In order to stay alive, there are very few requirements. Food, water, and shelter are the big three. If you are speaking on a species level, sex goes on the list, too. Most animals are content taking whatever they can get, but the human race has gotten pretty darn good at survival, so we added one more thing to the list of necessities. Variety. The varieties of shelter, drink, and kink are all valid article fodder, but today I’m focusing on food, and the evidence that we are looking WAY too hard for the next thing to eat.
Mankind likes milk for fairly obvious reasons. It is the first food we are likely to eat, and it comes out of the most popular parts of a woman. Now, it is strange enough that we drink the milk from other animals, but I’ll let that slide since at least we are still consuming it in roughly the intended manner. Cheese is something else altogether. Lots of people say that cheese is just milk that went bad, but there’s more to it than that. Cheese won’t happen unless you throw in rennet, which is an extract from a mammal’s stomach. This is no longer someone leaving milk out for a while and eating it when it starts to congeal. Somehow gastric juices became involved. The popular theory is that people were storing milk in animal stomachs for transportation, and all of the heat and jostling of the road, combined with the left over digestive enzymes, made it into some sort of proto-cottage cheese. At that point someone sliced open a cow stomach, found the contents to be lumpy and rank and thought, “Oh boy! What a treat!” Whoever it was, though, I salute their poor judgment, for that act of culinary curiosity eventually led to the grilled cheese sandwich, as noble an end as any enterprise has yet achieved.
Beer is another one of those things that doesn’t seem like it could have come about by accident, and there is no way someone did it on purpose. In order to achieve something which we would call beer, you need to mush up a big ol’ vat of grain with some resiny seed pods from a weird looking vine. Then you boil it and cool it. You drain part of it off and move some of the rest into a another big vat and contaminate it with fungus. All of this needs to be done at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time. How on earth did someone come up with this? Was a guy just wandering around, boiling everything he found and then dumping in filth, waiting a while, and drinking the results? How the heck did he survive long enough to get something tasty? And seriously, if you are the kind of person who drinks something yellow and fizzy, when the only other thing you’ve ever encountered before that was yellow and fizzy was urine, how do you have the wisdom to keep track of the procedure to reproduce it? And if you drink too much of it you feel dizzy and sick! Me? I would have said, “Hmm. This seems to be some sort of poison, and not even a very good one.” Lucky for the bar-going world, then, that our ancestors were not so picky about what they put in their mouths.
Lots of people don’t realize this, but there is a ton of science between the olive on that tree and the olive in your martini. On the tree, olives are the most wretchedly bitter things imaginable. And it isn’t just a matter of waiting for them to ripen. If you want one of these so-called fruits to be palatable, you need to soak it for a while in water. Throw the water away. Soak it again. Throw THAT water away, and repeat a bunch of times, sometimes even adding LYE to the water. Then, you take the resulting olive and soak it some MORE in salt water. That’s not a recipe, that’s a battle of wills! Whoever came up with that procedure had torture in mind, not salad. “Listen to me, you bitter little punk! I’m going to make you appetizing if it KILLS me.” I’ll bet olive oil was a side product of this torture. Either that or all of that soaking was because they were being grown by a farmer with OCD who felt like he just couldn’t get them CLEAN. And then someone put them in a glass with some gin and vermouth. Makes perfect sense.
People are a little bit more familiar with coffee’s preparation, but that doesn’t make it any less amazing that we actually found a way to consume it. You pick the beans, then you roast them. This much I can buy. The standard operating procedure with food is, if it doesn’t taste good now, add fire and try it again. But you can’t just roast it, you need to roast it juuuuuust long enough. Someone must have spent a few months carefully cooking these beans, tasting them, and then trying again. That takes determination, and is made further astounding by the fact that the long nights and frustrating trial and error were all necessarily done without the benefit of coffee. But he was rewarded with the coaxing of magical oils and flavors from an icky little bean. Fine, that still words for me. You cook something until it is done. But this is where things get weird. You don’t eat the roasted beans. You grind them. Then you soak the ground up beans in water. Then you THROW AWAY the ground up beans and drink the water. Does not compute. Chocolate gets the same treatment right up to the grind, but the grounds still taste like crap until you mix them with milk and sugar… which I guess is true of coffee as well. Yet one of them ended up as breakfast and the other as dessert. Figure that one out.
Jello, or should I say gelatin, is the most confounding comestible ever conceived. Anyone out there know what it is and how it was first made? Anyone? I’ll bet there aren’t a lot of hands raised. For most people, gelatin isn’t made, it just IS. It is like an elementary particle. You mix it with water and stick it in the fridge, then a few hours later fairies have replaced with with wiggly jiggly goodness. Well, way back when they first made it, gelatin was made by boiling animal skin and bones. You would boil them down to nothing, then degrease the remaining gunk, clarify it with… we’ll just say “clarifying agents” to avoid getting too technical. Then you strain, filter, evaporate, sterilize, dry, grind, and sift. Sounds like a delicious treat to serve the kiddies, yeah? Technically, gelatin is a byproduct of the leather industry. Someone looked at the vat after making a saddle and said, “I’ll bet that would go good with mini marshmallows.” And you know how I said “way back when they first made it”? Well, it turns out, after looking it up, that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I sure hope you vegans and vegetarians haven’t been eating Jello, because that snack pack started life as the little piggy that didn’t get to go home. Bon Appétit.
There. I’ve ruined enough foods for now. I hope you have developed a suitable respect for the adventurous eaters of the world. Some of the tastiest stuff ever created was the result of someone looking at something gross and deciding to eat it anyway. Feel free to drop a line on some of your own culinary thoughts. I’m all ears.