plants producing some 260 million bottles of soda a year. In 1888, […]

Will Twinkies Be Lost Forever?

As some of you may already know, Hostess Brands, Inc., the company who makes Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Sno Balls, and other popular baked goods, filed for bankruptcy protection on January 11 of this year. Finally on Friday, November 16, after striking workers refused to return to work, company officials decided to seek the court’s permission […]

The American Thanksgiving

For most people, the mention of Thanksgiving brings to mind visions of roasted turkey filled with stuffing, pumpkin pie, family get-togethers, football, and young schoolchildren acting out stories of the Pilgrims sharing the first feast with native Indians . But was that day of feasting at Plymouth really the first Thanksgiving in this country? Let’s […]

Sorghum Syrup: Sweet Elixir of the South

In the early seventeenth century, sweet sorghum was introduced into America as an alternative to sugar cane in the upper South and Midwest. First brought here by African slaves, sorghum cane thrived in hot, arid conditions and was soon grown by farmers in the Carolinas and as far west as Texas and far north as […]

PB&J: Every American Kid’s Favorite Sandwich

The peanut is thought to have originated in Brazil and Central America, making its way to Africa by means of Spanish explorers and traders. When African slaves were brought to United States, the peanut arrived with them. In fact, the name "goober," as they are called in the southern states, comes directly from the African […]

The Grilled Cheese: America’s Favorite Sandwich

We’ve all heard the popular story of how in 1762 a hungry John Montague, Earl of Sandwich, ordered some meat stuffed between two pieces of bread in order to continue playing a game of cards. The idea caught on and the sandwich was born. But it would be some 160 years later, with the advent […]

A Tip of the Glass to American Whiskey

The distillation of whiskey in this country dates back to the arrival of European farmers, especially those from Ireland and Scotland, who brought with them the skills and knowledge necessary for producing spirits from whatever grains were available. However, beverages produced by these homemade distilleries were for self consumption only and perhaps a few friends […]

Weiner On a Stick, Battered, Deep Fried: A DOG-gone Great Idea

Probably the most perfect rendition of street food ever created in this nation is the humble corn dog. After all, what could be more convenient to someone taking a stroll than a wiener impaled on a stick, dipped into a thick batter, and deep fried? The origin for this all-American fast food dates back to […]

Mac and Cheese: America’s Favorite Comfort Food

The first known recipe for a macaroni and cheese casserole was recorded as far back as thirteenth century Italy. In the medieval cookbook Liber de Coquina, the anonymous author describes layering sheets of lasagne with powdered spices and cheese (likely parmesan) of choice. This recipe (called de lasanis), while certainly not the same as the […]

Frito Pie: Born, Bred and Loved in Texas

During the 1930s, in his search for a tastier tortilla that wouldn’t get stale so quickly, Charles Elmer Doolin (better known as C. E.) recalled a chip made by Gustavo Olguin, a Mexican native for whom he worked a short time as a fry cook. Gustavo’s fritos (meaning "little fried things") were made from masa […]

America’s Favorite Sandwich: The Hamburger

Exactly when and by whom the hamburger was invented seems to depend on who is telling the story. Well known historian Frank Tolbert attributed the honors to Fletcher Davis of Henderson County, Texas. It seems “Old Dave,” as he was known to most folks, owned a lunch counter in Athens where he served grilled beef […]

Spam: America’s Favorite Luncheon Meat

Geo. A. Hormel & Co, a meatpacker of fresh pork products, was founded in 1891 in an abandoned creamery on the banks of Red Cedar River northeast of Austin, Minnesota. Pork sales flourished during the late 1890s, and the company quickly expanded its manufacturing facilities and established a distribution center in Duluth and sales offices […]

Nothing Says Texas Like Chicken Fried Steak

No matter what you call it – pan fried steak, country fried steak, chicken fried steak or CFS – the fact is Texans love it! So much so, that restaurants in that great state serve more than 800,000 chicken fried steaks each and every day, according to the Texas Restaurant Association. And while many "outsiders" […]

Whoop it up for Whoopie Pies

Traditional whoopie pies consist of two soft, slightly dry devils food mini cakes, generously filled with creamy white filling. The filling not only serves to keep this delectable treat moist, but adds a certain gooeyness to the eating experience that’s half the fun. While the origin of this delicious cream-filled confection can be indisputably traced […]

American as Apple Pie?

We’ve all heard the expression "American as apple pie" hundreds of times. But in truth, just how American is apple pie? What you may not be aware of is both apple pie and the fruit whose name it bears are actually of European descent, coming to this country by way of early colonial English settlers. […]

Maple Syrup: The Original American Sweetener

Like with so many foods invented in this country, the question of when and how maple syrup was first discovered is surrounded by legends and folklore. Probably the most popular of these stories is that an Iroquois Chef named Woksis threw his tomahawk at a tree releasing a clear sap that his wife used for […]