You Think 2020 Was the Year of Sourdough? Look Back to the Gold Rush

When the discovery of gold near Coloma, Calif., in 1848 ignited a massive influx of prospectors to the area from other regions of the United States, as well as Europe, Asia, and Australia, many arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs. …

When the discovery of gold near Coloma, Calif., in 1848 ignited a massive influx of prospectors to the area from other regions of the United States, as well as Europe, Asia, and Australia, many arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs. Among the few prized possessions brought along for the journey were jars of sourdough starter—the mixture of fermented flour and water used to make bread without commercial yeast—that held the promise of a full belly. To thousands of hopeful (and hungry) miners who risked it all in pursuit of striking it rich, those jars of cultivated wild yeast represented a semblance of stability and a taste of home, even amid backbreaking work and an uncertain future. Legend has it that the miners even hugged their starters at night to keep the cultures warm and help them survive.

Sourdough starter served as a lifeline to which the miners literally clung. Due to the sudden population explosion, farms couldn’t keep up with the surge in demand, rendering affordable food an elusive commodity in many parts of the state. Moreover, the discovery of gold excited locals, too: As California’s farm workers left their agricultural jobs to pan for gold, farms that had once supported the state's economy sat abandoned. Local food merchants, smelling opportunity as droves of miners rushed the goldfields, inflated prices on everything from fruit to flour: A single egg could command as much as $3 (more than $80 per egg in today’s dollars). Suffice it to say, many merchants struck more riches than gold miners; after traveling thousands of arduous miles to stake their claim to wealth, most hopefuls in the mining camps ultimately made little money. Faced with limited funds and resources, the miners could extend a small amount of purchased flour by mixing it with sourdough starter—a more affordable solution than buying a fresh loaf of bread.

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What the Heck is Vegemite (& How Do You Eat It)?

Cut off from the rest of the populated landmass of planet Earth for several millennia, Australia had plenty of time to develop some natural quirks. Take marsupials (pouches, hopping), for example, or the duck-billed platypus (duck-bill, poison spur), o…

Cut off from the rest of the populated landmass of planet Earth for several millennia, Australia had plenty of time to develop some natural quirks. Take marsupials (pouches, hopping), for example, or the duck-billed platypus (duck-bill, poison spur), or the disturbing preponderance of poisonous snakes, for example. But it was with the invention of Vegemite in 1922 that things really went off the rails. What is Vegemite? So glad you asked.

Vegemite is a thick, dark spread extracted from the yeasty waste of the beer-brewing process, seasoned with celery, onion, salt, and some undisclosed extra flavors. Salty, umami-rich, with a hint of bitterness, Vegemite is an Australian obsession. But it wasn’t always this way.

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The Lonely Legacy of Spam

Table for One is a column by Eric Kim, who loves cooking for himself—and only himself—and seeks to celebrate the beauty of solitude in its many forms.

“Spam is the ultimate loner food,” said the chef Esther Choi, who lives in a one-bedroom by hersel…

Table for One is a column by Eric Kim, who loves cooking for himself—and only himself—and seeks to celebrate the beauty of solitude in its many forms.


“Spam is the ultimate loner food,” said the chef Esther Choi, who lives in a one-bedroom by herself in New York City. Working late hours to keep the lights on at all of her restaurants, Ms. Yoo and two Mŏkbar locations (with one more on the way), Choi doesn’t get to cook meals at home for herself very often. But when she does, she turns to the simple things: fried Spam, eggs, and Hetbahn, a single serving of Korean microwavable rice. “Even though I’m a chef and I can make anything in the world,” she said, “when I’m by myself, those are the things I want to eat.”

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15 New Year’s Food Traditions From Around the World

We have a very, er, specific New Year’s Eve food tradition in my household.

It’s an elaborate shrimp tree, and my mother and I spend hours constructing it each year. There’s the day-of, panicked search for the correctly shaped and perfectly sized foam…

We have a very, er, specific New Year's Eve food tradition in my household.

It's an elaborate shrimp tree, and my mother and I spend hours constructing it each year. There's the day-of, panicked search for the correctly shaped and perfectly sized foam cone, which somehow always gets tossed away during the year prior. There's the painstaking affixing of curly kale leaves to said foam cone (once procured), in the style of a full Christmas tree. There's the careful preparation of a perfectly seasoned cocktail sauce. And then, just before our New Year's Eve party starts, there's the pinning of each individual shrimp to the tree, using colorful toothpicks, to look like a wrap-around garland.

