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Thoughts on the evolution of "Peasant Food?"

tastyjon May 22, 2007 11:42 PM

It's kind of interesting to see how "peasant food" from many regions globally manifests itself into pricier dishes in other parts of the world. And when I say peasant, I don't mean it as a negative thing. Maybe "native" or "local" would be less pejorative - but still dishes familiar and affordable to most in certain regions. For example:

- Italian: Flour + water + cheap local ingredient = affordable pasta dish for everyday familes over decades. In most major cities these days, a fancy restaurant might offer a simple pasta dish for $15 and many would hardly raise an eyebrow. Note: I'm not talking about a dish with an extravigant ingredient - just basic stuff.

- Mexican: Beans, rice & something can cost next to nothing or cost a good deal depending on location - and the price is often inverse to taste/authenticity.

- Thai. If Pad Thai is a barometer dish, then I'm not sure why some places have a great offering for $3.99 while others are $15.

On the flip side, these might be underpirced:

- Indian. In Western cities, the dishes might be dumbed down or served buffet style, but even then you can get stuffed with great food for little cost. Ever tried to make Indian at home? You'll need a about 30 spices for one dish! For that reason alone I give them props.

- Chinese. Very diverse. Often very dumbed down. But even at the most authetic places, very inexpensive for the quality and variety of food.

- Vietnamese. Stunningly good and almost always stunningly priced, even in the priciest of cities, Downtown LA, San Fran, etc. you can get a killer lunch for under $5. In fact, a Vietnamese place sparked this whole disucssion. Fellow hounds wondered aloud if there wasn't some "danger" in eating cheap, ethnic eats.

Far from it. I simply wonder if it's a question of supply & demand, plus marketing and familiarity. In any case, are there any other cuisines where you wonder about the current prices versus original intent?

  1. NewSushiFiend May 23, 2007 09:42 AM

    All those fancy sauces in French food were developed to cover up the bad taste of the cheap/poor cuts of meat the peasants had to deal with. Yet many americans think of french food as very upper crust and it tends to be expensive!

    12 Replies
    1. re: NewSushiFiend
      Eat_Nopal May 23, 2007 09:52 AM

      That is not true.... French sauce making tradition comes from their haute tradition with a number of outside influences including Italian, Spanish & Mesoamerican among others. Most sauce making comes from highly developed culinary traditions not some backward availability of ingredients.

      1. re: Eat_Nopal
        NewSushiFiend May 23, 2007 11:00 AM

        A chef of French Cuisine has assured me that at least some of the things we think of as fancy french sauces did, indeed, come out of the efforts of peasants making bad cuts of meat more palitable. When you see a recipe using easy to get in France ingredients (not talking truffles!), you are probably looking at one that originated with peasants.

        I wouldn't be surprised, however, if the receipes were updated over time to make them "fancier".

        1. re: NewSushiFiend
          Eat_Nopal May 23, 2007 11:17 AM

          What according to you & that chef is a bad cut of meat that needs to be covered up with a sauce to be more pallatable?

          If I understand correctly... one of the major contributions of French traditional cooking is superior beef. They evolved (over many centuries) the Limantour breed that is considered (by those in the know) to be superior in flavor to either Angus or Kobe.

          1. re: Eat_Nopal
            NewSushiFiend May 23, 2007 12:04 PM

            What ever the rich people didn't want to eat. The french also developed perfume because they didn't bathe often.

            Your use of the term "backward availability" of ingredients seems to imply you don't think much of peasant food. I think one of the points of this thread is that some great food has come from peasants. We should honor people of the past who came up with great ways to cook, regardless of origin. You don't have to go to cooking school to be good.

            1. re: NewSushiFiend
              Eat_Nopal May 23, 2007 12:21 PM

              I don't dismiss "peasant food" or other foods of humble origins at all. As a matter of fact I can remember many a street / market meal that blows away most stuff I've had in fancy restaurants.

              However, I think you are misusing the term Peasant Food... and certainly mischaracterizing what French peasants actually cooked & ate. And completely mischaracterizing the quality of meats.

              First, Peasant is a self sustained horticulturalists. Someone who grows & consumes their own food and just about everything else. While a farmer is someone who grows food professionally for sale in a market & specializes in just a few crops... a such has to also purchase many products & services. In Europe, particulary France... the peasant class always struggled to make ends meet & rarely could afford for the matriarch to exclusively take care of the home & kitchen. Most matriarchs also worked in the fields & other activities. As a result French peasant cooking... much of which still exists as Cuisine d'terroir was very simple & did not involve much sophisticated saucemaking.

