Mocha vs Mokha

Frozen pizza, too

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Some Food Reading:

  • Fun facts about frozen pizza. Within this article are links to some great profiles of packaged-food innovators:

  • I wouldn’t have guessed that Totino’s was named after a real person, but Rose Totino opened a restaurant and then a frozen pizza factory, and then sold the latter to Pillsbury. “Pillsbury came knocking — offering $16 million. Rose Totino told them “it was God’s will” that she get $20 million. ‘We didn’t know how to handle that,’ Pillsbury’s negotiator Jerry Levin said. ‘So we gave her the $20 million.’” Now there’s a negotiating tip for ya.

  • Jeno Paulucci was, I think, an artist of light scams. He specialized in Chinese and Italian packaged foods, and smashed the two together to create the “pizza roll” … which he sold to Pillsbury and is now known as a Totino’s Pizza Roll. (You’ll see in the link that people have know about cultural appropriation for at least decades.)

  • Juneteenth is this weekend! The holiday is still new to a lot of people, so if you’d like a refresher, please read this, by Robin Caldwell.

Champagne From Champagne, Mohka From Mokha

By Marianne Dhenin

We're mostly acquainted with the idea that all champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. Throughout most of the world, the name is reserved for sparkling wines made with grapes grown in the Champagne region of France. What if the same were true of the word mokha? 

The name of perhaps the most famous chocolate-flavored espresso drink has roots in Yemen. Yemeni coffee producers and entrepreneurs are now keen on reclaiming the word, spelled with a proper Arabic “kh,” borrowed centuries ago from the Red Sea port of Mokha - or al-Makha - on Yemen’s southwestern coast. 

Abdulrahman Saeed, CEO and co-founder of Sabcomeed, is leading the charge. “I’m trying to raise awareness and reclaim the word,” he says. “Not in a metaphorical sense, but in a tangible economic sense.” Saeed believes that reserving the name through a legal process of recognition, similar to the European Union’s Protected Designation of Origin program, will raise demand for Yemeni coffee and help acquaint consumers with the nation’s, and the product’s, historical significance.

Yemen’s claim to the name goes back centuries. While the genealogy of coffee plants has been traced to Ethiopia, neighboring Yemen was one of the first to cultivate and trade coffee in the mid-15th century. Love for the bitter intoxicant flowed from there, first across the Arabian Peninsula and the Red Sea. When Yemen came under Ottoman rule in the early-16th century, coffee traveled with new trading partners to Europe.

For two hundred years, until European colonialists established coffee plantations in Africa and Southeast Asia to circumvent Yemen’s monopoly, the entire global coffee trade passed through the Port of Mokha. The name traveled with coffee itself, landing on far-flung shores and foreign tongues.

Today, the Port of Mokha is a shadow of its former self. Whereas one early-19th-century English traveler described the city as “handsome, as all the buildings are white-washed, and the minarets of the three mosques rise to a considerable height,” today its once-ornamented streets crumble under the weight of civil war and a Saudi-led, U.S.-backed blockade that have both caused mass impoverishment, disease, and famine

With its storied history and troubled present, Yemeni coffee doesn't come cheap. A pound of beans retails for upwards of $60. But it’s worth it. “Having tasted thousands of coffees, Yemeni coffee always stands out,” says Wouter Brunia, a certified coffee quality grader. “It combines fruity, floral, and spicy flavors with a big body.”

In the morning, remember Yemen, and order some beans online. ☕

Sources:

  1.  Anthony Wild, “Black Gold: The Dark History of Coffee” (Fourth Estate, 2019).

  2.  The Early of George Annesley Mountnorris, “Voyages and Travels to India, Ceylon, the Red Sea, Abyssinia, and Egypt: In the Years 1802, 1803, 1804, 1805, and 1806” Volume II (F., C., and J. Rivington, 1811).

(To hear more about the history of coffee, head this way for a discussion with coffeeshop owner and Your Korean Dad, Nick Cho.)


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Cape Malay Food Sounds Incredible

And, the few women who worked in flour mills

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South Africa’s Cape Malay Cuisine

By Lauren Manuel McShane

Under the calls to prayer echoing from Cape Town’s mosques you’ll find the brightly-colored houses and tombs of exiled holy men of the Bo-Kaap district. The rich Cape Malay culture here weaves its way through the tapestry of South Africa’s tumultuous past and hopeful present. 

