(Roughly) Daily

“You can’t just eat good food. You’ve got to talk about it too”*…

 

food

 

In the long timeline of human civilization, here’s roughly how things shook out: First, there was fire, water, ice, and salt. Then we started cooking up and chowing down on oysters, scallops, horsemeat, mushrooms, insects, and frogs, in that general chronological order. Fatty almonds and sweet cherries found their way into our diet before walnuts and apples did, but it would be a couple thousand years until we figured out how to make ice cream or a truly good apple pie. Challah (first century), hot dogs (15th century), Fig Newtons (1891), and Meyer lemons (1908) landed in our kitchens long before Red Bull (1984), but they all arrived late to the marshmallow party — we’d been eating one version or another of those fluffy guys since 2000 B.C.

This is, more or less, the history of human eating habits for 20,000 years, and right now, you can find it all cataloged on the Food Timeline, an archival trove of food history hiding in plain sight on a website so lo-fi you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a GeoCities fanpage. When you look past the Times Roman font and taupe background, the Food Timeline happens to be the single most comprehensive inventory of food knowledge on the internet, with thousands upon thousands of pages of primary sources, cross-checked research, and obsessively detailed food history presented in chronological order. Every entry on the Food Timeline, which begins with “water” in pre-17,000 B.C. and ends with “test tube burgers” in 2013, is sourced from “old cook books, newspapers, magazines, National Historic Parks, government agencies, universities, cultural organizations, culinary historians, and company/restaurant web sites.” There is history, context, and commentary on everything from Taylor pork roll to Scottish tablet to “cowboy cooking.”…

The Food Timeline, in all its comprehensive splendor, was the work of an obsessed person: a New Jersey reference librarian named Lynne Olver. Olver launched the site in 1999, two years before Wikipedia debuted, and maintained it, with little additional help, for more than 15 years. By 2014, it had reached 35 million readers and Olver had personally answered 25,000 questions from fans who were writing history papers or wondering about the origins of family recipes. Olver populated the pages with well-researched answers to these questions, making a resource so thorough that a full scroll to the bottom of the Food Timeline takes several labored seconds….

The entry for soup alone spans more than 70,000 words (The Great Gatsby doesn’t break 50,000), with excerpts from sources like Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat’s A History of Food, John Ayto’s An A-Z of Food and Drink, and D. Eleanor Scully and Terence Scully’s Early French Cookery….

For nearly two decades, Olver’s work was everyone else’s gain. In April of 2015, she passed away after a seven-month struggle with leukemia, a tragedy acknowledged briefly at the bottom of the site. “The Food Timeline was created and maintained solely by Lynne Olver (1958-2015, her obituary), reference librarian with a passion for food history.”

In the wake of Olver’s death, no one has come forward to take over her complex project, leaving a void in the internet that has yet to be filled — and worse, her noble contribution to a world lacking in accurate information and teeming with fake news is now in danger of being lost forever…

The internet’s most comprehensive archive of food history — a passion project of one dedicated librarian — predates Wikipedia. Now, it needs a new custodian: “Who Will Save the Food Timeline?

* Kurt Vonnegut, Jailbird

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As we contemplate comestibles, we might recall that it was on this date in 1904 (as the Library of Congress notes) that the first ice cream cone was served.

On July 23, 1904, according to some accounts, Charles E. Menches conceived the idea of filling a pastry cone with two scoops of ice-cream and thereby invented the ice-cream cone. He is one of several claimants to that honor: Ernest Hamwi, Abe Doumar, Albert and Nick Kabbaz, Arnold Fornachou, and David Avayou all have been touted as the inventor(s) of the first edible cone. Interestingly, these individuals have in common the fact that they all made or sold confections at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, known as the St. Louis World’s Fair. It is from the time of the Fair that the edible “cornucopia,” a cone made from a rolled waffle, vaulted into popularity in the United States.

Another claimant, Italo Marchiony, actually received a patent in 1903 for a device to make edible cups with handles. However the patent drawings show the device as a molded container rather than the rolled waffle seen at the Fair. Although paper and metal cones were used by Europeans to hold ice cream and pita bread was used by Middle Easterners to hold sweets, the ice-cream cone seems to have come to America by way of “the Pike” (as the entertainment midway of the St. Louis World’s Fair was called).

Randolph Smith Lyon, Mildred Frances Lyon, Mrs. Montague Lyon (Frances Robnett Smith Lyon), Montague Lyon, Jr., eating ice cream cones at the 1904 World’s Fair. Snapshot photograph, 1904.  (Missouri History Museum)

The 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis: site of the national debuts of peanut butter, the hot dog, Dr Pepper, iced tea, cotton candy– and of course, ice cream cones. (source)

 

 

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