Historical Food Crazes

This is a cronut!

Nicola here. The latest food trend has passed me by until now but at the weekend I read about something called a “Crookie.” The crookie was preceded by the cronut and the cruffin, which for those readers like me who are clueless of food fashions, is croissant dough crossed with various other sweet foods: cookies, doughnuts and muffins. I haven’t tried any of them but I’m told they are delicious.

The fashion for trying out new things in food is as old as the human race, according to food historians. When the Romans came to Britain, they brought with them fruit such as grapes and figs and herbs including coriander, which must have been an eye-opener for British-Romano cuisine. More spices entered the British diet after the Norman Conquest of 1066, with cinnamon, cloves and saffron from Mediterranean and Middle Eastern trade.

Can you imagine the excitement in Tudor England when both tomatoes and turkeys appeared on the menu (though not necessarily at the same time?) The Italians had tried the tomato out first and weren’t too keen to start with, having munched on the leaves and pronounced them inedible (they are actually poisonous in large quantities.) Nor was the potato initially welcome. The Spanish introduced them in the second half of the 16th century. The Histoires de legumes by Pitrat and Foury states that the first written mention of the potato was a receipt for delivery dated 28th November 1567 when they travelled from Las Palmas in Grand Canarias to Antwerp. Sir Walter Raleigh brought them to England in 1588 but initially they were treated with suspicion and considered no better than animal feed. As one of my favourite meals is a baked potato with cheese, I can only be grateful that eventually they caught on. And where would we be without chips/fries?

The 17th century saw many fashionable food crazes. There was the pineapple, of course, which was considered terribly exotic and special as much for its shape as its taste. The pineapple craze was encouraged by the aristocracy who saw it as a symbol of wealth and luxury, and not only served it at feasts but had stone pineapples carved on their gateposts. There is even a picture in the Royal Collection of King Charles II being presented with a pineapple by the royal gardener John Rose. Meanwhile, across the English Channel the French aristocracy were going mad for peas. In 1696 Madame de Maintenon, mistress to Louis XIV, described the pleasure people took in them: “the subject of peas, continues to absorb all others, the anxiety to eat them, and the desire to eat them again, are the three great matters which have been discussed by our Princes for four days past…It is a fashion and madness.”

In the 1840s, Queen Victoria began a hen craze with the import of the cochin from China. A fluffy bird with long legs, it started a fashion for the aristocracy becoming “chicken fanciers” which was ridiculed in the press in 1855: “Never in the history of modern ‘bubbles,’ did any mania exceed in ridiculousness or ludicrousness, or in the number of its victims surpass this inexplicable humbug.” At least they didn’t eat them!

If we fast forward to the 1970s, I remember several food fashions from my childhood. My parents went absolutely wild for fondue, a big pot of melted cheese with a dash of wine in it. Then there were lychees, which I first tasted at the age of about twelve. When it was first mentioned to me, I assumed it was another sort of cheese like Cheddar, I was so unsophisticated. Vol au vents, prawn cocktail and black forest gateau are all 1970s luxuries that I remember with affection. And as it said in the article on food crazes, food and drink have always been a symbol of status and wealth but some of them are genuinely delicious and worth indulging in!

Have you tried a cronut? Do you remember food crazes from your childhood? And do you have a passion for a particular food?


18 thoughts on “Historical Food Crazes”

  1. Nicola, I’ve never had a cronut or cruffin, but agree that some food fads have turned into very fine things, including potatoes, tomatoes, fondue and Vol au vents. Now I need to look for a picture of a cochin!

    • Yes, they are very handsome but I expected longer legs as well, Mary Jo, maybe because in the historical drawings they look like an ostrich! Perhaps they’ve grown smaller in the last 150 years…

  2. I found this post really interesting – I learned a few things. I’m not really a foodie though. I do have things that I like and dislike, but I’m not really passionate about anything ….. except cheesecake. Can’t keep that around the house.

