At the highly liberal liberal-arts college we attended, Columbus Day was marked by various student groups loudly protesting the racist/imperialist/revisionist/pick-your-own-ist implications of our Nation’s embrace of the three-day weekend. In contrast, the Trib’s Good Eating staff celebrates by devoting their entire section to paeans to the various now-indispensable foodstuffs that Columbus and his explorer cohorts were introduced to upon their “discovery” of the New World. We like the Tribune’s version of celebration better.
• Bill Daley kicks things off with a brief history of the Columbian Exchange, a.k.a. the massive lines of trade between Europe and North America that began when a certain seafaring Italian landed in the Bahamas in 1492. Fun fact: The Columbian Exchange was the first item on our American History itinerary every single year of grade school, and each year we fell so far behind on the curriculum that we never made it past World War II, and as a result we did not know anything about the Vietnam War until we were in college. What’s up, Illinois public schools!
• Emily Nunn takes us on the journey of the pecan, which began in the Texas region around the 1500s, and today resolves itself in each american eating half a pound of pecans a year. We personally cannot tell the difference between a pecan and a walnut, and Nunn contributes to us feeling bad about ourselves for that fact.
• A-maize-ing! It’s all corn, all the time for Carol Mighton Haddix (contender for best name ever), who breaks down its five types (flint, flour, dent, sweet, and pop) as well as gives us a little glimpse into its Columbian history.
• Oh my goodness we love squash. And so does Joe Gray, who waxes poetic about the mega-nutritious, hard-as-rocks quasi-melons. While North American settlers relied on squash as a staple of their diets, it took until the 1800s for it to catch on in Europe. Tres unchic.
• Poor Renee Enna, forced to write about chocolate and get paid for it. Tragic, having to research the historic and religious origins of this popular supporting player in romantic comedies and chick-lit books and major resident of our own desk drawer. HER LIFE IS SO HARD.
• Emily Nunn is back again, this time covering cranberries, and hey! It turns out they really do prevent UTIs!
• A sweet potato is not a potato. Nor is it a yam. Carol Mighton Haddix goes for Columbian Food Round Two on it, though, coining the root veggie a new name (just call it a “sweet,” thanks) and noting that it has more fiber than a bowl of oatmeal.
• Oh god, tomatoes, we love them.So does Joe Gray, as he traces the history of tomatoes from South American up through Asia, Europe, and (mysteriously!) Africa, and back to the USA — where we apparently didn’t really start eating them until the early 1900s, and even then it was only because the government told us to.
• Bill Daley’s back, sketching out the story of the chili, which only bears the mega-confusing moniker “pepper” because Columbus was a big fat liar. Also, Daley makes a Mad Men reference! We love it when legitimate journalists like the same TV shows that we do.
• Emily Nunn’s writeup of the (nonsweet) potato is illustrated by an extraordinarily beautiful photograph that we sort of want to hang in our living room. It also tells us of the potato’s long, arduous climb up the food hierarchy, from being “mistrusted” to its current french-fry-borne ubiquity.
[Illustration of the Columbian Exchange via MrThompson.org]