Eating With the Aztecs on Cinco de Mayo

When a smallish army of ragged Mexicans defeated a much larger and better-equipped contingent of Napoleon III’s French troops on this day in 1862, few people imagined that Cinco de Mayo would be celebrated so widely with music, parades, parties, piñatas, beer, and of course, food.

Traditional Mexican cuisine is so scrumptious and unique that it has been added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. There, it’s in good company, along with the Mongolian camel-coaxing ritual, Slovakian bagpipe culture, Balinese dance, and Korean kimchi-making.

But while Americans have embraced Cinco de Mayo as a day to celebrate Mexican culture, the U.S. versions of the country’s ...

Breadfruit and ‘The Bounty’ That Brought It Across the Ocean

April 28 is the anniversary of the mutiny on The Bounty, possibly the most famous mutiny in history, and probably, when it comes to mutinies, the only one that most of us can name.

On that fatal date in 1789, the crew of the H.M.S. Bounty, led by first mate Fletcher Christian (a distant relative of poet William Wordsworth), revolted against their tyrannical captain, William Bligh. The upshot was that Bligh and 18 loyal supporters were sent off to sea in a 23-foot open boat, presumably to their deaths, while Christian and followers, after a brief stop in Tahiti to collect women, retired to isolated Pitcairn Island in hopes of ...

Eat Your Lima Beans. Or Not.

For wholly unknown reasons, April 20 is National Lima Bean Respect Day.

And lima beans could probably use a bit more in the way of respect. After all, along with beets and Brussels sprouts, they routinely pop up on most-disliked-food lists, to the point where people who think they’re yummy often get defensive about it. Lima beans are “pillowy, velvety, and delicious,” writes Laurie Colwin in More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen, “and people should stop saying mean things about them.”

Thomas Jefferson loved them, and frequently ate them in okra soup, an early version of gumbo, made with cymlings (pattypan squash), lima beans, ...

Thomas Jefferson: President, Scholar, First Foodie

Today is Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, and what might the president, on his special day, have had to eat?

Perhaps chicken fricassee, baked Virginia ham, or bouilli—beef boiled with onion, carrots, turnips, and celery, and topped with a mushroom-and-caper sauce. Any of these may have been accompanied by asparagus or peas, both of which—according to Jefferson’s meticulously kept Garden Book—were often available from the Monticello gardens by early April. And the meal may have been polished off with ice cream, pastry, pudding, or crème brûlée, and followed up with an after-dinner glass of Madeira, which Jefferson believed was good for the health.

Whatever was served on the Jeffersonian birthday table, it was ...

Yum or Yuck? How Spinach Has Divided Us

Among America's most under-appreciated holidays is March 26—officially, National Spinach Day.

Spinach is not a vegetable that most of us would expect to have a celebratory day. After all, generations of kids have turned up their noses at it. In a famous New Yorker cartoon of 1928, a mother tells her curly-haired tot, “It’s broccoli, dear,” to which the kid replies, “I say it’s spinach and I say the hell with it.” You go, kid.

Historically, spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is Persian. It probably originated in Iran, where it was known as isfanakh, which means “green hand,” and was prized as a kitchen herb. From there it traveled east to China, where ...

A Bowl Full of Jelly Bean History

No Easter basket is complete without a sprinkling of jelly beans—though, to be fair, these chewy little tidbits aren’t America’s top pick in Easter-basket candy. Number one is the chocolate bunny, of which 90 million are produced every year; and number two is the appalling, but popular, marshmallow Peep, now available in the form of chicks, rabbits, and eggs. The jelly bean trails behind in third place, but it’s still a pretty hefty third. Collectively, every Easter, we munch up 16 billion of them.

Jelly beans have been a year-round treat for well over a century—though no one knows just exactly when they first arrived on the American candy ...

St. Patrick’s Day: So What Is Corned Beef, Anyway?

Corned beef and cabbage, no matter what we’ve been raised to believe, isn’t a national Irish dish, and the tradition of eating it on Saint Patrick’s Day, far from being Irish, is as American as mom and apple pie.

Similarly American are Saint Patrick’s Day parades—the first was held in New York City in 1762—and it’s Americans (trust us) who invented green beer.

On March 17, the Irish are much more likely to eat bacon with their cabbage, and to down a pint or two of (non-green) Guinness. In fact, until relatively recent times, they didn’t even get the Guinness. Saint Patrick’s Day in Ireland traditionally was a ...

Brownies or Blunts, Marijuana Experimentation Is On

Legal marijuana (Cannabis sativa) is one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S., which means that more and more of us are now in a position to get our hands on pot. Now that we’ve got it, however, not everybody knows what to do with it. Do we smoke it or eat it? And does it make a difference?

As it turns out, it does. When it comes to a marijuana high, smoking a joint and munching a brownie are two whole different biological ballgames.

First, a caution: “legal,” here, is still a limited term. Medical marijuana, right now, is legal (or at least decriminalized) in 23 states. Recreational weed, ...

What’s Up With the Bacteria In Your Gut?

We’ve known for decades that that the lush collection of bacteria that populate our guts plays a part in digestion. The famous after-effects of bean-eating—tactfully known in the 16th century as “windinesse”— are due to our resident microbes, chomping up an assortment of bean oligosaccharides (short chains of linked sugars) that our own enzymes can’t deal with, and generating in the process an unfortunate excess of bloating gas.

While gut bacteria play an essential (if not always socially tactful) role in human nutrition, a wealth of recent research now shows that they do far more. In fact, the key to whether we’re fat or thin, cheerful or depressed, healthy ...

The Thirst-Quenching History of the Margarita

We just missed National Margarita Day, which was Monday, but that doesn't mean we can't raise a glass while we dive into the drink's romantic story.

The official National Margarita Day website is cagey about just where the holiday came from. Most likely it originated as a creative marketing ploy on the part of the tequila industry. Its origins are murky, but then so are those of the margarita itself.

Nobody knows who invented the margarita. It’s a mystery cocktail. But it's very likely that it involves a beautiful woman.

One story goes that the drink was first concocted by Mexican restaurant owner Carlos (Danny) Herrera in 1938 for gorgeous Ziegfeld showgirl Marjorie King. King ...

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