    • LOL, wasn’t cheesecake a fashionable food in the 70s? It was in our house! And rightly so – it’s delicious!

  3. Thanks for the wonderful post. Do not recall any food fads. “Say that 5 5imes fast” But, when I was a child food was important – WWII and after the war we were limited on what was available and in Europe there were major shortages. But, I am shocked that some of the things you mentioned were considered so new and exciting. Tomatoes – as a child I ate them like they were the actual fruit that they are. And I am going to go now so I can look for a tall chicken. Are you sure that is not an emu or an ostrich?

    • Hi Annette, yes as you say, food was particularly important to those generations experiencing rationing during and after the war. Maybe that’s why there was an explosion of “treat foods” in the sixties and seventies!

  4. OK, I did not actually see any tall chickens, but I must admit, I would love to have some of those chickens that are so fluffy and cute. They are darling and I assume they still lay eggs even in their cuteness. Alas, I have led such a sheltered life.

  5. I’ve never tried one of those and don’t think my arteries would survive LOL! You took me down memory lane with those 1970s foods – I still love a good prawn cocktail – and I was introduced to fondue when I lived in Switzerland for a year. Delicious but very hard to digest! As for the Romans, they seem to have eaten most things, but I would draw the line at dormice – yuck!

    • Oh, isn’t a classic prawn cocktail delicious! I adore them! Yes the dormice thing is quite horrid. How could they? Squirrels as well. Yuk.

  6. I’ve never had a cronut or cruffin. I would love to, but just looking at the picture I gained 5 pounds. The food fad I definitely remember was fondue. It went on for a long time too. The fancy resort place I sang at in college even had a special room for fondue parties & they were always booked up. Oddly enough in the last couple years we’ve been to a few fondue parties. Maybe it’s coming back!

    • Yeah, pictures of those cronuts and cruffins are bad for the health! It’s fun that you remember fondue parties as well, Jeanne. Where I lived they were the height of sophistication!

  7. I have never even heard of one of these! I’m not really a sweet tooth person but I do love my food. Cheese is my absolute favourite. Unfortunately, due to developing an intolerance to cow’s milk about ten years ago I had to give up a lot of it. I do eat goats cheese and I enjoy it. I like cheeses that are strong. I also will eat almost anything! My husband says I have a stomach like an old horse because I’d try anything :):)

    • LOL, Teresa! What a shame about the milk intolerance, although other cheeses can be delicious!

  8. I would happily try a crookie, cronut, or cruffin.
    I do remember the seventies fondue craze; in fact, a friend and I went out to dinner at a fondue restaurant to celebrate a significant occasion. I also recall that woks (and presumably stir fry) were popular in the eighties; a friend received three as wedding gifts. I first recall hearing of a smorgasbord in the early seventies; was that also popular or simply me being young/ignorant?
    Thanks for your fun post, Nicola!

  9. Thank you for reminding me about the wok craze, Kareni. That was such a big thing when it happened. And yes, you are right about the smorgasbord. I remember my mother being excited about that as well and insisting on serving food on boards all the time rather than plates!

  10. Some novelties become permanent menu items. I can remember when pizza was new. One time when my father was away on a business trip, my mother decided to get a pizza from the new “pizza parlor” in town. My sister and I were not immediate fans. However, when I was a freshman in college, working on the student newspaper, my diet consisted mainly of pepperoni pizza and coke (because I was always missing dinner in the dorm) augmented by chocolate chip cookies sent by my roommate’s mother. Believe it or not, I lost weight on that diet.
    My husband’s introduction to pizza came from his older sister, and he thought she was making it up. A pie with cheese and tomato? Unbelievable.

    • Wasn’t it amazing recently when they found a picture of what looked like a pizza at Pompeii and there we were thinking they were new in the 1970s! You’ve reminded me of how excited we all were in my home town when a new place called “The Flying Pizza” opened up! What a novelty!

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