The people stolen from their homes in Indonesia, Malaysia, and East Africa, and shipped to Cape Town as slaves by the Dutch East Indian Company in the 17th and 18th centuries, were those who created Cape Malay culture. It exists to this day, forged by strong family and community bonds often centered around food, faith, and song.  

Photo: Andreas Wulff/Flickr

A short stroll through the Bo-Kaap will send you through scented clouds of cumin, coriander, and turmeric, along with masala (whole spices of cinnamon, mace, peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and cardamon pods toasted in a pan to release their aromatic flavors, then ground to a powder). Fruity, mild spices passed down through generations along with a wide breadth of flavors make Cape Malay dishes entirely different from other local specialities.

From tomato bredie (stew), breyani, and spicy curries around the family table to sosaties (kebabs) grilling and samosas frying at street-side stalls, many of the main meals are served with vegetables along with rice or roti. Sambal is a relish often served as a spicy side made from grated fruit and vegetables with chili, salt, sugar, and vinegar.

Sweet and sour flavors are popular too, courtesy of dried fruit such as apricots and raisins. Particularly popular is bobotie, a fragrant and mildly spiced curry topped with a rich custard and served with yellow rice.

Desserts that date back to the culture’s roots include koesisters and boeber, the latter being a traditional sweet milk tea made from sago, vermicelli, sugar with cardamom, cinnamon and rose water, and the former being a deep-fried donut dusted with coconut shavings. 🇿🇦

Recommended:

Quarter Kitchen is one of the Waterfront’s oldest restaurants. It occupies part of the original (1860) Breakwater Prison that housed the convicts who built the breakwater. 

Bo-Kaap Kombuis on Upper Wale Street.

Join acclaimed local chef Zainie Misbach for a cooking class in her home.


Photo: IWM

The Very Few Women of 20th Century Flour Milling

By Amy Halloran

Milling grains into flour used to be, for most of history, household work, but as this and other domestic tasks moved out of the home and into the public marketplace in Europe and the United States, flour mills, bakeries, and breweries (once enterprises spearheaded by women) became realms for men and men alone. Commercialization excluded women from these fields, reflecting the same gender lines drawn through everyday life.

As the flour milling industry expanded in the early 20th century, however, one mill found room for women: their very own room, instructively labeled “No Man’s Land.” Washburn-Crosby Mill in Minneapolis hired 8 to 10 women as flour packers in 1902 or 1903. Included in the city-wide mill strike in September 1903 was the concern that the “girl packers” at Washburn-Crosby should not cause the male flour packers’ wages to decrease. Hiring women was seen as a threat to the value of a man’s work.

The next known instance of women working in commercial flour mills in the U.S. was during World War I. The Miller’s Almanack and Yearbook from 1916 reported that, “Owing to the shortage of workmen due to recruiting, women are employed in many British flour mills and perform the work acceptably.” American mills felt the pinch later; the Midland Mill in Kansas City, Missouri was, the “Northwestern Miller” reported, probably the first mill in the west to experiment with hiring women. (Apparently, the Washburn-Crosby Mill hadn’t been bragging about their female flour packers.) The July 1918 article said that four women had been hired to sweep in the mill and oil the machines. “The women are naturally neater, and are careful in cleaning the corners and over the tops of machines,” the article noted. 

Photo: IWM

Yet this didn’t make mill owners want to broaden their work pool beyond the war shortage. In a 1919 edition of “American Miller,” a transcript from a conference shows a few remarks on women, sandwiched between comments on machinery. “They do very well in case of emergency, but they cannot climb around, though the floor is swept very clean. It is impractical to employ girls except as sweepers or oilers,” said one Mr. Williams. Another mill owner said that women were also helpful in the weighing and bagging rooms, but the trouble was, men wanted to help them, so you really had to keep them apart.

Women re-entered milling during labor shortages in World War II, but the contemporary profession remains male-dominated, like many equipment-heavy workplaces. The exception is the emerging field of regional grains, where there are a significant number of women mill owners and operators. 🌾 

[Bibliography]


More Food Reading:

  • I was only born in San Francisco (in 1982) so I don't actually remember this era, but I do have great nostalgia for it.

  • A great article - different from the others - about the Belcampo brouhaha. (The owners always claimed it was a vertically-integrated butchery. That’s looking quite dubious now.)


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Good Food Media This Week

A bunch of links and pretty pictures

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Episode 191: Mochi

Mochi doesn't just mean ice cream, y'all.

(Transcript here.)

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Just some links for y’all this week, some fluffy, some substantial!