              When people go to a French restaurant to pay big bucks, they are typically consuming food that decended from France's palace cuisine tradition of the Rococo era.... which originated from imported Italian, Greek & Spanish cooks... and then it involved into a distinct French national haute cuisine.

              Finally, with respects to meat quality... so if rich French people bid up goose livers... but rich Southerners wouldn't get near them... is Goose liver a high quality meat or a low quality meat?

              1. re: NewSushiFiend
                LindaWhit May 23, 2007 01:04 PM

                "The french also developed perfume because they didn't bathe often. "
                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
                Ummm, not quite. Look to Ancient Egypt and Rome and Arabia for the development of perfumes. And in the Western world, Hungary was before Italy and France in the development of modern perfume. Although I will give you the fact that Frenchmen and women used it to mask body odors.

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_...

                And while I don't know a lot about it, I would have to agree with EatNopal re: the origination of sauces - they weren't made by peasants to cover up poor cuts of meat. The peasants wouldn't have had time to create "sauces" if they were working the fields or tending their animals or doing whatever work they were required to do for the nobles. The cuts of meat available to them, what little they might have been able to buy if they didn't butcher one of their own animals, would have been made palatable by long, slow braises, something that could be tended by a younger child on occasion while the parents were working. But I certainly don't see peasants spending the time to make the French "mother sauces", which came about/were named in the 18th century.

                1. re: NewSushiFiend
                  andytee May 24, 2007 09:02 PM

                  "What ever the rich people didn't want to eat. The french also developed perfume because they didn't bathe often."

                  Both the sauce for bad meat thing and the perfume thing are common and widely spread stories, but neither is true.

                  1. re: andytee
                    m
                    mpalmer6c May 26, 2007 11:21 PM

                    Ascribing it to the French is not correct, but otherwise both are true.

                2. re: Eat_Nopal
                  b
                  bulavinaka May 27, 2007 07:37 AM

                  I think both you and NewSushiFiend have merits to your views - you folks just happen to be running along side each other and might not know it. Both of your assessments are correct - it's just a matter of where you stood in the socio-economic tier in France before the Post-Industrial Age. You may recall a little bump in the historical road for the French - the French Revolution. The standard of living for most was horrid, while the privileged lived lifestyles that are hard to even fathom today. The increasing disperity between rich and poor widened to the point of, well, revolution.

                  The importance of this time in French history is to relate it back to the stances of you two posters. What may be hard for most of us to comprehend is the level of "bad" that bad cuts of meat back then implies. Rancid and spoiled meat were the rule for most in urban areas, as access to fresh meat was rare - they didn't live on farms. Also, the standard of living for most was at a scale of what we would consider Third World today. To afford meat alone was a major proposition. The best cuts were already purchased by the more well-off. Also, places that served food had little in means of preserving meat. They had to be creative in making bad seem good. Thus, the creative aspect of enterprise (think value-added) was fertile ground for creating sauces and stews.

                  Conversely, those assuming the life of luxury had opposite issues to contend with. "Hmmm... this bernaise sauce on my filet mignon is getting boring. I don't care how much butter and eggs goes into this sauce - make me something different, something that will make my tastebuds sing, or off with your head! And while you're at it, send word throughout the countryside - I will pay a king's ransom to anyone who can breed me a bovine whose flesh tastes of ambrosia..."

                  I think you're both right... like alot of things in life, it's a matter of perspective.

                  1. re: bulavinaka
                    Eat_Nopal May 28, 2007 07:48 AM

                    Well the French must have been extremely culinarily backward because there are so many examples of successful meat butchering facilities WITHIN cities.

            2. re: NewSushiFiend
              tastyjon May 23, 2007 09:11 PM

              All opinions and histories could be valid. There's a tradition of preserving food. Traditions for enhancing, covering up, fillling in, etc.

              Heck, Lobster was considered vermin and fed to prisoners because it was so cheap and plentiful back in the day.

              1. re: tastyjon
                f
                fara May 24, 2007 04:44 AM

                My understanding is that the french sauce tradition comes from burgeois cooks, probably hired help, that had to make something better out of what they had. this sounds like something that would originate in a city to cover up the fact that the meat is not the freshest.

