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History Says That Fork In Your Hand Actually Has Some Devilish Beginnings

AKA the Devil’s tool

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Weird thought of the day: people ate with their hands for the majority of human history. Alexander the Great, Louis XIV, and Queen Elizabeth I all would have sat down to formal dinners at tables full of aristocrats and dignitaries of the highest order, and everyone would have just shoveled it in with their bear paws.

And while eating utensils in general weren’t always super popular or accessible, it’s forks specifically that didn’t gain acceptance or popularity until the last few centuries. Many in the Middle Ages thought the three-pronged utensil was reminiscent of the Devil’s pitchfork and thus was an unholy and ungodly instrument. According to Eduardo Galeano’s Mirrors, “every time musician Claudio Monteverdi felt obliged to use a fork, he purchased three masses to pay for his sins.”

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Bronze forks made of iron during the 8th or 9th century, via Wikipedia

The fork didn’t really begin to catch on—at least among the aristocracy—until the 18th century in France, with several other cultures beginning to use them at least for the sake of appearances. Recounting a dinner party he attended in Turkey, a French military officer noted that, “I saw one woman throughout the dinner taking olives with her fingers and then impaling them on her fork in order to eat in them in the French manner.”

Forks became a more or less commonly-used item in Europe by the 19th century, especially with the rise of a growing middle-class who strove to emulate the aristocracy in all manners and customs. However, they still sometimes had a vaguely off-putting and “feminine aura,” with reports of sailors refusing to use them as late as 1897.

Written by: Toria Sheffield // Historybuff.com // Feature image via Wikimedia

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1979: Why Did Vets Bomb Switzerland With Rabies-Infected Chicken Heads?

The assault lasted from 1979 to 1984

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Here’s one of the strangest stories you’ve never heard: chicken heads rained down on the Swiss countryside from 1979 to 1984. Why? The government was desperate to stop an epidemic of rabies carried by red foxes. Infected with a weak strain of the virus, the vaccine-infused chicken heads proved irresistible.

The Atlantic reports:

“In 17 October, 1978, Steck deployed the baits in a real field trial—the first of its kind. At the time, the rabies epidemic was spreading along the east shore of Lake Geneva, so Steck’s team created a grisly firebreak of 4,050 chicken heads. The heads also contained a chemical marker—tetracycline—that could later be found in the teeth and bones of foxes that were shot by hunters. When it became clear that the foxes were actually taking the bait, the initiative garnered more interest, money, and effort. The team dispersed more baited heads, mostly by flinging them onto roadsides and paths. For more remote areas, they used helicopters.”

Written by: Julia Mason // Historybuff.com // Feature image via Wikimedia

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This 18th Century Swedish King Went To Extreme Lengths To Prove Coffee Was ‘Dangerous’

This experiment, designed by coffee-hating King Gustav III, sounds like a pretty sweet deal to us!

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Sometimes, in the study of history, you come across individuals who shouldn’t necessarily be counted among the worst people to ever live, but who are nevertheless total goobers. One such fellow is the Swedish king Gustav III, who reigned from 1771 to 1792. Gustav was a bit of a mixed bag, overall: an “enlightened despot,” he abolished the torture of people accused of crimes and passed legislation promoting religious toleration.

He also had a lifelong vendetta against the greatest beverage in the world, coffee. In fact, the consumption of both coffee and tea (the second-greatest beverage in the world) had been restricted in Sweden since 1746, coincidentally the year of Gustav’s birth.

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via Wikimedia

Even so, coffee-drinking grew in popularity during the second half of the 18th century, much to Gustav’s horror. During his reign, the king decided to use science to prove once and for all that coffee was not to be trusted by forcing some guy to drink coffee until he died.

According to the Cambridge World History of Food,

In the best scientific tradition, Sweden’s Gustav III reputedly commuted the death sentences of twin brothers convicted of murder on the condition that one be given only tea to drink and the other coffee.

First of all, how convenient is it that Gustav was able to find a pair of twins, both convicted of the same capital crime? And second, how lucky were these guys? Instead of being executed, they got to live out their lives in comfort, enjoying tasty caffeinated beverages.