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Kitchens Without Women

And a dessert battle

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Food of Singapore with Kheng Hua Tan

A star of Crazy Rich Asians, who is from Singapore, talks about the truly international food scene she grew up with - why is it like that?

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Two Teams: Brownie and Blondie

By Candice Wagener

My kids loved the “Who Would Win” series of books, which pitted different animals against each other. As a writer and dessert enthusiast, I’m thinking there’s a market out there for a similar series on sweets. The first installment? “Who Would Win: Brownie vs. Blondie.”

As with many American foods, the history of these two dessert bars is somewhat mysterious. Multiple sources report that Bertha Palmer, a socialite associated with the Palmer House in Chicago, tasked pastry chef Joseph Sehl with creating a dessert that could fit easily into boxed lunches for the Women’s Pavilion at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. What Sehl created had all the characteristics of a brownie, but without the name. The original recipe is still served at the Palmer House today.

The first printed use of the word “brownie” appeared in the 1896 edition of “The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook” by recipe goddess extraordinaire, Fanny Farmer. Interestingly enough, this recipe contains no chocolate, categorizing it now as a blondie.

So what delineates a blondie from a brownie? The blondie’s heart and soul is brown butter, which imparts the butterscotch flavor that defines its essence. Browning butter involves low heat and patience; achieving the perfect amber color and nutty aroma can never be rushed. Blondies explicitly use brown sugar, creating an even richer depth of molasses flavor and chewy texture.  

Brownies, in contrast, are all about the chocolate. You can use cocoa powder, chocolate chips, baking bars or a combination, which will create different shades of the deep brown color that sets brownies apart. Granulated sugar is preferred; be prepared to shell a fair amount of eggs if you prefer them fudgy. 

Brownies are typically a shorter hands-on experience, but because their aroma will take over your senses soon after putting them into the oven, this part will feel like eternity. Also, you really should let them cool completely before diving in...but that is asking a lot. 

There are dozens of boxed mixes if you want to speed up your brownie experience. Apparently, there are blondie mixes out there, too, but I have yet to meet anyone who has tried one.

Personally, I have always been in camp brownie but, I hadn’t tried blondies until my preteen and I made them for the first time recently. They were delicious, but I’m still choosing brownies.🍫


Photo: Rui Ornelas/Flickr

The Basque Kitchens Women Can’t Enter

By Miriam Foley

Spain’s northern Basque region is most famous for its pintxos, its abundance of Michelin-starred restaurants, and its celebrated chefs. What locals keep quieter about is their very own food scene: private members-only clubs, or gastronomic societies, of which all members are traditionally men. 

Known as txokos, which literally means “cozy corner” in Basque and is pronounced "cho-kos," these food clubs provide a space where groups of friends come together to cook, eat, drink, and socialize. The oldest date back to the late 1800s. 

A member invited me to one private gastronomic society in the region’s capital, Vitoria-Gasteiz, where women are actually allowed. So I got a surprise when, armed with hunger and curiosity, I went into the professional-looking kitchen to peek in the huge pot simmering with rice and mushrooms. Instead of a look inside, I got a telling-off by a man in an apron wagging his finger and pointing to what resembled a ladies' toilet sign with a red line through it. 

No women are allowed into the kitchen in this particular sociedad, which remains unyielding in moving with the times, sticking to the traditional rule of men-only, where membership is still passed from a member to his eldest son. 

My friend quickly ushered me back to the large dining area, with several long “Game of Thrones”-esque tables, and photographs of its all-male members lined up on a wall. While women can be invited to enjoy food and drink, they cannot enter the kitchen, go behind the bar, or become a member. One member of this gastronomic society, who has no sons, wants his daughters to inherit his membership; some of his fellow members have proposed his son-in-law get it instead. 

Each txoko has its own rules; some of the more modern sociedades allow women to move freely into the kitchen, both to peek and cook. 

More progressive food clubs are opening their heavy wooden doors to female members too, and others still have founding male as well as female members, reflecting younger generations with women who like to socialize just as much as men, alongside men. Women like to have fun in the kitchen too.👫


More Food Media:

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Divas and Myths

American Lowcountry and Indian coast

  • Smart Mouth merch, you want it! Be Earth-friendly and use metal utensils for carryout :) You can buy it here. And use this coupon code to get free shipping: shipshiphooray!

Pineapples with Andrew Ti

Brazil, Hawai'i, disastrous marketing, and pineapple upside-down cake.