            3. Eat_Nopal May 23, 2007 09:56 AM

              Jon... don't know what Mexican food you might get where you live. In California... throw it under the underpriced category... not only are the ingredients lists often extensive, requiring good quality fresh produce (at least in authentic Mexican restaurants) as well as lots of herbs, chiles & some spices... but it is also one of the most, if not the most labor intensive cuisine on the planet.

              Go home & try making a Chile Relleno in Tomatoe-Epazote sauce and hand made corn tortillas from scratch... and then lets see what you think of the $5ish price tag you would normally pay around here for something like that.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Eat_Nopal
                tastyjon May 23, 2007 09:01 PM

                I agree and disagree and appreciate your input. And just to note - I've lived the past 15 years in LA, San Diego and Arizona with many a trip South, so I'm not a virgin.

                There are fantastic, 20 ingredient moles out of Mexico. There are great eateries in the US and Mexico turning out incredible fare at all price ranges. The best tacos I've had in years were discovered recently at a dive in a run down part of PHX.

                But you've got to admit that there are way too many places that lop a side of beans/rice on a plate and then wrap some cheese in corn tortillas, pour on some blah sauce, and call it a combo dish worth $7.99

                1. re: tastyjon
                  Eat_Nopal May 24, 2007 08:15 AM

                  "But you've got to admit that there are way too many places that lop a side of beans/rice on a plate and then wrap some cheese in corn tortillas, pour on some blah sauce, and call it a combo dish worth $7.99"

                  Maybe but I would never be party to such sacrilege! That is not really Mexican cooking I know. However, what I am alerting you to... is that there is a mindset that certain foods should be cheap because the ingredients aren't particularly expensive... completely ignoring the preperation & even research/knowledge portion of the equation.

                  Let's take the classic Chile Relleno that is soufled & sauced. In that incarnation it is a dish the was created in a 17th century convent in New Spain (Puebla)... that is the cultural equivalent of something created by the Royal French cooks. Because the typical grassroots Mexican cook is so skilled... we have a dish that in France would only be attempted in at nicer restaurants.... but we can find it in almost any humble village.

                  Now since it can be made by many Mexican cooks & the ingredients aren't particularly expensive... market pressures keep pushing the allowable price down. So now what do we get? A batch produced, possibly frozen Chile Relleno... put into a combination for $7.99 as you say. However, if some Mexican restaurant does it the right way.... to order, and simply sauces with no sides & charges $15... the equivalent for a dish of similar work & difficulty at a French or Italian restaurant... people are up in arms.

                  Now I don't know what tourist traps you ate at on Avenida Revolucion on your many trips South... but your comments doesn't exactly reveal that you know or understand Mexican cuisine.

                  Yo did make one good point vis-a-vis Lobster... in that pricecs & presitige of certain foods is not absolute... its very, very relative to a society. I can go right now to Puebla.... and get Sabayons, Soufflees or Creme Brulees from humble market stalls for less than $2.... does that make them peasant foods?

              2. boogiebaby May 23, 2007 01:03 PM

                Indian food - basic indian dishes can be made with 2 spices: salt and turmeric. For example, a simple aloo gobi (cauliflower and potato) or bhindi (okra) are easy to make.

                General home cooking requires 7-8 spices tops, but if you attempt to make a Muglai (Royal) biriyani or something that was once considered a dish for wealthy people, then yes, it will have more ingredients.

                1. Sam Fujisaka May 23, 2007 02:34 PM

                  As a side note: it is widely accepted that peasants were not independent small farmers, but people largely indentured to large estates. They provided labor, usually grew some portion of their food, but were not land owners.

                  Now to peasant food. Not being financially very well off after WWII, our family ate a lot of what can only be considered Japanese peasant food--lots of rice, vegetables, pickles, and very little meat. Shoyu and a minimum of oil were the main other ingredients for such foods. Such o-kazu was healthy and good, but seems to have disappeared in Japanese homes and never made an apperance in Japanese restaurants anywhere.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                    Eat_Nopal May 23, 2007 03:00 PM

                    Not to be an azz... but you are describing Serfs aka Tenants or Sharecroppers. There are many examples of independent landownership all over the world throughout the last 10,000 years...