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What Food Was *Actually* Served at the First Thanksgiving

A few years ago, I made my inner history nerd unbelievably giddy and spent a few weeks digging in to one question: What was actually eaten at the first Thanksgiving? The results were surprising (no turkey?!), illuminating, and just plain curious. So le…

A few years ago, I made my inner history nerd unbelievably giddy and spent a few weeks digging in to one question: What was actually eaten at the first Thanksgiving? The results were surprising (no turkey?!), illuminating, and just plain curious. So leading up to November, I thought I'd give you something to chew on besides what's on your table. First, let's set the scene:

The modern Thanksgiving holiday is based off a festival shared by the pilgrims and the Wampanoag Native American tribe at Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts, in 1621. The feast purportedly celebrated the colonists’ first successful harvest in the New World. While modern Thanksgiving always lands on the fourth Thursday in November, the original went down sometime earlier in autumn, closer to harvest time.

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Why Pasta Is an Essential Part of Indian Regional Cuisine

When I visited Leh, a dusty Himalayan town and the erstwhile capital of the kingdom of Ladakh, it was at the onset of winter. Tiny cafes serving Himalayan meals to weary trekkers had begun wrapping up for the season. On my last night after an arduous p…

When I visited Leh, a dusty Himalayan town and the erstwhile capital of the kingdom of Ladakh, it was at the onset of winter. Tiny cafes serving Himalayan meals to weary trekkers had begun wrapping up for the season. On my last night after an arduous pine forest walk, when I couldn’t be bothered about what to get for dinner (I just want something hot and spicy!, I thought to myself) I spotted a three-letter dish called kev.

Resembling strozzapreti, a Tuscan pasta variety that looks like chopped pieces of a thin rope, a bowl of kev is just that, except it’s made of whole wheat flour and tempered with a handful of Indian spices and mountain beans. And this is just one example of the range of Himalayan pastas that are common in this part of the country. Their skyu is an orecchiette look-alike; chutagi feels like a distant cousin of minestrone; and bhatsa marku, a Tibetan version of mac and cheese comes topped with dri (female yak) cheese.

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The 2,000-Year-Old History of Vending Machines

There’s little more frightening than watching a purchased bag of Sunchips get caught in a vending machine, and no greater joy than when three bags of Sunchips fall for the price of one.

We’ve all been there. Read More >>

There's little more frightening than watching a purchased bag of Sunchips get caught in a vending machine, and no greater joy than when three bags of Sunchips fall for the price of one.

We've all been there.

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How a 1661 ‘Ladies Directory’ Blazed the Trail for Contemporary Cookbooks

Anne Willan is the award-winning culinary historian, cookbook writer, and founder of La Varenne Cooking School in Paris. In her latest book, Women in the Kitchen, released last month, she introduces us to 12 cookbook writers “who defined the way we eat…

Anne Willan is the award-winning culinary historian, cookbook writer, and founder of La Varenne Cooking School in Paris. In her latest book, Women in the Kitchen, released last month, she introduces us to 12 cookbook writers "who defined the way we eat"—stretching from 1661 to modern day. Below, in an excerpt from the book, we'll start at the beginning: Get to know trailblazer Hannah Woolley.


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The first handbook written in English by a woman for women was published in 1661, almost two hundred years after the first cookbook was printed (in Latin). In The Ladies Directory, Hannah Woolley began to reveal not just her own life but a whole new world for her readers, that of the expanding English middle class of prosperous tradesmen, physicians, and the like, all of them profiting from the newly restored monarchy of King Charles II. In a group of later books Woolley elaborated on the skills called for in the domestic kitchen, a very different world from the grand establishments of the professional male cooks who had hitherto dominated the cookbook scene.

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A Bite-Size Look Back at the 40-Year History of Cape Cod Potato Chips

We’ve partnered with Cape Cod® Potato Chips to celebrate their 40th anniversary with a crunchy look back at their decades-long history.

Since its humble beginnings in Hyannis, Massachusetts, Cape Cod Potato Chips has become a household name. Whether…

We’ve partnered with Cape Cod® Potato Chips to celebrate their 40th anniversary with a crunchy look back at their decades-long history.


Since its humble beginnings in Hyannis, Massachusetts, Cape Cod Potato Chips has become a household name. Whether you’re enjoying a bag of their ridged Waves potato chips, tangy Sea Salt and Vinegar, or classic Original flavor, the foundational ingredients (just potatoes, salt, and oil) always shine through.

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The Tumultuous History of Atlantic City’s Salt Water Taffy

As urban legend has it, a man named David Bradley owned a confectionary stand on the Atlantic City boardwalk, at the turn of the 20th century. After a night of heavy storming, Bradley returned to find his stand flooded and his candies soaked with seawa…

As urban legend has it, a man named David Bradley owned a confectionary stand on the Atlantic City boardwalk, at the turn of the 20th century. After a night of heavy storming, Bradley returned to find his stand flooded and his candies soaked with seawater. He decided to sell the taffy anyway, jokingly calling it “salt water taffy.”

Bradley’s marketing ploy worked—driving fellow Atlantic City taffy-makers, James Candy Company and Fralinger’s, to rebrand their product as well. “Salt water” taffy and the health of the tourist-reliant Jersey shore economy have been inextricable since.

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