The history behind food is extraordinary, fabulous, and uncertain. And although many of us would like to trace origins to some concrete data, we have to settle for legends and gossip and partial truths. So take these anecdotes with a pinch of skepticism for sure, but also with the knowledge that, whether they are real or not, they speak volumes about the beauty of gastronomy.
The goats have gone to the mountain
The origin of coffee is obscure, and although it is commonly accepted that it comes from Africa, it is still not known who began to produce it in the manner we know it today. One of the best known legends is that of Kaldi, an old shepherd who liked to play the flute while tending his flock. One day, he noticed that they paid no attention to him as they were all roused and excited, jumping around and running from side to side. He realized that they had been eating the fruits and leaves of a tree he did not recognize, the coffee tree. After consuming them himself, he felt just as energetic and happy as the flock, and the rest is history.
On the importance of clear handwriting
In 1871, a fisherman from Bilbao by the name of Simon Gurtubay ordered “30 or 40 bindles of cod” from Norway – the numbers and measurements vary depending on the source, with some saying it was 100 or 120 cod, while others mention tons. However, the Nordic country mistook an “o” for a zero, sending what amounted to 30,040 packages of dried cod, leaving poor Simon in economic ruin. When the second Carlist civil war broke out and Bilbao was besieged, the power of salt and the preservation of cod became necessary, and Gurtubay was able to feed the population with his excess cod, as well as recoup his fortune. Or so they say…
Something good from an airline delay
The civilian airport in Foynes, Ireland became one of the largest in Europe during World War II as it was a refueling stop for flights to America over the Atlantic. Due to the often miserable weather, they opened a restaurant so that passengers would have somewhere to relax and eat during the frequent delays. The story goes that one time a flight had to turn back and Chef Joe Sheridan decided to prepare something tasty to drink to help ease the passengers’ discomfort in the cold and rainy weather. He served them coffee with whiskey, sugar, and whipped cream, which apparently pleased many of them. An American passenger was so surprised by the drink that he asked, “Is this Brazilian coffee?” To which the chef replied, “No, it’s Irish coffee.” There are other versions, but this is the nicest one.
Which came first, the beer or the bread?
Although many people believe that bread came first before beer, there is strong evidence to the contrary. Beer is one of mankind’s oldest alcoholic beverages; its origin can be traced back to Mesopotamia, where they drank a similar brew. Beer is defined as a beverage made from the fermentation of any type of cereal, so, strictly speaking, sake could be considered beer in its broadest sense.
Apparently, our ancestors were very fond of this beverage, as they used it for different rituals. It is believed that cereal crops were used to brew this exquisite ferment. Research by Stanford and Haifa Universities analyzed the contents of mortars from a Natufian burial site (an ancient culture that proliferated near what we know today as the West Bank) and concluded that they were used to work wheat and barley for brewing beer. After all, many people consider this beverage to be liquid bread, and if you don’t believe it, just ask the monks who drank beer during their long fasts to stay nourished.