Our world’s history is amazing and full of stories showcasing the impact that the culinary world has had. A history where wonderful culinary and pastry dishes influenced by centuries of royalty and innovative Chefs around the world. These dishes take us across the globe, through different periods of time exposing us to the evolution of food and how many of the dishes that we enjoy today found their roots in many of these ancient dishes. Let us start our journey in exploring these dishes once enjoyed by Kings and Queens, Emperors and Czars, and share them with our families and friends and pull from their history to create good eats and great memories.
We will start our tour with a visit to the Chefs of European Royalty. To many when we speak of European Royalty we think mainly of the Royal Family of England, but throughout history the Royal Families of Europe actually are intertwined from the UK to France, the Nordic Countries, Italy and even Russia.
First stop is the court of King Henry II of England where we find the birth of the Yorkshire Pudding. It is believed to date back to the 12th century and may have originated in the royal kitchens of King Henry II, where drippings from roasting mutton were used to flavor baked batters. This would result in a “pudding” rich with meat flavor, but much heavier than the popover-like dish that we know today.
One of the oldest dishes that is still enjoyed today finds its origins in the Middle Ages, Haggis. Haggis, or what was known as Hagws or Hagese, was first recorded in England in 1430. While many say it found its start in Scotland, there are some that say there are records that a version of the dish dates back to ancient Roman Empire days as a means of feeding Roman Soldiers.
Now a long time traditions dish of Scotland, Haggis is prepared using a sheep’s heart, liver and lungs minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices and salt, mixed with stock and traditionally boiled in an animal’s stomach. It was traditional served along with swede, yellow turing or rutabaga and potatoes.
Royal desserts were also enjoyed during these times, and many of these are still delicacies that we enjoy today. Classic desserts were Sweet Rice and Egg Pudding. Rice was expensive during the 14th century which is why it was a dish only enjoyed by the Kings and Queens of the time. These rice dishes were also more of a pottage until the 15th century with the introduction of sugar to the dish creating what we now know as Sweet Rice Pudding. Egg Pudding, which today we know more as Egg Custard, was a royal favorite served as a custard tart. This mouth watering dish is created by mixing eggs and milk or cream and cooked over a low heat to a thick pudding or custard consistency
Cakes were also a favorite of the British Royals. In 1769 the cake of choice by the Royal Court as the Eccles Cake, also known as Currant Cake. The Eccles Cake is a small round cake made from a flaky pastry, is filled with currants and sometimes topped with demerara sugar.
Another royal treat that is not as ancient but is just as wonderful is the Queen Mother’s Cake. This is a sweet dense flourless chocolate cake made of chopped almonds and chocolate. The cake was first served to the Queen Mother, the mother of the current Queen Elizabeth, at a tea with with the eminent Polish pianist, Jan Smeterlin. It is said that the Queen Mother so enjoyed the cake that she asked for the recipe and had it served often at royal parties.
Finding its roots in Medieval England is the Royal Plum Pudding. In the 15th Century this sweet dessert that we know today actually started out as a savory dish known as “plum pottage”. The dish was heavy on meat and root vegetables of the time, and was served at the start of a meal. In the 16th century when dried fruits were more common, the dish made its change from savory to sweet, and while suet was still one of the main ingredients, dried fruits replaced the meat and root vegetables to create the sweet dessert that was the start of what we know it to be today. An odd fact about the Plum Pudding is that plums were never part of the main ingredients. Plum was a generic term used to describe a variety of dried fruits such as raisins, currents, prunes and other fruits that would be preserved or candied to be used. The dish is often described as being a cross between fruitcake and haggis, set on fire.
During Colonial times and the reign of Queen Victoria, we find what many today consider to be one of Great Britain’s most beloved treats, the Queen Victoria Cake, or more commonly known as the Victoria Sponge. The queen was known to have a bit of a “sweet tooth” and cakes were amongst her favorite. The Victoria Sponge was named after the Queen Victoria as it became one of her favorites and became a staple of English Teatime. It is a two layer-sponge-like airy cake filled with a layer of jam, traditionally raspberry, and whipped cream.
From the country more commonly associated with potatoes, Ireland brings us delightful favorite Irish Soda Bread. It surprises many to find out that while many traditions of the Emerald Isles are the making of legends, Irish Soda Bread has actually only been around since approximately 1840 when baking soda was introduced to the general public. While the while the roots of Soda Bread are found in during the early years of European settlement of the America’s, it is Irish Soda Bread that is the most famous. In Ireland the bread was found to be an easy recipe that could be made by the general public in the countryside during hard times. The traditional recipe is flour, baking soda, buttermilk and salt. Additives to the bread are not considered “traditional” but it is common to see raisins added, which is also known to be call a “spotted dog”.
