A history of Champagne cocktails

There’s no better way to start the new year than by enjoying a glass of Champagne. And, not surprisingly, the tradition of beginning each year with a taste of the bubbly is an enduring one.

In fact, as early as 1855, written records praise Champagne cocktails, though they were probably enjoyed even earlier — considering the creativity of French bartenders.

Initially, Champagne cocktails were not served in elegant coupe or tulip glasses, but in hand-held tumblers over crushed ice. One of the earliest champagne cocktails was made using a simple sugar cube soaked with bitters, mixed with Cognac, and then topped up with a cold splash of Champagne.

Other early cocktails also matched Champagne with Cognac or a similar orange-scented spirit. The Black Velvet, supposedly created in 1861 to mark the death of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, mingled Champagne and Guinness beer. Even ice cream was added when bartenders created the surprising Soyer au Champagne.

By 1867 bartenders on both sides of the Atlantic were considering blending gin with Champagne. No less than the world-touring Charles Dickens recorded that he personally mixed gin, champagne and lemon, a cocktail he called “Tom gin and Champagne cups.”

The popularity of gin and Champagne continued to grow throughout the late 1800s. World War I (1914-1918) prompted the creation of the French 75 cocktail, made with Champagne and gin and named after France’s high-caliber, long-range cannon.

Even Prohibition during the 1920s didn’t stop Champagne’s ever-increasing popularity. Enter the mimosa. Initially created in Paris at the Hotel Ritz by Frank Meier, it soon became a worldwide favorite, blending champagne and fresh orange juice. It is believed to be named after a common European yellow flower known as, you guessed it, the mimosa.

The Great Depression (1929-1941) and World War II (1941-1945) limited the creation of new Champagne cocktails, but the prosperity of the 1950s saw a return of interest in them. One drink that arose from this era is the Atomic Cocktail, developed in Las Vegas and strong enough justify its nuclear namesake.

Meanwhile in France, the return of prosperity was celebrated with the Kir Royale, a close cousin of the original Kir, created by replacing the traditional Aligoté grape wine with fine French Champagne.

Today, Champagne cocktails are as popular as ever and available in a wide variety. There’s the Beijing Bellini, a modified version of Italy’s famed Bellini white peach and Champagne cocktail, made to honor the amazing 2008 Summer Olympic Summer Games in the Chinese capital. There’s an Old Cuban Champagne cocktail as well as a Champagne Martini.

In its endless forms, the Champagne cocktail continues to be a revered part of culinary tradition — a beverage that American Mark Twain enjoyed when he remarked, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.”

With that thought, here’s to you, Chefs! Enjoy 2019! May you enjoy only the best in the year to come!

Let’s Talk Turkey

By Ana Kinkaid, editor of the culinary magazine CONNECT

Every November, American restaurants order turkeys in order to prepare the nation’s traditional Thanksgiving feast. And while this large, flightless and somewhat strange-looking bird is now accepted as standard on the menu, it brings with it a long and sometimes forgotten heritage.

Turkeys are indigenous to the Americas. The wild turkey is a majestic, fast running bird — it can run up to 25 miles per hour over a short distance! Excavations at ancient sites indicate it was first domesticated around 10 BCE by Aztecs, who ate its meat and prized its iridescent feathers for elaborate ornamental headdresses.

According to surviving records, the food-loving Aztecs staged a turkey festival every 200 days and traded approximately 1,000 birds daily in their open air city markets.

By the time the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the Americas, turkeys had become the staple meat of the indigenous peoples of Mexico and Central America. Both Cortes and Columbus ate turkey and found the meat flavorful enough to take a few live birds back to Spain.

Within a short time turkeys were popular amongst the European aristocracy due to its rare and exotic nature. Prior to the discovery of the New World, European nobility had enjoyed peacock and pheasant as a status food, but both birds had a tough, stringy meat texture. Because turkeys offered a softer, more enjoyable texture, they soon replaced their showier feathered cousins.

By the 1500s, the British referred to the bird as turkeycock, but the true origin of the word is lost in time. In India a turkey is called tuka. Other linguistic authorities claim the name comes from the guttural sound turkeys make.

