Saturday, 20 September 2008

Who Tried What First?

Have you ever thought about how we come to have such a wide choice of food available? We take it for granted that carrots, lettuce, eggs, sheep’s livers, blackberries, oranges and everything else is edible, yet somebody must have been the first to try them.

Who first decided they’d try eating a blackberry? Didn’t they know that others had gotten sick through eating berries? Blackberries could have been as poisonous as raw elderberries for all they knew. And that’s another point. After seeing somebody throwing up after eating elderberries direct from the tree, what made them try cooking them and eating them instead? Did they just fall from the tree into a hot pan of water and somebody accidentally ate one?

Then there’s carrots, turnips and stuff. Why would anybody pull up a plant and decide to cook the roots? Did they just bite into anything ‘back in the day’? And potatoes. Why cook knobbly things growing amongst the roots of a plant?

When did the first person decide to pulverise a bit of bark and sprinkle it over their apple pie? Or grate a rock hard nut over their rice pudding?

We mustn’t forget the humble mushroom, either. We all know how nasty some of those can be yet somebody must’ve curled up in agony, gotten high (maybe he or she didn’t mind too much?) or dropped down dead before the safe ones were found? What possessed them to keep trying? “Oh, the bloke next door just popped his clogs after eating those mushrooms over there but never mind, I’ll try some of these instead”. I think I’d have given them the no-no myself.

The ones that gets me most though are eggs. Milk I can understand - it comes out of our udders so why not try the similar looking stuff that comes from other mammals - but eggs? Who decided to take the hard thing that comes out of a bird’s bum and boil it? That surely must’ve been because one accidentally fell into hot water? I reckon I’d have still been a bit dubious, but I suppose whoever it was must’ve been starving. A fried egg probably came about by being accidentally cracked open on a hot rock or something.

And what about pastry and pasta? Who first made them and why? The same goes for bread and cakes.

Food’s all around us and for us here in the West, in abundance. But we do take it pretty much for granted, don’t we? Imagine if we were the ones having to try all this stuff for the first time.

Sharon J


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emmani said...

Brilliant post Sharon!

I think about this all the time... being a chef and learning about all the chemical reactions, I've always wondered. Did they have lots of pots of boiling water all over the place in the olden days for things to fall into? Didn't they get a bit peeved and think, Oh God I've contaminated my hot water again with random leaves and berries? Didn't they think about the health and safety issues!?

I mean who thought to grind up a few wheat grains, mix it with a bit of butter and sugar and shove it on a hot stone? Bizzare!

What about the cavemen? Ohh darling I'm just popping out to catch a bison and twirl him on a spit cos my belly is rumbling a bit!!

You only have to watch the wonderful Ray Mears or one of the fab documentaries, eg. Tribe to get an idea of how things were...

Sharon J said...

I love watching Ray Mears. Fascinating stuff.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks about stuff like this. Some of my friends think I'm weird when I mention it (not all of them though, thankfully). It's like "what difference does it make?" Well none really to my life as it is now but I'm curious. My mind likes to ponder these things.

Richard said...

"Wild Food" by Ray Mears and Gordon Hillman explains it quite well. Our ancestors were quite clever and have been around for a very long time. If you think about it though (and unless you're a creationist) we're only able to wonder about it because our ancestors made mistakes.

Sharon J said...

Yeah, I know. Everything we do today is because of what our ancestors did and that's what makes history so fascinating.

Although I've watched Ray Mears quite a bit, it still mystifies me that those people actually tried these things. Last time I watched he was talking about how they'd hidden food close to their fires and then discovered that it tasted completely different but what made them try them in the first place? Why not just stick to stuff they already knew was harmless? They must have been a very adventurous lot :)

Anonymous said...

And then there's the stuff they probably used to eat regularly but that's hardly ever used now like nettles and dandeloins. I wonder why they became unpopular.

Anonymous said...

i think with berries and things you can eat raw, they probably watched animals eat them and then thought.. hmm.. they might be edible for us. If you read Jean M Auel's books, she describes the exploration process for new foods very well, i think, and the process by which new things are discovered (she describes the accidental discovery of smashing certain rocks together to form a spark, and thus make a fire quickly, for example, and another time on making soap).. whether they're accurate or not, no one is ever going to know, but it gives you a good idea as to the process. You should be able to get them from the library if you haven't already got them :)

donna said...

great post sharon, really made me think!

Lizzie said...

Milk always gets me. Who thought that was a natural thing to do. Drink liquid from a cow. You weirdo!
Fascinating subject Sharon


Jennifer said...

Cool post. got me thinking on that one! :D


Frugal Trenches said...

Fab post!

I too find it really interesting. I was commenting the other day to a friend about the number of foods we eat now than would never have been on the radar 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 yrs ago. Makes you wonder where food is going!

Sharon J said...

@ Anonymous. Good point. I personally don’t much like nettles but young dandelion leaves are lovely in salads and yet as prolific (and free) as they are, very few people seem to use them nowadays. My guess is that modern marketing is to blame - the supermarkets etc would rather we bought food than foraged it in our own gardens.

@ Kethry. The animal connection is probably right and that makes me wonder whether we also had an instinctive ‘knowledge’ too, and that it maybe died out as we developed intellect. I have a few theories about these things but at the end of the day, theories is all we’re ever going to have. Nobody can ever know for sure what happened. I do love pondering things though :)

@ Donna. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be thinking about it for ages!

@ Lizzie. LOL. I guess we have those weirdos to thank for a lot of what we take for granted these days :)

@ Jennifer. Seems we’re all thinking now :)

@ Frugal Trenches. I can remember back in the 70s watching some kind of Tommorow’s World type programme and them talking about how, by the year 2000, we’d all be eating tablets that would contain a complete meal and wouldn’t actually need food anymore. All the vitamin pills and other supplements available these days are the closest they’ve got to that on a general basis but I think it’s sad that so many people would rather take those than get proper balanced meals.

WebSmith said...

We are not sure when fire came into our lives or when it was first used for cooking. Most scientists believe it was an accident when man first tried cooked things after a forest fire.

Piles of egg shells and fish bones have been found as old as 30,000 years along previous coastal areas. Eggs are a popular food source for many animals. Most of them also believe that we learned to eat many things by watching other animals.

New things are usually discovered as a result of a need. When you're hungry, you'll try any thing.

While there are variations dating back to 100,000 years, this time line reflects what most think based on archeological studies.

Sharon J said...

Yes, I've no doubt extreme hunger would force people to try anything, Websmith. Otherwise civilized people have turned to cannibalism in times of starvation, after all and I'm sure even the most hardened vegan would eat meat if it were a matter of survival.

Alex said...

I've often thought about this myself as well - I wonder, who was the first person who looked at a lobster and thought, "I bet there's some good stuff in those claws!"

Sharon J said...

@ Alex. That's one I hadn't thought of!

Anonymous said...

haha, i was just talking about this the other day while showing off my taro plant. :)