America is defined by versatility. Be it its nature that goes from ragged to lush, its people that come from all around the world, or the many cuisines that were brought by them, diversity is what makes America great! This is why we are revealing the tales of how some of America’s most famous foods came to be.
This traditional American breakfast dish, consisting of two halves of an English muffin, each one topped with poached eggs and (Canadian) bacon, and covered with hollandaise sauce is still a staple in American households as well as luxurious restaurants.
When it comes to the origins of this dish, there have been many variations of the story, but here we offer you the most interesting one.
In 1984, the Waldorf Hotel at Fifth Avenue and 33rd Street was visited by a flamboyant, and slightly hangover stockbroker named Lemuel Benedict. Although we don’t specifically know whether he frequented the restaurant, one thing that is certain is, on this historic date he placed his breakfast order and it was as follows: two poached eggs, buttered toast, bacon, and a pitcher of hollandaise sauce.
As luck would have it, this momentous order was witnessed by Oscar Tschirky, more famous as Oscar of the Waldorf, the then maître d’hôtel, who decided that this dish was worthy of being put on the hotel’s menu. As we know from what we today call Eggs Benedict, he substituted the toast with an English muffin and secured Eggs Benedict a place in history.
If you thought that the dice-resembling pieces of sautéed or re-baked bread, also known as croutons, had anything to do with Julius Caesar’s “Alea iachta est” (The die is cast) and it is how this salad got its name then you are very wrong!
Although it was invented by an Italian man called Caesar Cardini, the salad was actually invented in Mexico. Who would have thought, right? The story traces back to a Fourth of July weekend in 1924, when in lack of supplies, the resourceful restaurateur threw together whole lettuce leaves, coddled eggs, Italian olive oil, topped everything with parmesan cheese and dressed with Worchester sauce. This concoction soon became one of the most sought for salads that made its way to America.
Boston Cream Pie
Regardless of whether you are a New Englander, live in Massachusetts (where the Boston Cream Pie was proclaimed the official State Dessert in 1996), or come from the Pacific Northwest, you are bound to love this “hybrid dessert”.
Actually, it is the name of this dessert that people cannot wrap their heads around, because clearly, this pie is in fact, a cake! The reason behind this is simple: the two-layer yellow cake, filled with cream or custard, and topped with chocolate glaze, was first prepared in pie tins, which were much more popular than cake tins in that period, hence the name.
As to its origin, the very first appearance of the Boston Cream Pie can be traced down to 1856, in The Parker House Hotel (now the Omni Parker House Hotel), where their French chef, Sanzian, hired for the opening of the hotel, prepared the very first Boston Cream Pie. (At the time known as Parker House Chocolate Cream Pie).
This American grilled sandwich consists of corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing, placed on rye bread. And while its deliciousness and popularity are certain, the story of how it came to be is not that straight forward.
There are many legends surrounding the creation of the Reuben Sandwich, but there are two that can be considered as the soundest ones. We will let you be the judge of which one is more likely to be true, but we are going to give them both the same attention.
According to the first story, told by Patricia B. Taylor, the daughter of the late Arnold Reuben, the founder of Reuben’s Restaurant and Delicatessen, it is her father that we should thank for the existence of this scrumptious sandwich. The scene is set in 1914, when an actress, Annette Seelos entered the restaurant and ordered a sandwich that will be enough to satiate her hunger. Reuben took a loaf of rye bread and stuffed it with sliced Virginia ham, roasted turkey, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese. The funny part is, we could have been ordering an “Annette Seelos Special”, instead of a Reuben Sandwich, if it came down to the actress’ wish.
The second story doesn’t include actresses, but is equally as interesting because it involves poker! A voracious poker player and wholesale grocer by the name of Reuben Kolakofsky loved fixing sandwiches for the poker group games that took place weekly sometime between 1920 and 1935 in the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha, Nebraska. One of the fellow players, Schimmel, the hotel’s owner paid homage to his friend by putting the Reuben Sandwich on the hotel menu.
This now American classic traces its root down to the fourth or fifth century AD. It was in a Roman cookbook that the recipe for patties made of chopped meat, bread, peanuts, and wine was first introduced. But, meatloaf, as we now know it, first came to be in America in the 1800s, when the invention of the meat grinder spurred manufacturers to be inventive in order to sell their product. And then, in the 1930s, the Depression set in, and meatloaf gained in popularity due to the fact that people were able to put as many add-ins as they could think of and reduce the amount of the expensive meat. This went so far as to inventing the now known “vegetarian meatloaf”, or the meat-free meatloaf in the 1940s when World War II was in its full swing. In the aftermath of the war, that is in the ’50s and ’60s many new takes on meatloaf came to be and its re-invention is still ongoing.
While on the topic of dishes that were introduced or popularized during the Great Depression, this American staple cannot go unmentioned. This quintessential American dessert/breakfast came to be as a result of people’s resourcefulness and their unwillingness to throw food (in this case ripe bananas) away. Of course, the recipe has been upgraded ever since, resulting in varieties like the Triple Chocolate Banana Bread, or even Reese’s Banana Bread.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
If the fact that “the average American will have eaten 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by the time they graduate high school” isn’t enough of a proof that this sandwich is a total hit among Americans, then nothing is!
The first mention of peanut butter paired with jelly in the United States was in 1901 in the Boston Cooking-School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics.
But, although this is the first mention of them being paired, there were no advertisements or mentions of a sandwich before the 1940s. This, in turn, means that PB&J wasn’t popular by then. Many assign the increased popularity of PB&J to returning GIs, who depended on the peanut butter and jelly combination during WWII. One thing is for certain, a postwar hit, or not, PB&J will be America’s favorite for centuries to come!
We hope that you found this to be an interesting read and that it made you more appreciative of the foods and dishes we tend to take for granted, and whose existence oftentimes is connected to the hardships our land had to go through to become what it is today.