Surprising as it may be, when the Pilgrims sailed to North America in 1620, they actually took a few domesticated European turkeys with them aboard the Mayflower. These were, however, so different from the wild turkeys of the Americas, that they considered them two different kinds of birds.

The wild turkeys that the Pilgrims encountered in America were fast, sharp sighted and able to easily hear distant sounds. They ate seeds, berries, buds, grubs, little snakes, frogs and lizards. At night they were able to quickly fly a short distance into trees to roost.

Because such a bird was not easy to hunt, historians believe it was probably not served at the first Thanksgiving dinner in 1621. Research indicates that the easier to catch geese, ducks, swans and passenger pigeons were most likely on the menu instead.

The popularity of turkeys grew throughout the colonial period. It was during this time that the phrase “talking turkey” appears in American English, referring to bartering a turkey for other goods. Today the phrase has come to mean a truthful conversation.

The turkey was so admired by the early Americans that no less than Benjamin Franklin proposed that the bird should be America’s national bird. He was deeply disappointed when both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson firmly said no and chose instead the fierce soaring eagle.

Prior to the American Civil War, various communities held general harvest festivals. It was not until Sara Josepha Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1860, and a weary President Abraham Lincoln in 1864, supported by the Union Clubs of Chicago, New York and Boston, brought the idea of Thanksgiving (and turkey eating) forward to a war-torn nation.

In the ensuing generation, thousands of hunters pursued the wild turkey so persistently that by 1930 there were fewer than 30,000 wild birds left in America.

As the clouds of war darkened over the U.S. in 1941, another president, Franklin Roosevelt, declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, so that amidst the fears of war America would remember its heritage of supportively gathering together.

During World War II (1941-1945), many American farmers received massive government contracts to raise turkeys as part of the effort to feed the millions of soldiers fighting in both Europe and Asia. As a result, many a hungry G.I. learned to enjoy turkey, even if it wasn’t Thanksgiving Day.

The returning soldiers brought their preference for turkey home with them and food companies noticed. Soon a variety of turkey cuts were available to chefs. American turkeys further won the day when ACF Master Chef Ferdinand Metz, and the USA Culinary Olympic Team, served an impressive Stuffed Turkey Roulade to acclaim and applause at the 1984 IKA Competition in Frankfurt, Germany.

Thanks to the efforts of such creative chefs, Americans today consume an average 17.5 pounds of turkey per person annually! But be assured, turkeys will always be a key part of Thanksgiving, because where else would a nation, built on free speech, gather together and celebrate the right to “talk turkey” at the table.

Forbidden Foods from the “Devil’s Pantry”

By Ana Kinkaid, editor of the culinary magazine CONNECT

Foods strange and unusual have always moved in and out of culinary acceptance. Yet some of a modern chef’s most utilized ingredients have followed an amazing path from popular rejection to the professional kitchen pantry.

Potatoes

Today potatoes appear in most cuisines around the world. Yet if you were French during the 1600s, you might have actively avoided potatoes. Recently imported from the New World and so strange looking to the Europeans, the clergy and scientists of the day declared the potato’s twisted shape an indicator of leprosy. For those brave souls who did not die by eating the potato, it was predicted that they would certainly develop rampant, unchecked sexual urges.

Potatoes were culturally banned until the French agricultural pioneer Antoine-Augustin Parmentier began promoting the potato in the late 1700s. Parmentier started a publicity campaign to generate a more positive image for the potato by hosting a series of elaborate feasts where potato dishes were served to famous, supportive celebrities like Benjamin Franklin.

To further increase the potato’s desirability, he hired armed guards to protect his own potato patch during the day but withdrew the soldiers at night, enabling the now re-educated local farmers to steal and later plant the potatoes. It worked – soon everyone was eating potatoes.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes were equally thought by many during the 18th and 19th centuries to be poisonous. This was believed because at several political dinners where tomatoes were served, rival political candidates died. And while the lowly tomato was blamed, more likely it was the popular pewter dinner plates, high in lead content, that were the fatal culprit.

