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Tomatoes and Poison: Humanity’s Innate Conservatism February 17, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Tomatoes and Poison: Humanity's Innate Conservatism

Tomatoes are one of the fundamentals of modern cuisine in all continents. Yet just five hundred years ago they were a practically unknown Andean plant of the nightshade family that, when grown in New England or French or Italian gardens, were labelled as ‘ornamentals’: i.e. no one put a tomato near their mouth. Why were […]

Weird Jobs in the 1881 UK Census July 7, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Weird Jobs in the 1881 UK Census

Spent the night and early morning looking for a much loved missing tortoise: mission accomplished at 6.42 amdist tears and recriminations. How do you punish a tortoise? This morning trying to come down from too much chocolate and coca cola. Took to racing through the 1881 census looking for unusual jobs and strange households: winding […]

The First Domesticated Animal? Clue: Slime June 22, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Prehistoric
The First Domesticated Animal? Clue: Slime

***Dedicated to Wade and Larry*** What was the first domesticated animal? Ask a hundred people and seventy odd will give you the ‘correct’ answer: the dog. The dog was, after all, already domesticated by 10000 B.C. (discuss) when human beings crossed the landbridge into the Americas. In fact, the dog, well, actually the wolf, was […]

Are Societies What They Eat? September 11, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
Are Societies What They Eat?

There is no question that food and drink change us. If you begin to drink two litres of coca-cola a day, instead of a litre of fizzy water or if you start chewing on cocoa leaves instead of making banana smoothies your family will quickly notice a difference. Here there is and can be no […]

Marco Polo and Pasta May 21, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
Marco Polo and Pasta

***Dedicated to Zach Nowak and Beach’s good friends over at FoodinItaly*** The lunatic idea that Marco Polo brought back spaghetti from China to grateful Italians is a modern food myth. There is no proof for this in MP’s writing: though there is an interpolated passage that might have started the confusion. In fact, the idea […]

Honey and the Anvils of Women’s Thighs April 25, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
Honey and the Anvils of Women's Thighs

Beachcombing has been enjoying some reading in Arabic aphrodisiacs: aphrodisiacs understood as any food that creates desire or that deals with problems of desire from impotence to disinterest. The Arab world seems to have been pre-eminent in this field and opusculi were written with such wonderful titles as the medieval The Book of Exposition in […]

Force Feeding Queens April 9, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Force Feeding Queens

One of Beach’s most able students this term did a paper on ‘cultural variance in female beauty’: the fact that what makes a woman attractive varies from society to society. This is rarely truer than with weight. After all, here should we trust the modern American model of the waspish, almost boyish woman or the […]

The Bizarrest Date in History March 29, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
The Bizarrest Date in History

Long-term readers of this blog will know that Beachcombing has a thing about futurist food: previous posts have included, indeed, an overview of attempts by the futurists to revolutionize what we eat and, perhaps better, still an unusual meal that ended with a woman being devoured. For those who have not the time or the […]

From North Carolina to Chad: Families and Food March 10, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite
From North Carolina to Chad: Families and Food

An ‘ill’ day with interesting complications in the throat area  so Beach is going to go off topic with this  extraordinary book he recently stumbled upon: Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (Peter Menzel 2005). This exercise in photo-journalism has a fair bit of manipulation behind it: but the idea itself is an extraordinarily simple […]

Vintages Past January 17, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Modern
Vintages Past

There is a beautiful scene in the junky teen fantasy Highlander (1986) where Connor (the decapitator) opens a bottle of eighteenth-century brandy in late twentieth century New York. ‘1783’  states our hero ‘was a very good year. Mozart wrote his Great Mass. The Montgolfier brothers went up in the first hot-air balloon. And England recognized […]

Cocaine, Nicotine and Ancient Egypt October 24, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
Cocaine, Nicotine and Ancient Egypt

As regular readers of this column will attest Beachcombing is your typical small-minded historian. He doesn’t much like novelty and if there is a controversy he will float effortlessly into the orthodox camp. But with the argument over cocaine use in the ancient world he risks, however briefly, going the other way: if only to […]

The Meal that Stopped a Suicide October 9, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
The Meal that Stopped a Suicide

As Beach soars out of his convalescence here is a modern nonsense post to enjoy from the immortal meals series. The problem is that Beach cannot be sure that this meal ever took place: given the loons involved it may just have been a Futurist fantasy. But where the likes of Marinetti and Fillìa are […]

The Sausage War August 26, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary

  Beachcombing has been paying perhaps too much attention to Finland in the last two months: the result of a long infatuation with Mannerheim, the aristocratic military commander who twice saved his young country from the Soviets. He kicked off with the tale of Mannerheim’s cigar. He moved  onto a WIBT moment in the court […]

Immortal Meals #1: Keats, Wordsworth, Haydon, Lamb, Monkhouse, Ritchie and the Comptroller March 14, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Immortal Meals #1: Keats, Wordsworth, Haydon, Lamb, Monkhouse, Ritchie and the Comptroller

Beachcombing spent yesterday looking for modern food-tasters and, in so doing, found himself inspired by another question. What meal  in history would he most want to have eaten at? Now, of course, there are two ways that the best meal might be judged: either in terms of the food eaten or in terms of the company. […]

Killer Ice-Cream! March 12, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Killer Ice-Cream!

Beachcombing’s friends over at foodinitaly (Zach and SY) have put up a post from that magical period 1880-1900 when ice-cream was leaving the dining rooms of the super-rich and reaching the streets of northern Europe and North America. As with all new foods there is a period of chronic anxiety when the food in question is given unreasonable […]

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