Friday, December 24, 2010

A Coffee History – Part Deux (Hooray!)

So last we had heard of the Tale of Coffee the Dutch had smuggled the coffee bean from the Middle East to the island of Java… (thanks again to the Green Mantle for great great Factoids)
  • So apparently coffee drinking in Europe began in Venice in the 17th century (they were the first port to receive the Dutch coffee imports). But what really kicked coffee drinking into high gear was when the French King Louis the 14th (the Sun King) became a fan. His gateway to the world of caffeine either came via the Turkish ambassador in 1669 or the Mayor of Amsterdam in 1714 (depending on what story you follow) but regardless of origin the French were hooked like Black Tar Heroin. In a jiffy coffee seedlings were being grown in Paris at the Jardin des Plantes and the first Parisian coffee shop Le Procope was opened in 1686 (it’s still open today).
  • It was also the French who were responsible for promoting coffee to the North American colonists early in the early 18th century. Americans fell in love with coffee in a way that their English homeland (but only for a few more decades…) never would. But all during this time coffee prices remained under the control of the Dutch (with a limited number of growers keeping the prices artificially high). Thus, coffee drinking was still largely a luxury to be enjoyed by only society’s wealthy elite.
  • It seemed that smuggling was a necessary evil for the coffee plant but its trip to South America (now the largest coffee growing region in the world) was far more romantic. Like the Arabs in the earlier centuries the Dutch were determined to maintain their coffee monopoly and (naturally) they prohibited the export of seedlings from their territories. But as fate would have it in the 1720s a Brazilian emissary to the Dutch coffee-growing colony in Guyana had an affair with the wife of the governor. The mistress secretly hid coffee seeds in a gift of flowers to her Brazilian diplomatic lover when he departed. It was this token of affection that created Brazil’s coffee empire and allowed coffee drinking within the financial reach of ordinary people.
So what did we learn today Kids?

Remember to thank l'Amour for your Java fix!

I Heart Cast Iron Pans

You want to make an amazing quesadilla? Invest in a fifteen-dollar cast iron pan (or eight-dollars if you get it from the flea market) that will last forever (and ever!) So for all those intrigued here are some great Factoids (Factoids!) to get you through the process:

The Why: (Why Cast Iron)
  • Cast iron pans are ideal heat conductors, cast iron cookware heats evenly (no Hot Spots!) and consistently.
  • Cast iron pans can be used on top of the stove or to bake in the oven (or one to the other and back again). This is one of the reasons that the pioneers (Hello Oregon Trail!) swore by these pans. Just be careful to use a towel or potholder because they can get hot!
  • It’s an old fashioned way to cook fat free! If your cast iron pan is well seasoned it will be stick resistant and need no additional oil to cook (like Teflon but without all those nasty nasty chemicals).
The Who's: (The Cooking and Seasoning)
  • Curing (or seasoning) a cast iron pan means filling the pores and voids in the metal with grease of some sort which then gets cooked in (this is the reason for the non-stick surface). Seasoned pans have multiple thin coats of oil on them.
  • If your cast iron pan sticks than your pan is NOT seasoned right. It needs to be re-seasoned.
  • Always preheat your iron pan before frying in them.
  • Remember, every time you cook in your cast iron pan you are actually seasoning it by filling in the pores and valleys of that pan’s surface. The more you cook, the smoother the surface becomes!
  • To Season (and Re-Season) apply a light coating of oil (you can use vegetable oils, shortening or, uggh, lard) to the pan while it is still warm. Rub off the oil with a cotton cloth (if you don’t rid the pan of excess surface oil than the extra oil will become rancid within a couple of days, gross).
The How: (The Cleaning)
  • Wash you pans daily with warm water and steel wool (NO SOAP). Never ever wash it in the dishwasher (not a problem of mine since I’m sans dishwasher).
  • Towel dry immediately (Do not let your cast iron air dry, as this can promote rust!).
  • Store in a cool dry place (the oven is a great place, just remember to remove it before turning it).
  • If some well meaning but clueless relative who’s visiting (sigh) washed your pan with soap and it developed rust spots just scour with steel wool or sandpaper and re-season.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

History of Coffee (Hooray!)

Hey Guys, Coffee and alcohol… those seem to be the two things that will really help you get through the holidays with your family. Coffee to get you through last night’s hangover, the last minute present shopping where you run into that person you haven’t seen from high school in forever (and of course you’re not wearing makeup!), and the endless and endless amounts of grocery shopping. The alcohol is to get you through those family dinners that end up being full of more grilling than the CIA’s interrogation technique. Which leads us right back to coffee! That being said I recently read the Green Mantle by Michael Jordan (not the basketball player sportsfans...) and found out some amazing Factoids (Factoids!!!!) about the history of coffee and thought I would share.
  • Coffee is the second most widely marketed source of caffeine (behind tea). The average cup of coffee delivers between 65 and 115 milligrams of caffeine (tea is unlikely to contain more than 60 milligrams).
  • Historical records from as early as 900 BC show that the Arab nations were the first to drink a beverage made from the crushed beans soaked in boiling water (coffee is even mentioned in the Koran).
  • The best-known legend about how coffee was discovered is about is an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi. Kaldi (not having a ton of distractions as a goat herder) began to notice how lively and energetic his goats became after eating some reddish-colored berries. Kaldi was tempted to eat some of the berries himself and when he did he discovered that it was not only the goats which remained alert and active. So being a good servant of God Kaldi passed his newly found secret to the local monastery. The monks were naturally interested in any stimulants for staying awake during long periods of meditation and prayer, so they began to experiment for themselves. Even though they quickly learned that chewing the beans was definitely not the most enjoyable way of taking coffee it took several centuries for the advantage of roasting the beans to gain approval (probably somewhere around 1000 - 1200 AD).
  • Coffee cultivation began sometime during the 1600s in Yemen, and from the beginning the industry was carefully controlled throughout the Middle East (much in the way tea was in China or petroleum is these days). The coffee-growing countries placed a strict prohibition on the export of coffee plants or seeds that could be germinated, only allowing the sale of infertile sun-dried or roasted beans. The Arab monopoly remained strong until viable saplings were smuggled out of the Arab port of Mocha (the origin of the name Mocha coffee) to Amsterdam during the early part of the 17th century. These illegal plants were then shipped to the Dutch East Indies and the first coffee production outside the Arab world began on the island of Java and Amsterdam became the internationally recognized trading center for coffee.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mea Culpa

Dear ES Readers,
Sorry I have Mos Def been lagging in the posts. Things have been a little crazy getting Pics of Peps up (my new art blog - 365 drawings by moi of Peppermint the Kitty Cat). But, I swear I have some great stories in the pipeline (including an interview with photographer Kris Korn (who just helped Bob Blumer on his new cookbook) but until then here's a couple of Pics of Peps to appease the blog updating Gods.