The fate of the tomato was turned around by, among other events, America’s love affair with pizza. When poor immigrants from southern Italy arrived in America, they brought with them their traditional flat bread topped with a tomato sauce, cheese, vegetables and small amount of precious meat. Lacking the poisonous pewter plates preferred by the wealthy, they had never considered the tomato deadly. As a result, once in America they opened many small pizzerias and made their favorite dish part of American cuisine, thanks in part to endless generations of hungry college students.

Tuna

Tuna is today the most widely eaten fish in America, but it took some innovative publicity to get the tasty, healthy saltwater fish to the grocery shelves. In the early 1900s, yellowfin and skipjack tuna varieties were avoided by fishermen. Chefs avoided them as “junk fish” because most American diners at that time preferred a fish with a lighter, whiter meat like sole or cod.

But with the food scarcity created by World War I and later by the Great Depression of the 1930s, former forms of protein became unavailable. The “problem” was solved by simply labeling once-rejected tuna as the “Chicken of the Sea.” The new name enabled Americans to shift their seafood preference. Today the tuna fish sandwich is a classic lunch favorite that nearly every American child and adult have savored.

Lobster

Considered today a luxury dish, lobsters were once considered inappropriate for any restaurant’s menu. For centuries, lobsters were seen as suitable only for prisoners and the poor. Indeed, until the 19th Century, lobsters were considered such a pest, they were caught and ground up as a fertilizer for New England’s rocky fields!

Chefs can thank the Western expansion of the American railroad for elevating the lowly lobster to its present culinary height. For nearly a century, from the late 1800s to the early 1950s, American trains offered an elegant mode of travel. Any food on the train’s menu, including the humble lobster, was instantly elevated to elite culinary status by association. Indeed lobster was so often ordered, it was one of the few luxury foods not rationed during World War II to the delight of many a weary G.I. No longer plentiful due to over-harvesting and global warming, the lobster’s scarcity now contributes to its high price and luxury status.

Peanuts

Peanuts were once considered a food suitable only for black slaves in the South. A food indigenous to their African homeland, peanuts were initially linked to extreme poverty. When Southern crops failed during the Civil War, white Confederate soldiers abandoned their culinary prejudice and fought off starvation by eating the protein-rich peanuts.

As the nation healed from the wounds of war, many communities learned to laugh again while attending the touring P.T. Barnum Circus where “Hot Roasted Peanuts” took on a more joyful meaning of fun and fellowship. The tradition of eating peanuts in public would continue as it spread to baseball stadiums and movie theaters.

The peanut’s growing social appreciation came full circle when the African-American botanist George Washington Carver created over 100 unique recipes utilizing the peanut, including the omnipresent American childhood favorite: peanut butter.

American chefs are always incorporating new ingredients into their dishes and, if the past can be a guideline, they have nothing to fear in the new, the different and the unique. What today is seen as strange will often become tomorrow’s popular “must have” ingredient — because nothing is more enduring than change.

Halloween: The Boo-tiful Holiday

By Ana Kinkaid, editor of the culinary magazine CONNECT

Halloween is the holiday that invites the world to enjoy candy and chocolate. Americans alone will buy 90 million pounds of chocolate in just the week before Halloween, generating an annually revenue for candy bar manufacturers of over $2.75 billion!

Yet all is not cavities and sugar highs. Ghosts and goblins have been celebrated (and feared) around the world for centuries, and immigration brought those diverse traditions to America, enriching and broadening our national culture.

In the early days of the country, conservative Puritan New England did not approve of the holiday or any other joyous holiday for that matter. They believed that such days of merriment and fun distracted from the more serious contemplation of the divine.

It was in the South, where the Church of England held sway, that Halloween gained its first foothold in colonial America. Though sometimes denounced as “the Devil’s birthday” by a local pastor, the holiday featured harvest festivals, elaborate dances and balls, playing games, wearing costumes and even a bit of harmless mischief-making.

These practices came from the Anglican and Catholic traditions of England, when on the eve of All Saints’ Day, the churchgoers remembered and celebrated “all the saints.” Within a short time, “all hallow [honor] the Eve” was shortened to “Hallowe’en” by Southern Colonialists.

