Well, now that the literary voice part of my earlier assertion has been addressed (hopefully to your satisfaction) let’s see if I know anything about cooking.
Those of you who know me likely also know one of my amusements is to try a dish in a restaurant I’ve never had before, deduce its ingredients and duplicate it at home in my own kitchen. It’s my personal form of imitation of my literary hero, Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock is described by his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as having made himself, inter alia, an expert on such arcane matters as tobacco ashes, snake venom and such. My culinary area of Sherlockian expertise is in seasonings. My pantry, refrigerator, kitchen cabinets (and counter-top) are littered with a panoply of seasonings, which I’ve learned to employ to produce tasty dishes and dolce (sweets.)
In my (hopefully) soon to be published cookbook, “Second Helpings,” I spend a great deal of time breaking down the seasoning scheme employed in the recipes I provide, as in my mind, there are a number of relatively simple, but effective, combinations of seasonings that consistently produce tasty dishes; which, when you learn to recognize them, makes you a better chef.
As my mind also likes to take a look at any available historical perspective and get a sense of where things came from, I am perpetually searching the internet for information that explains where any particular seasoning came from, how it works, chemically, and what foods it works best with. In one such foray, I got the notion of looking for the world’s oldest recipe — and get what I am used to finding on such quests, differing opinions.
Not surprisingly to me, who has an affinity for cooking with alcohol, and sometimes even put it in the food I’m preparing, it may well be that the world’s oldest recipe, according to no less an authority than the Scientific American, is for beer! In the food category, I found what is alleged to be the world’s oldest recipe from Uruk, an area in Mesopotamia, which is contained in the ancient cuneiform writings known as the Archives from Erech, that date back to the reign of King Nebuchadrezzar (604-561 B. C.) I also found a reference to a manuscript written in Middle English, that dates back to 1390 and contains some 150 recipes.
Consistent with the name of my web-site, I am not content with my web findings. I instead ponder in my head, the likelihood that ancient man (and woman) stumbled about and dined on available fruit and vegetables. Someone, long ago, likely was stumbling about the seashore, munching on a veggie, dropped it into the water and continued eating it after retrieval — thereby discovering salt as the first seasoning. Whomever first picked up a dead fish and tasted it, discovered sushi, but probably never lived to have it with wasabi and soy sauce. Until fire was invented, our carnivorous ancestors must have munched on raw meat. But once fire was invented, it was only a matter of time before some clumsy ancestor dropped his or her raw meat into the camp fire and discovered the wonders of cooked meat. I’m thinking it didn’t take too much longer to try cooking the veggies too. I believe you get the picture — discovery of the art of cooking and seasoning took a long, long time to develop.
Okay, my scenario is just a guess, but I have some back-up on the web for the notion that salt is the oldest seasoning, with quite an interesting bit of history to go with it. Chemically, table salt is a compound formed from the acidic, ionic form of chlorine gas and the base metal sodium. In food, it is a flavor enhancer, anti-bacterial, preservative and has a myriad of other uses. All health warnings to the contrary notwithstanding, our bodies require some amount of salt to keep us healthy. As it is prevalent in many foodstuffs, rather than add salt directly in my cooking, I get it in by using ingredients that contain salt.
Those are my thoughts on salt. In future postings, I’ll cover other basic seasonings then work my way into seasoning combinations. Stay tuned.