Next off to France where we find what is considered the King of Salads, the Crab Louis. Credit for the origin of this salad depends on who you talk to. Some food historians believe it originated in 1904 at the Olympic Club in Seattle, WA. Others believe it was in 1910 at the Solaris Restaurant in San Francisco. But many food historians do believe that it was named for King Louis XIV because of the enormous amounts of food he was known to eat.
Last is a wonderfully versatile sauce named in honor of King Henry IV who was born in Bearn France, this is the Bearnaise Sauce. The sauce was created by Chef Jules Colette at the restaurant Le Pavillon Henri IV in 19th century Paris. Bearnaise is a smooth, creamy, rich sauce flavored with shallots and tarragon and is most commonly used on steaks and seafood as well as vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli and zucchini as well as eggs.
Our next stop is the beautiful planes of Sweden where we discover a lovely sweet treat that is still famous today called the Princess Cake. The recipe itself was first published in 1948 by Jenny Akerstrom who was the teacher to the three daughters of Prince Carl, Duke of Vastergotland. It is said that the three Princes, Margaretha, Martha and Astrid were especially fond of the cake which is why it was called the Princess Cake.
In 19th Century Russia under the rule of Czar Alexander I, French Chef Marie-Antoine Careme created the Charlotte Russe, named after his former employer George IV’s only child, Princes Charlotte, and his current employer the Russian Czar. The Charlotte Ruse is a cold dessert of Bavarian Cream set in a mold lined with lady fingers. There are various versions but the most common include fruits such as strawberry, raspberry, apple, pear and banana.
Our final stop in Europe is Italy which has brought us so many amazing dishes both sweet and savory. From Milan the world was introduced to Panettone, a sweet Italian bread mostly commonly known to be enjoyed at Christmas time.
In late 1880’s Italy while visiting Naples, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita requested and assortment of pizzas from Pizzeria Brandi. One known as Pizza Mozzarella was a pie topped with the soft white cheese, fresh tomatoes, and basil. The pizza became a favorite of the queen and which bears her name and we know today as Pizza Margherita.
While Italy has become more popular for its pizza and pasta dishes, it is also the the land that has brought us some amazing sweets that have survived through the ages. One of my favorites, especially at Christmas, is Panettone, or Pan de Toni named after a young kitchen boy working in the Royal kitchen of the Duke of Milan (1494-1499). The story is that while serving a tremendous Christmas dinner to the Duke and his guests, the chef had forgotten about the cake he was making was still in the oven and it burned. A kitchen boy named Toni gave the chef a cake he made from leftovers, and with no other option the chef served it. The cake was a hit with the Duke and his guests and when the chef was asked about the dessert he told the truth to the Duke. The cake, or what we more commonly know it as a bread, is made with a little flour, eggs, butte, lime or citron zest, and some raisins and currants. While the true nature of how this wonderful treat was created is not known, the story of the kitchen boy Toni is amongst the most favorite told.
Tiramisu is another beloved treat that was introduced to the world from Italy. While the version that we know today originated in the early 1970’s, the original version dates back to 17th Century Siena where it was known as Zuppa del Duca (the “dukes soup”). The legend is that the original dish was created by a chef for a special occasion for the Grand Duke Cosimo de’Medici III, who loved the dish so much he brought the recipe with him back to Florence. In the 19th Century the dish became popular amongst English intellectuals and artists living in Florence. The dessert eventually made its way to England and its popularity grew. I can think of many today who are thankful for the discovery of this dessert, as Tiramisu has become one of the most popular desserts worldwide.
From the Neapolitan region in the 1700’s comes one most famous and delicious treats of that region, Baba au Rum. According to history the original Baba, known as Kugelhupf, was created by royal chefs for the King of Poland, Stanislaw Leszcynski (1704-1735). The king was also the father-in-law of Lous XV of France, who had married his daughter Maria. The king had given Louis the Duchy of Lorraine where he studied and developed important programs dealing with European integration. His studies required a lot of energy and he always needed something sweet to eat. The Lorraine chefs made the traditional Kugelhupf of flour, butter, sugar, eggs, yeast and raisins, but it was not sweet enough. It is said that in a fit of rage he threw the dish of treats across the room smashing a bottle of rum that had then soaked the dessert. The rum soaked pastry became a favorite of Louis XV and it found its way to Naple which was the epicenter of all things cultural at the time. From there the dessert took on the more traditional spherical shape of the Italian Baba which is the one most known today.
From the ancient exotic lands of India comes the dish Kedgeree, originally a rice-and-bean or rice-and-lentil dish known as Khichari, dating back to 1340 or earlier. The dish was introduced to the United Kingdom during the Victorian times of the 19th century by returning British Colonials, who enjoyed it while in India, and where changes were made to create the dish as it is known today. This exquisite dish is made of culinary delights of boiled rice, parsley, smoked haddock,, hard boiled eggs, curry powder, butter or cream and is a favorite breakfast dish.