Southern children enjoyed dressing in costumes and going door-to-door singing prayers or reciting poetry in exchange for treats such as pralines and caramel apples. Inside, adults livened up their evening with forerunners of such legendary beverages as the Chatham Artillery Punch, considered by many as the strongest drink in America.

Spanish colonists in the areas that would later become the American Southwest added Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead to American holiday traditions. Celebrated on October 31, the same date as the Anglican Southern holiday, candy sugar skulls and graveyard imagery became part of the expanding national Halloween traditions along with caramel flans and tamarind flavored drinks.

When over half a million Irish immigrants in the mid-1800s, fleeing the starvation of potato famine, arrived in America they added their Celtic traditions to Halloween. In ancient Ireland, the holiday was known as Samhain and was the largest and most significant holiday of the Celtic year.

The Celts believed that during the last days of October, the ghosts of the dead would try to mingle with the living. The ancient Irish sacrificed animals and displayed scary carved fruits and vegetables to keep the harmful ghosts, spirits and demons away from the living.

Missionaries such as St. Patrick converted the Celts to Christianity and sought to wipe out the “pagan” holiday. Rather than try to obliterate native peoples’ customs and beliefs, the priests simply converted the pagan holiday to Christian celebration: Halloween.

Even the pre-Christian spice cakes were renamed as “soul cakes” and enriched with allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and raisins to ‘spice up’ the experience of conversion. Each sweet cake was topped with a cross to remind the diner of its origin.

Celtic revelers often wore masks to confuse hostile angry spirits looking for their living relatives. That tradition carried over to America where today’s masks are modeled on characterized images of envied movie stars and disliked politicians.

Halloween has been largely enhanced by the many immigrants who added their many traditions to America’s culture. Given the enduring benefit of the contributions made by immigrants from pralines to spice cakes, we should say perhaps a grateful, “Thank You!” rather then a hurried (and commercialized) “Trick or Treat.”

5 trendy foods invented by hippies

By Ana Kinkaid, editor of the culinary magazine CONNECT

The 1960s were a time of social conflict in America when millions of concerned citizens went into the streets to protest the Vietnam War and social injustice. Yet those same protesters launched enduring culinary changes in American cuisine. Just consider…

Avocado Toast. If you’ve stopped recently at any trendy coffee shop, you’ve probably seen that their menu most likely offers mashed avocado on a warm slice of toasted whole-wheat bread. This au courant delicacy first became an L.A. hippie favorite at the Aware Inn where they served “moonshine-whiches” made with sprouts, havarti cheese and avocado on soya bread, instead of tasteless commercial loaf bread.

Vegetable-Forward Cooking. For several decades, food writers have reported that leading chefs are (1) serving vegetables center plate, and (2) using meat as a flavor accent instead of the main course. Here again the Flower Children started a trend that would only grow over the years. Seeking a simpler life in troubled times, they turned their backs on TV dinners and made simple, healthy meals that featured whole grains, a wide assortment of vegetables and fruits and little meat. Several decades would pass before nutritionists acknowledged the wisdom of their healthier choices.

Plant-Based Protein. The Hippies of the ’60s sought to express an increased appreciation of nature, often by becoming vegetarian. The publication of “Diet for a Small Planet” further supported the trend to switch from meat based protein to protein obtained from plants. Today it is a topic discussed at nearly every national culinary conference and seminar.

Energy Bars. Athletes owe a debt of thanks to a group of culinary entrepreneurs named the Nature Boys who hung out at Venice, California’s Muscle Beach during the ’60s, preaching the gospel of healthy eating. The end result of their influence was the Boots Bar, a mixture of sesame sunflower seeds, honey, and dried fruit — the forerunner of today’s energy bars.

Grain Bowls. Today grain bowls are a major culinary trend. Made with rice, farro, barley, quinoa or kamut, they are often topped with an array of vegetables, a small amount of protein and finally, a healthy dressing. Though they may seem the latest culinary creation, they are actually a direct descendant of the macrobiotic craze that first took root in the United States in the 1960s, featuring protein-rich tofu over brown rice and vegetables.

So here’s to the ’60s, an era that firmly established the right of Americans to protest as well as giving us some of our best and most progressive culinary trends. Like, cool man!