So what’s for dinner? Turkey, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, cranberry sauce, sliced tomatoes, pumpkin bread with maple syrup, and vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup for dessert. Sounds luscious doesn’t it? It’s something else. It’s all American foods. Foods that native Americans cultivated and ate long before European settlers tripped on to the American continent. Add chili peppers, sweet potatoes, peanuts, squash, string beans, tepary beans and pineapples to that list. Imagine the world’s cuisine before the Americas were found. When the Europeans “discovered” the Americas, they also found an incredible new assortment of foods that added to the food culture of the world.
The best know foods are tomatoes, potatoes, and corn: the three sisters of the new world. Imagine Italian cooking without tomatoes or German and East European cooking without potatoes. In India, curry chili peppers are a must. The Chinese use chili peppers to spice up their recipes and peanut oil is used in much of their cooking. They have become that world’s largest producer of sweet potatoes, which is now a staple of the Chinese diet. The pineapple was first found in what is now Brazil and Central America. The Spanish took the plant to Hawaii and the Philippines and it spread to many other Pacific cultures.
The turkey has become Europe’s most popular fowl, replacing duck and goose. Easily domesticated and hardy in weather conditions, the turkey was first found in what is now Virginia and the Carolinas. In the 19th century turkeys were taken to England, Germany, and Denmark. In Britain turkeys have really taken off…. so to speak. They now rank eighth, up there with pork, beef, and chicken in the British diet.
Corn or maize started in what is now Mexico about 7,000 years ago. It spread all over the North American continent by the 12th century and is now grown worldwide. Corn has become a basic staple of the world’s diet. Peanuts, too, have become a staple of Asian and African nutrition. In Asia they are called groundnuts. Chocolate made from the cacao bean was found in Mexico and Central America and was considered the food of the gods. It was mixed with peppers and water to make a ceremonial drink. When the Spanish brought it to Europe they mixed it with sugar, honey, and peppermint to counteract it’s natural bitterness. It became a sensation. It became so popular and highly regarded that its consumption was considered by some to be a sin. The Pope had to make a decree that eating and enjoying chocolate was okay and even a good thing. He apparently had the Vatican candy concession.
There was an attempt to bring bison to Eastern Germany and the Russian steppes. It was thought that the bison might thrive in the grassy plains of those countries. Both attempts failed, however. The bison were unable to adapt to the new conditions and quickly died out. Well, ya can’t win ’em all.
Europeans brought many foodstuffs to the New World. Wheat, fruit trees, dairy products, domesticated meats, beer and wine, and grapes. However, the foods that the Europeans found were a treasure that still enhances the world’s nutrition and palate even today. One thing I did not mention was that tobacco was first found in the New World. Found in the Caribbean Islands and Mexico, tobacco was used as a medicine and stimulant, smoked on ceremonial occasions and after physical stimulation such as battle, or hunting. It was even used for money. It was yet another thing that Native Americans thought was a gift from the Great Spirit. It may have been a curse from the Devil.
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