Grub Americana

food histories

Canning, How It Started and Where It’s Come

1795 Nicholas Appert discovered how to preserve foodstuffs for long period of time, although it took 14 years of trial and error. Yet it took another 50 years before anyone knew why the Appert’s method worked.

Hot Dogs, Another Iconic American Food

The hot dog consists of a boiled, steamed, or grilled sausage, known as a wiener or frankfurter, tucked into a specially designed bun, usually dressed with condiments or toppings that can vary depending on your country, state, or locale.

The American Diner

Diners can be traced back to Walter Scott, a newspaper pressman at the Providence Journal who, in 1872, left the presses to sell late night coffee and sandwiches from a horse-drawn wagon.

Chimichangas

The chimichanga is said to have been created not in Mexico but in Phoenix, Arizona.

The Cheesecake Story

The first cheesecakes, known as “plakous,” were simply made using only flour, wheat, honey, and cheese.

America’s Favorite Condiment

One of my all-time favorites is a tuna salad sandwich–canned Albacore tuna packed in water with minced celery and onion, hard-boiled egg, a touch of garlic, and lots of America’s favorite condiment, mayonnaise. And though some of you may dislike, even hate mayo, I’m among the majority who wouldn’t think of having a ham and […]

The Club

My first exposure to a club sandwich was at the Rexall drug store next to the supermarket, where I worked after school and weekends. One Saturday the lunch counter waitress (yes, back then drug stores had lunch counters), a young hottie with whom I was totally infatuated suggested I buy the "daily special" to help […]

Icons of Summer: Kool-Aid and Popsicles

While my childhood was one of humble existence, we were not without some of the middle-class niceties of the times, thanks to a an extremely hard working father and a mother with the uncanny ability to stretch a dollar further than anyone I’ve ever known. Growing up, I loved just about everything that summer had […]

Homemade Cake Mix

Why buy boxed cake mix when you can make your very own using simple ingredients you probably already have in your pantry?

Cake Mix: Redefining Baking in America

Growing up in the mid-twentieth century, I observed first-hand a number of food innovations and convenience products that directly affected how the American housewife prepared the family meal. Arguably, the one product that brought about the biggest change was the invention of boxed cake mixes. I can remember when every pie and cake my mom […]

My Favorite Breakfast Food – Pancakes

A lady recently asked me, “Chef, what’s your favorite food?” My reply was, “Breakfast foods. Bacon, eggs, omelets, biscuits and gravy–you name it.” Then, after a brief pause, “And pancakes. I love pancakes!” I’m not sure when my affinity for pancakes began. You’d think it would have been as a young child, but I don’t […]

Jell-O! The Jiggly, Wiggly American Icon.

Growing up, I was exposed to Jell-O in just about any way and every way one can imagine–molded, sliced, cubed up, chopped up, plain or mixed with fruit, cottage cheese, and all sorts of vegetables. It seems that every grandmother, mother, and daughter had their favorite Jell-O dish and an extreme compulsion to bring it […]

The Reuben: New York or Omaha Born?

I’m not exactly sure when I had my first Reuben sandwich, although I believe it was at the lunch counter of a Skillern’s Drug Store when I was about 17 years old. What I do know is that it was love at first bite–the nuttiness of toasted rye, the sweet and sour sauerkraut mixed with […]

An American Favorite – Carrot Cake

Several years ago, I did a stint as executive chef at a busy Texas hotel. Once or twice a month, usually after a busy Friday night, the kitchen staff and I would meet at Evelyn’s Café for a late-night breakfast before going home. Evelyn was known miles around for was her delicious three- layer carrot […]

Ranch Dressing: America’s Favorite

Although it first began showing up on supermarket shelves in the early 60s where I grew up, I really don’t recall its popularity soaring until some twenty years later while I was cooking in New York City. It was there in the “big city” that I started to think, “Folks are so crazy about this […]

