Posts Tagged ‘history’

Birthday Science

Friday, August 27th, 2010

"mad scientist" birthday cake

A fascinating piece by Kathryn McGowan about the industrial changes that gave rise (HAR) to the modern birthday cake.

Before the invention of roller mills (about 1870) flour was made using grind stones resulting in flour that contained some of the bran and all of the germ of the wheat. To get white flour the miller then had to sift or boult the flour through a succession of cloths of differing weaves which filtered out the bran and the germ. The oil that comes out of the germ during milling stayed in the flour giving it a gray-ish yellow color. The presence of that oil shortened the shelf-life of white flour to about six months after which it would go rancid. All of these limitations meant that white flour was expensive and used only by the wealthy or for special occasions.

When flour is ground using rollers, the grain passes through two rollers moving at different speeds the slower one holds it and the faster one strips it. Scraping off the germ before grinding meant that no germ or germ oil got into the flour. And so was created the first truly white flour, ground solely from the endosperm of the wheat. It was a snowy white and due to the lack of wheat germ and wheat germ oil, it had double the shelf life of the old style “white” flour. The new technology made it much less expensive and the longer shelf-life meant that it could be shipped all over the country. Everyone could have white flour.

The other invention important to those towering, sugar-laden birthday treats is baking powder. It was Initially created in England in 1843. The first American manufacturers were Evan Norton Horsford and George F. Wilson who founded the Rumford Chemical Works in Providence, Rhode Island in 1857. Before chemical leavening, cakes had to be raised with the power of eggs alone, which requires a lot of elbow grease with a whisk (remember, no stand mixers in the 19th Century), and speed to get it into the oven before it begins to collapse. It took an expert baker with lots of skill to make a fluffy, high angel food cake. Baking powder changes all of this, anyone could just add some to their recipe and poof, a cake as light as a cloud.

She also makes a “birthday cakes” recipe from 1870 and goes on a search for candied caraway seeds. I could have done with more SCIENCE! and less BAKING, but still.

For the History-Loving Foodie

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

Cherry flummery! from Gourmet Mama

I love the History Chef blog! It has entries on Dolley Madison’s love of flummery and other exciting histo-culinary nuggets. (Did you know Zachary Taylor died of gastroenteritis? She doesn’t give that recipe!) She even explains how steamboats work. SCIENCE and HISTORY.

FAST FACT: If you’ve ever watched steam rise from a cup of hot chocolate or coffee, you might think that a steamboat is propelled by steam. That makes sense, but that isn’t exactly how a steamboat works. In a steamboat’s engine, wood or other fuel is burned to heat water in a boiler, and the steam that rises from the water is forced through small spaces (piston cylinders) to increase the speed at which it escapes, similar to the release of a valve on a pressure-cooker. The concentrated steam then hits and moves a paddlewheel which, in turn, propels the steamboat through water!

If there was ever any blogger who should get a book deal it is History Chef’s creator, Suzy Evans, J.D., Ph.D.  Or a museum deal!

Shut Up, Bacon, ca. 1943

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

From  Bears of Yosemite by M.E. Beatty:

It is certainly not advisable to place your slab of bacon under the mattress of a cot, as one lady visitor is reported to have done. Needless to say, she was rudely rolled off her cot by a bear during the middle of the night, and suffered both a loss of dignity and a slab of bacon.

Maybe it was the bacon fairy!