The experiment didn’t exactly go as planned.

The tea drinker died first—at age 83—and Sweden became the world’s most ardent coffee-consuming nation, with its citizens drinking five cups per person per day by 1975.

Gustav never found out that his experiment failed—the king was assassinated at a masquerade ball by his political enemies long before his test subjects passed away from natural, non-coffee-related causes.

Written by Caroline Wazer // History Buff // Featured image via Wikimedia

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Health

5 Crazy Diets From History You Won’t Believe Ever Existed

Need to drop a few dress sizes? Snack on some parasites!

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Human history is littered with broken diet resolutions. Even though people have been trying to lose (and gain) weight for centuries—the concept of the “fad diet” didn’t really take off until the 19th-century. Remember that terrible cayenne pepper cleanse you tried in college? Blame it on the Victorians. Here are 5 crazy vintage diets nobody’s going to miss.

1. The “Grahamite” Diet:

In the 1830s, a Presbyterian minister named Sylvester Graham decided to cure physical lust with…Graham flour (which was also used to make the original crackers). “Spices, stimulants and other overindulgences lead to indigestion, illness, sexual excess, and civil disorder,” Graham preached. His followers, known as “Grahamites,” subsisted off of bread made from coarse graham flour, vegetables, and water. The father of the Graham cracker believed his vegetarian diet would prevent masturbation—which he thought caused “blindness, disease, and death.” Weird fact: At one point, The miserly diet was imposed on Oberlin College’s entire student population.

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2. The Chewing Diet:

In 1903, Horace Fletcher was an unknown San Francisco art dealer with a weight problem. His life changed forever when he was denied health insurance due to his weight. He dropped 40 pounds and became a diet-guru in the process. His secret? Take a bite, chew it 32 times, and then spit it out. Nicknamed “The Great Masticator,” the PR genius coined the phrase “Nature will castigate those who don’t masticate.” Known as Fletcherism, his bizarre chewing fad attracted plenty of famous followers. (Franz Kafka chewed his food excessively throughout the 1920s).

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3. The Tapeworm Diet:

Need to drop a few dress sizes? Snack on some parasites! The “tapeworm diet” reportedly gained traction during the early 1900s. The eye-catching advertisement promised women that they could “EAT! EAT! EAT! & Always stay thin!” All you had to do was ingest pills that contained sanitized tapeworm larvae and let them live off of your digestive juices. The worms would then absorb your excess calories into their bodies and grow larger—until they had to be removed (we’d rather not think about how). Note: some historians believe the “tapeworm diet” is nothing more than a (gruesome) urban legend.

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4. The Vinegar Diet:

Was Lord Byron the world’s first celebrity dieter? The fatphobic poet subsisted off of soda water and vinegar-soaked potatoes for most of the 1800s. Because of his massive cultural influence, Byron’s questionable dietary habits elicited a fair amount of concern within the medical community. The American physician George Miller Beard famously lamented that “young ladies lived all their growing girlhood in semi-starvation because of their fears of incurring the horror of disciples of Lord Byron.”

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5. The Cigarette Diet:

In the late 1920s, Constance Talmadge became the poster child for the The Cigarette Diet. The silent movie star appeared in an endless string of advertisements promoting Lucky Strikes as a diet aid. Craving a hamburger? Go smoke five cigarettes! In the mood for ice cream? Take a couple long drags and you’ll be right as rain. Instead of reaching for sweets, women were advised to chain-smoke:

“Instead of eating between meals … instead of fattening sweets … beautiful women keep youthful slenderness these days by smoking Luckies. The smartest and loveliest women of the modern stage take this means of keeping slender … when others nibble fattening sweets, they light a Lucky!.”

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via Beebo

Written by Julia Mason // History Buff // Feature image via 19th-century Bottle Diggers

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Hit-Or-Miss

The First Thanksgiving And What They REALLY Ate

Hint: no cream of mushroom soup or marshmallow topping

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Yankee has provided a brief rundown of the foods eaten at the first Thanksgiving, which was celebrated during the fall of 1621 at the Plymouth Colony in modern-day Massachusetts:

venison was a major ingredient, as well as fowl, but that likely included pheasants, geese, and duckTurkeys are a possibility, but were not a common food in that time. Pilgrims grew onions and herbsCranberries and currants would have been growing wild in the area, and watercress may have still been available if the hard frosts had held off, but there’s no record of them having been served. In fact, the meal was probably quite meat-heavy.