A St. Louis Original: Ooey-Gooey Butter Cake

A few weeks back, I was watching Martha Stewart Bakes during which she made something I had never heard of in my forty-plus years as a chef–a Gooey Butter Cake. It seems this cake was invented during the Great Depression in the 1930s by a German-style bakery located on the St. Louis South Side. And […]

Eggnog: The Yuletide Drink

A couple of weeks ago while putting away the grocery order, my wife discovered the market had included two bottles of eggnog without her knowledge. When contacted about the error, the store manager explained they were given as apology for the unusually large number of out of stock items in our order. So later that […]

Deviled Eggs: A Heavenly Dish

Some of my fondest childhood memories are centered around helping my mom in the kitchen. She was a terrific cook whose dishes, although simple country fare, were always flavorful and extremely well prepared. Among some of my favorite foods were those she made for holidays and other special occasions such as birthdays and church potluck […]

The Spear or The Chip?

I was out with some friends at a popular fast casual chain restaurant that had just opened in Dallas when I first saw them on the appetizer menu–fried pickles. "FRIED PICKLES! Who the hell ever heard of fried pickles?" "You gotta try them," one member of the group said. "They’re great!" So being a curious […]

Grits: Cuisine of the South

My wife, Maria, just loooves grits. Normally this wouldn’t be such a revolution, but she’s a born and bred Italian New Yorker. And, New Yorker’s do not eat grits. They eat farina, that creamy, smooth, rather bland breakfast portage known by many of us as cream of wheat. My wife Maria was certainly no exception. […]

Cheeses of the South

I’ve always been a lover of cheese. Any kind of cheese–hard cheese, soft cheese, and numerous in-between varieties. While I certainly have my favorites, I can’t remember a cheese I’ve ever tasted that I wouldn’t eat. And I’ve tasted a lot of cheese. But last evening, my wife, who was reading a new cookbook, asked […]

And Then There Were S’Mores

As a youth of about eleven or twelve, I was somewhat coerced by my best friend Billy to join the Boy Scouts. Although this experience was extremely short lived by both of us, we did manage to stay in the troop long enough to go on our first (and Billy’s last) camping trip. As I […]

Dublin: 120 Years of Bottling America’s First Major Soft Drink

Some months ago while passing through Waco, Texas on a business related road trip, I couldn’t help but think about some of the historic events surrounding this small city named after Native Americans who once lived in the area. One of the most significant of these events is that Waco is the birth place of […]

Southern Fried Chicken: America’s Ultimate Comfort Food. And Mine.

As I’ve mentioned before, ours was a family of modest means. But my father worked hard to see that we were able to afford some of life’s nicer things. An occasional dinner at the “Log House” after Sunday’s church service was one of the more pleasurable of them. And one of my life experiences I […]

Another Year, Another Black-Eyed Pea

For longer than I care to admit, I’ve started each year enjoying a typical Southern style New Year’s Day meal—baked ham, collard greens, cornbread, boiled new potatoes, and of course, black-eyed peas. In fact, to the best of my recollection, it’s about the only day of the year that I eat these black spotted legumes. […]

Thanksgiving: A Day of Feasting, Reflection and Thanks

Although raised in modest, humble surroundings, my childhood was filled with happiness and more than my share of blessings. While we didn’t always have the luxuries of life, my father worked two and sometimes three jobs to make sure we had all the necessities. And my stay-at-home mom seemed to have an uncanny knack for […]

You Scream, I Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream

One of my all-time favorite desserts is ice cream. I mean, I could literally enjoy a bowl of ice cream every night of the week, year ’round. And when it comes to this light, creamy, frozen lusciousness, I’m really not very picky about the flavor–vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, banana nut, peach–almost any flavor will do. Some […]

Hummingbird: The Cake That Doesn’t Last

My younger sister, while an accomplished pianist and singer, was not especially blessed in the art of cookery. In fact, I’ll never forget her first attempt at baking. One day while our mom was at work, Sis thought she’d surprise everyone that evening with a freshly baked cake. The recipe Sis chose was from a […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]