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Photo: Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

The Diva of Daufuskie

By Ellen Kanner

The Gullah Diva, aka Sallie Ann Robinson, has appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and the Food Network and in Bon Appetit. She’s the author of three cookbooks, including the new “Sallie Ann Robinson’s Kitchen,” but above all of her professional accomplishments, Robinson’s most invested in being a sixth-generation Gullah.

The Gullah Geechee, Lowcountry’s African American people, have preserved their African heritage over centuries. Robinson is one of the cultural leaders now, keeping Gullah dialect, folkways and spirit alive by championing its cuisine. 

Robinson’s book is full of Lowcountry (parts of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina) recipes for dishes like red rice and blackberry dumplings; it’s also a social history of her home’s shrinking Gullah community.

Robinson, 63, lives on South Carolina’s Daufuskie Island. It’s accessible only by boat, just as it was when she was growing up there. Back then, she didn’t know the term Gullah. “The word wasn’t in our vocabulary. We didn’t think we were different.” Then in the ‘70s, the tourists started coming. Another term Robinson didn’t know was cultural appropriation, but she and the Gullah people saw it, with white chefs presenting Lowcountry cuisine as their own.

“Folks were not telling people the truth. I’m not saying whites don’t know, but they were making a point of saying it’s their recipe. It’s not.”

Refusing to stand by while others cashed in on her culture, Robinson took it back. In her cookbooks and her guided tours of Daufuskie, which benefit the restoring of the island’s original Gullah homes and graveyards, Robinson shares “authentic knowledge. I’ve lived it.”

Half a century back, Daufuskie had its flutter of fame in “The Water is Wide,” Pat Conroy’s  memoir about teaching there. Robinson, one of his former students and a lifelong friend, is generous about how Conroy inspired her, but she’s nobody’s sidekick. She’s the Gullah Diva, after all.

“I gave myself that name way back,” says Robinson. “I loved Patti LaBelle, Aretha Franklin. They were being called divas, so I said, I’m a diva — sharing the love for the Gullah culture, the history, the food.” 🥣


The Myth of the Indian Curry

By Joanna Lobo

What’s the one meal you could eat every day without getting bored? For me, it would be a Goan coconut fish curry and rice called xitt kodi. 

A simple fish curry? In the coastal state of Goa, in India, there are distinctive dishes that fall under the umbrella term of “fish curry.” These include hooman, a simple coconut curry who variations depend on the fish being used; ambotik, spicy and tangy; and uddamethi with fenugreek seeds and split black gram. 

Goa isn’t unique in this regard. Across India, the term curry finds new meaning in different places. Indian “curry,” though, does not exist. 

Curry has become a metonym for Indian food. Some spices and ghee, the ubiquitous curry powder, some heat, and voilà, an Indian curry. But we don’t want to lay claim to that dubious dish. 

What’s in a name? When it comes to a curry, quite a lot. The term was introduced by British colonizers to describe dishes they couldn’t pronounce or knew little about — anything with a spicy gravy or a sauce-like base. But Indian dishes cannot be summed up under one catch-call term. 

The homogenization of curry has much to do with lack of knowledge. An exploration of curries prepared in India would require tomes; my attempt barely scratches the surface. 

The word curry comes from the anglicized version of the Tamil “kari” or “karil,” meaning sauce. Curry doesn’t relate to a specific type of dish, it is not a flavor, isn’t always yellow or orange in color, and it isn’t always spicy. 

The beauty of Indian curries is that these vary according to region, season, community, climate, produce, cultural traditions, religion, food taboos, and that rarely dwelled-upon subject, caste. They often balance the Ayurvedic six tastes: sweet, salty, spicy, astringent, pungent, and bitter. There are wet and dry versions. Curries are usually a complex blend of spices. These spices are roasted and powdered, pounded, or ground into a dry spice mix (masala) that differs from family to family, or into a wet paste with water, yoghurt, vinegar, or oil. These spices are sautéed in fat at the beginning of a cook, and often tempered in a little oil and added at the end for extra flavor. 

We don’t call our gravy dishes curry (unless we are being lazy), but by specific names: dhansak, rajma, chhole, vindaloo, macher jhol, ooti, kozhambu, etc.  

Curry may be the oldest continuously prepared dish on the planet. Archaeologists traced the world’s oldest-known proto-curry — ginger, turmeric, and eggplant, from a pot shard unearthed at the Harappan excavation site in India. I am willing to bet they didn’t call it curry back then, either. 🐟


More Food Reading/Watching:

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This newsletter is edited by Katherine Spiers, host of the podcast Smart Mouth.

TableCakes Production.

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