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(via Smithsonian)

Likewise, walnuts, chestnuts, and beechnuts were abundant, as were sunchokes. Shellfish were common, so they probably played a part, as did beans, pumpkins, squashes, and corn (served in the form of bread or porridge), thanks to the Wampanoags.

The magazine also mentions a few items that were not eaten at the feast: “Potatoes (white or sweet), bread stuffing or pie (wheat flour was rare), sugar, Aunt Lena’s green bean casserole.”

Written by Mary Miller // History Buff // Featured image via Community Links

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Hit-Or-Miss

5 Disgusting Recipes From The First Ever Celebrity Cookbook

Gordon Ramsay would blush

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Long before the introduction of the tomato to Europe, Italy had a reputation for being a gourmand’s paradise. One of the most important sources for understanding ancient epicures is the collection of recipes known as Apicius de re coquinaria (roughly, Apicius on cooking). Apicius, a wealthy Roman of the 1st century C.E. who reputedly killed himself rather than eat cheaper food once he ran out of money, has gone down in history as the first celebrity chef. It’s unlikely, however, that he personally wrote any of the recipes in the collection, which probably dates to three centuries after Apicius’ untimely demise.

Many of Apicius’ recipes remain appetizing today (I recently helped Leftovers History select and research one tasty example). But others are better left to the dustbin of history. Here are 5 Apician recipes that we’d rather not try.

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via Wikimedia

1. To Improve a Broth

If your reaction to noticing that your soup has spoiled to the degree that it stinks is to dump a bunch of spices in it and then serve it to your friends, please let me know so I can never ever eat at your house.

If a broth has contracted a bad odor, place a vessel upside-down and fumigate it with laurel and cypress and before ventilating it, pour the broth in this vessel. If this does not help matters and if the taste is too pronounced, add honey and fresh spikenard to it; that will improve it.

2. Vegetable and Brain Pudding

There’s nothing wrong with eating organ meat, and I’m not even a particularly picky eater. But 5-year-old me would have had a hell of a tantrum if my mom decided to serve this dish for dinner.

Take vegetables, clean and wash, shred and cook them, cool them off and drain them. Take 4 calf’s brains, remove strings and cook them in the mortar. Put 6 scruples (a type of measure) of pepper, moisten with broth and crush fine; then add the brains, rub again and meanwhile add the vegetables, rubbing all the while, and make a fine paste of it. Thereupon break and add 8 eggs. Now add a glassful of broth, a glassful of wine, a glassful of raisin wine, taste this preparation. Oil the baking dish thoroughly and place it in the oven and when it is done sprinkle with pepper and serve.

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via Wikimedia

3. For Birds that Smell Strongly

There’s some scholarly debate over what “goatish” means in this recipe—is it just birds with a gamey flavor? Many Classicists, however, think that this recipe told cooks how to cover up the stench of rotting fowl. 

For birds of all kinds that have a goatish smell, add pepper, lovage, thyme, dry mint, sage, dates, honey, vinegar, wine, broth, oil, reduced must, mustard. The birds will be more luscious and nutritious, and the fat preserved, if you envelop them in a dough of flour and oil and bake them in the oven. Alternately, stuff the inside with crushed fresh olives, sew them up, and thus cook, then retire the cooked olives.

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via Wikimedia

4. To Make Spoiled Honey Good as New

Honey can actually stay good for a crazy long time, but you really don’t want to mess around with it when things go wrong.

How bad honey may be turned into a saleable article is to mix one part of the spoiled honey with two parts of good honey.

5. To Clarify Muddy Wine

No thanks, I’m good.

Put bean meal and the whites of three eggs in a mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly with a whip and add to the wine, stirring for a long time. The next day the wine will be clear.

Written by Caroline Wazer // History Buff // Recipes adapted from Joseph Dommers Vehling’s 1926 translations // Feature image via Wikimedia