Most of June, I was on the road, never in any kitchen at all. During the past week, however, I've been cooking and shopping again, and thinking a little bit about the history of a few of the foods that I have in my kitchen now. I frequently write about New World foods, but in this post, I'm concentrating on Old World produce.
Tabbouleh and Other Foods from the Middle East
I'll start with some middle eastern foods in my kitchen now that are now pretty standard in US supermarkets. Above is a photo of a tabbouleh salad I made this week, using bulgur "the traditional grain of the Levant" according to the package from Bob's Red Mill. "The Levant," as you probably know, is an older term for the eastern Mediterranean region, or middle east.
I prefer to make my own tabbouleh because the tomatoes and chopped herbs need to be fresh: in packaged tabbouleh, they're often kind of tired and tasteless. Obviously, the fact that this grain comes from Bob's Red Mill, a natural foods company in Oregon, shows that this is a pretty Americanized product! (The tomatoes and bell peppers you see in the salad illustrate how New World foods have been adapted by middle eastern cuisines.)
|In my kitchen: Baba Ganoush and Hummus from Whole Foods.
Both can be made with tahini, a paste made from sesame seeds.
We ate the tabbouleh and also pita bread, baba ganoush, hummus, charcoal-grilled meat, and salad with olive oil for dinner one day this week. Other middle eastern foods now appearing on American tables including mine include olives, several sorts of cheese, falafel, lentil salads, stuffed vegetables, and more. Quite a few of these foodstuffs are mentioned in the Bible and other early works of literature from the Mediterranean region.The history of the names of these foods (which often have multiple spellings) also points to their origin in the middle east. Tabbouleh is a word of Arab origin, meaning something like "seasoning." Hummus is the Arab word for chick peas, the primary ingredient of the dish. Sesame has its word roots in Arabic, Coptic, and early Egyptian languages. Tahini means crushed -- as in crushed sesame seeds. Baba Ganoush also comes from Arabic: baba can mean father or daddy and gannuj can mean coquettish or pampered (source).
In Israel, I've enjoyed these foods at a variety of places, especially the famous restaurant in the Arab-Israeli town of Abu Gosh, as well as in people's homes. A generation ago, they were pretty exotic in America, but now it's normal to find them in American supermarkets both packaged and in delis such as the Mediterranean counters at Whole Foods. People serve them all the time, bring them to potlucks, etc. So my kitchen isn't particularly unusual.
|A refrigerator case full of hummus etc, in a small supermarket
near Tel Aviv, Israel. I think our markets are catching up with this selection.
-- (My photo from 2016)
- Chick peas were among the "founder crops" of the fertile crescent, where Eurasian farming began. They began to be cultivated something like 11,000 years ago, so they have been a basic foodstuff throughout the history of the region and the places to which cultivation spread. (source)
- Sesame seeds have been cultivated for at least 5000 years. In China sesame oil was used in making ink. In Africa sesame seeds have long been an important foodstuff. And in the middle east they have been used for cooking oil and in tahini and the candy halavah.
|California Cherries in My Kitchen this month.
It's cherry season. Our first cherries, as usual, came from California, but this week at the farmers' market the first Michigan cherries appeared. Cherry trees in the Old Mission Peninsula of northern Michigan date to 1852, when a Presbyterian missionary named Peter Dougherty planted them -- this area has a micro climate good for growing fruit. Commercial production there began in the 1890s. We have visited there several times: a very beautiful place -- maybe some day we'll get there for the Cherry Festival! (source)
Cherry trees are native to Europe, Asia, and the middle east. They've been around so long that quite a few places claim them. Probably they were first cultivated in central Anatolia, but were known to the Greeks and Romans and highly valued in many parts of the world, including ancient China and Japan.
|In My Kitchen: a magnet from the Washington, D.C.
Cherry Blossom Festival.
The Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington celebrates trees that were a gift to the US from Japan a little over over 100 years ago. These trees, which surround the Tidal Basin near the major monuments of Washington, are very beautiful during their brief blooming season in early spring. Huge crowds enjoy the sight of the blossoming branches reflected in the water along with the Jefferson Memorial and other buildings.
The Japanese cultivation of cherry trees began over 1300 years ago. Early cherry blossom viewing festivals were part of ancient Japanese nature worship: "every spring, the mountain deity traveled down to the fields on the falling petals of cherry blossoms and transformed into the deity of the rice paddies, a critical crop for Japanese agriculture and productivity." Each era refined and developed the meaning that the fleeting moment of cherry blossom time embodied. In the 19th century, cherry blossom viewing played a role in Japanese nationalism. (source)
|I try to keep lemons in my kitchen all the time. They add
flavor to a wide variety of foods.
Genetic scientists are still analyzing the exact ancestry of the many varieties of lemons, citrons, oranges, grapefruits, and other citrus fruits. According to an article in Science Daily published in 2011, bergamot and lemon species came from citron and sour orange. The article explained:
"Even with a documented history of cultivation spanning more than 4,000 years, the exact genetic origins of cultivated Citrus species such as sweet orange, lemon, and grapefruit have remained obscure. Chinese researchers used a combination of analyzed amplified fragment length polymorphism and Chloroplast DNA data to identify the exact genetic origin of cultivated citrus." (source)Obviously I have many other foods in my kitchen, which no doubt have histories and word origins at least as complex and intriguing as these. However, I think this post about what's in my kitchen this month has gone on long enough. I'll be posting it with Sherry's Blog for the monthly In My Kitchen event where bloggers from many lands share their new and favorite kitchen things.
|Kitchen wrap-up: The top shelf of my refrigerator.