On to the mystic lands of Africa where in the southern regions we find what has become a beloved national dish called BoBotie. This amazing South African Meatloaf dish, finds its original origins dating back to 17th Century Europe and was brought to South Africa by the Dutch and Malaysian settlers. The traditional dish as it was known in Europe, was made of layers of cooked meat, pine nuts, and seasoned with pepper, celery seeds and asafoetida (member of the celery family). It was cooked until the flavors had blended and then it was topped with a layer of egg and milk. Like many dishes that find their origins in one country and is then brought to new lands by traveling Royals or even settlers, this dish went through some changes influenced both by the Dutch and Malaysian settlers that had their own versions of it. Today BoBotie, which many believe the name comes from the Malaysian culture, is a likely to be made with beef or lamb, along with ginger, marjoram, lemon rind and curry powder. Chopped onion and almonds are ingredients that have been added over the year, but still includes the traditional dried fruits, usually apricots and raisins, and then topped with bread pieces that have been soaked in milk, and then topped with a custard mixture of egg, milk, salt and turmeric, then baked in a casserole dish.
In Northern Africa we find Pastilla, a monument of Moroccan cuisine and is synonymous with refinement and delicacy. The origin of this delicacy dates back to 1492 during the fall of Al-Andalus who was driven from Spain. The Moors took up refuge in Morocco and brought their traditions as well as numerous recipes, and Pastilla was one of them. The traditional recipe calls for using pigeon, but today Cornish Game Hen is mostly used. The dish is presented as a pie made of extremely thin dough called warka (similar to a very thin philo), The filling contains the poultry, beaten eggs, almonds, onion, sugar and spices, and then delicately perfumed with cinnamon This pie contains both sweet and salty flavours that will have all us salivating.
We end our culinary global trip in Japan and China where we find both some amazing treats of today that find their origins from ancient Imperial times, as well as some delectable dishes from times past that today are not allowed in many countries for the safety of certain animals.
Our first dish comes from Japan, although it’s original origin is believed to be from China. Mochi is first known to have been an imperial offering at religious ceremonies during the Heian period of 794-1185. Mochi is made with a glutinous rice, often referred to as sticky rice, sweet rice or mochi rice. Over the centuries it has been most commonly used to make sweets as well as used in soups, but today it has found a new popularity in Mochi Ice Cream. Mochi Ice Cream is a Mochi rice shell around an ice cream center. While it was first invented in the early 1980’s it finds its origins from times long past and today is finding favor around the world.
From China’s royal imperial tables to today’s Korean street vendors, the sweet treat Dragon’s Beard was created during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) by the Imperial Court Chet for the Emperor. This treat was made from spun sugar where sugar or honey is boiled and then formed into a ball and then stretched by hand into 16,000 threads and then coated in powdered sugar. It became a beautiful show for the Emperor to watch as the ball of honey would be woven into the numerous strands that would appear to replicate the shape of a Dragon’s Beard. It would then be stuffed with light and fruitful delicacies. In some parts of China’s countryside, the dish was also known as Edible Bird’s Nest.
Also from China’s ancient past we find a very rare dish that originated during the Ming Dynasty around the 14th Century, Shark Fin Soup. Initially it was a rare delicacy only enjoyed by nobility and the aristocracy and was only served at special occasions such as weddings or to honored guests. But during the Qing Dynasty in the 18th and 19th centuries, the soup started to be consumed by more people. As the soup became popular as a part of Chinese medicine, its popularity increased even more. But in modern times as the practice global societies learned of the practice of “Shark Finning” and the cruelty of the practice, limits on the availability of the soup outside of China has become more rare. Today 27 countries have banned the practice of Shark Finning, so if the “explorer” side of you is ever itching to travel to the mystical lands of China, let your pallet guide you and give it a try.
Not too many dishes can claim such royal lineage dating back more than 700 years, but Peking Duck is one of them. The dish finds its beginnings in Yuan Dynasty (1271 to 1368), and was reserved for royalty until the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) when in 1416 it was served at a restaurant for the first time, and was introduced to the general public. While this ancient delicacy is still enjoyed around the globe to this day, it is not without its own controversy as well. The traditional method of raising the Pekin Duck that is raised specifically for eating, is to let them roam freely for the first seven weeks but then to cage them and force feed them until they are slaughtered at 65 days. While this is the traditional way, many who raised Pekin ducks today actually allow them to be free range until the time they are slaughtered. This dish is one that should be enjoyed at least once in your life, don’t deny yourself the pleasure of enjoying this dish when you have a chance, just make sure to ask if the duck is free range.
All of these amazing dishes have survived throughout history, some made by well known chefs but mostly made by simple kitchen chefs or help working in royal kitchens. But one thing we can be sure of is that these dishes have also created their own history and have survived the ages only to still be cherished and desired today as much as they were during their time. So what is your favorite dish that you can make a topic of conversation at your next dinner?
This article was collaborated by David Scalabrini and Paige Osborne…..