Tag Archives: history

So those people at RenFaire were right?

28 Sep

Renaissance Faire can be a lot of fun – and a bit silly with all the jousting, drinking, bodices and the oddly ubiquitous turkey leg.

Recently I had watched Episode 10: “The Good Ol’ Days” from Penn & Teller: Bullshit which reminded me of something I had read just a few days before about the changes that took place in European cuisine after the New World was encountered by Columbus. In “The Good Ol’ Days” Penn & Teller discuss the cultural nostalgia of the Renaissance Faire with James Given, professor of Medieval History at U.C. Irvine who states “If you go to Renaissance Fair and you see someone gnawing away om a turkey leg that certainly has no real baring on reality. There were no turkeys in the middle ages.” But wait, isn’t this the Renaissance Faire?

According to Brian Cowen in his chapter New Worlds, New Tastes (Food Fashions after the Renaissance) from the 2007 book  The History of Taste: “Thus both the guinea fowl, introduced in the early sixteenth century from West Africa, and the American turkey were quickly and enthusiastically praised by Renaissance dietitians and banqueters alike.” Although likely available only to the upper classes, it appears as though turkey was indeed available in Europe as early as the 1500’s and was certainly written about at the time.

But was that during the middle ages or part of the Renaissance? According to wikipedia, the Renaissance spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, and the Middle Ages (or medieval period) began in the 5th century and ended with the beginning of the Early Modern Period in the 16th century. So.. both?

I don’t exactly think that Professor Given was incorrect as culinary history and the study of gastronomy hasn’t always gone hand in hand with standard historical curriculums. But what I found most interesting while watching this episode (aside from the fact that I actually knew something about turkeys in the middle ages) was the thought that the somewhat ridiculous practice of eating giant turkey legs at RenFaire may actually not be entirely ridiculous after all.

How strange and interesting!


Health, Food and Human History: The All-American Banana?

7 Aug

As part of my move toward eating locally produced food, I have cut out certain fruits and vegetables from my diet. In an attempt to have some sort of balance, and in cases where they are available, I will purchase organic and fairly traded varieties of coffee, chocolate, tea and coconut products but have nearly cut out the consumption of all fruit that cannot be grown within California. This includes pineapple, papaya, mango, and of course: bananas.

I’ve recently become somewhat fascinated with the banana. I often wonder why it is so popular. Perhaps it is because the banana is so easy to carry and eat. But the banana is not a local fruit. Not unless you live in South America, Hawaii, or parts of Asia. How did it get here and when? And how have banana prices remained so low, even though the fruit travels thousands of miles to reach our markets and tables?

Not just Organic, but Fair Trade!

Most of us have seen organic produce varieties popping up in supermarkets across the United States. Though knowing how food is grown is extremely important, so too is knowing how the farmers and workers are paid and treated in the process. Finding Fair Trade coffee, tea and chocolate is becoming easier and easier and I find it interesting that there doesn’t seem to be as much of a movement to engage fresh fruit producers and distributors. I have no doubt there are many challenges with storage, shipping and USDA guidelines though I have not found any specific information as yet. Fair Trade fruit is available now, though can be difficult to find and I have not seen any form of labelling system to indicate that the fruit is in fact Fair Trade.

Below are some resources about the Banana and Fair Trade Fruit:

Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World

Yes, We Will Have No Bananas

The Banana


Fair Trade Banana Cooperative

Fair Trade: Fresh Fruit Program

Life on the Hill: Part 1

3 Nov

I keep meaning to write about my new neighborhood. Each day it seems there are new and interesting discoveries to add to the list of things I want to discuss. So I’ve decided to start with a little history…

Two weeks ago, I moved to Telegraph Hill. Most people (locals included) think I am talking about Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley even though I’ve specified that I’m living in San Francisco. But most SF residents don’t visit this neighborhood. There’s no way to get around the steep streets leading up from North Beach, or the hundreds of steps up Filbert Street from the Historic Waterfront Disctrict. Coit Tower sits at the very top of the hill, and looks over.. pretty much everything. And there’s Julius’ Castle too, a rather nice restaurant with a rather amazing view. Otherwise the area is strictly residential, with a shop and laundromat or two. Hardly the hustle and bustle just a few blocks away in North Beach.

One of the most interesting things about Telegraph Hill, in my opinion, is the eastern cliff face. At the bottom of this side of the hill was the Telegraph Hill Cemetery, where non-catholic sailors were buried over a century ago. The cliff face is evidence of the ballast quary that was once here. I am not sure how much of the hill was removed during that time but the rock is now covered in a thick blanket of blackberry, ivy, fennel and a number of other plants I’ve yet to identify. The various parts of the hill have concentrations of different bushes and trees. A little more to the southeast and there is a clump of strange, straight-branched pines, trees engulfed in ivy and even a few agave.

I saw a mouse on the steps a couple of days ago and I’ve seen some very strange bugs (I took a photo of one of them, it came out terribly blurry!) and had a face off with a fuchsia-headed humming bird and just today a blue jay landed in one of my planters as I was tending to my ivy.  I’ve become familiar with the favorite landing spots of the growing cherry-headed conure flock and noticed how quiet the hill gets when there’s a hawk circling above.

I could go on forever about Telegraph Hill. I’ve lived in San Francisco for 4 years and I feel that for the first time I can honestly say that this neighborhood has made me love San Francisco. And this environment has forced me to be more mindful of my surroundings. I suppose that’s the reason I’m writing about it. Living here, I cannot afford to keep my eyes closed. I just might miss something wonderful.

More to come in future posts. I’ve added some recent Telegraph Hill photos to the flickr stream, including the one of the blurry bug!

And if you’re interested in San Francisco history, check out SparkleTack.com.