                    1. re: Eat_Nopal
                      Sam Fujisaka May 23, 2007 06:26 PM

                      Of course there have been small landed farmers all over the world for all time. They do not, however, comprise what are called "peasants".

                      The peasants of Latin America, for example, were those tied to latifundia--they were not necessarily tenant farmers or sharecroppers, but really a disenfranchised, largely indentured labor force. They gave rise to the "peasant wars of the 20th century". In Japan, the small land-owning farmer was a huge social class step up from the peasant. Unfortunately for us Japanese, everyone still knows what class everyone else came from: peasant, small farmer, merchant, samurai, noble.

                      Fortunately, we still eat the peasant foods remaining after the Chinese, Bolivian, Mexican, and Cuban revolutions and land reform. Sadly to me, however, Japanese peasant food after agrarian reform has seemed to slip away.

                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                        Eat_Nopal May 23, 2007 06:56 PM

                        I guess its all semantics.... in college I learned that peasants were largely self sustaining farmers... maybe some small taxes, tribute, village projects etc.... indentured labor force, particularly the encomiendas & latifundios.... were just that indenture laborers often not even farming but working as ranch hands, miners, COOKS & other things. Always getting their food & supplies from the hacienda store etc.,... there was a lot more specialization than a traditional peasant.

                        But if you learned a different definition I am not going to dispute that.

                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                          f
                          fara May 24, 2007 04:51 AM

                          "Unfortunately for us Japanese, everyone still knows what class everyone else came from: peasant, small farmer, merchant, samurai, noble."
                          Really? I've never heard that before. I always thought Japan was pretty meritocratic, from an outsider's perspective it seemed even more so than the U.S.. Can I ask how it compares to U.S. in that sense? (Explain what the differences in food consumed are, so that the moderators don't get upset :)

                          1. re: fara
                            Sam Fujisaka May 24, 2007 09:34 AM

                            Yes, Japan is a meritocracy, as is the US. But Japan is also like I imagine Savannah--everyone still knows who's who, who comes from "good stock" (or is that a Yankee concept?), and who are the decendents of no-accounts. The company CEOs in Japan really are of an old class different than that of the truck drivers.

                            As was mentioned in the NYTs today, the nobles and samurai got to eat things that were off-limits to small farmers, peasants, and merchants.

                      2. re: Sam Fujisaka
                        tastyjon May 23, 2007 09:20 PM

                        Just a point of clarification... I didn't mean "peasants" in a historical sense when it comes to political distinctions or divisions.

                        I'm just talking about average people a few decades back. Well before digital TV and Wifi computers. We go to the market and see 20 cheeses. But until recently, the people who made those 20 cheeses probably didn't know there was more than one.

                        1. re: tastyjon
                          drmimi May 24, 2007 02:32 AM

                          Another thought. As PT Barnum put it, "there is a sucker born every minute." Best imagery for me when I see "simple food" morphed into something chic:)
                          My momma and her siblings brought there Mississippi sensibilities to Chicago, growing greens among rose bushes, planting tomatos,okra, fruit and nut trees. Down home even some of the poorest families had a small plot where they could grow some of their food. And don't discount the food that could be caught, trapped, foraged or shot...

                        2. re: Sam Fujisaka
                          drmimi May 24, 2007 02:26 AM

                          Natto, locu moco, chitterlings, hoppin' john and ham hocks come to mind when I think of "peasant food" Being the granddaughter of Black Mississippi and Low Country folk, I was very familiar with soul food (the peasant food of the US) most of my life. Coming to California opened up my life to peasant food from all over the world but especially the Pacific rim. I had a major chuckle when my au pair's very traditional Filipino mom sent him home on the plane from Las Vegas with a bag of rice and a case of spam.
                          I agree that peasant does not always equal simple to prepare. Peasant food for me is also comfort food.

                        3. Karl S May 23, 2007 02:44 PM

                          For centuries upon centuries, daily peasant food in much of Europe was based either on gruel (barley, rye or oats) or bread (mostly stale, as it was much more useful stale than fresh). After Columbus, maize and potatoes added immensely to the basic larder.

                          24 Replies
                          1. re: Karl S
                            tastyjon May 23, 2007 09:28 PM

                            It's interesting how grains are now back. Stale bread is always in play. I've got a jar of Kimchee in the fridge. Funny how people scatter!

                            1. re: tastyjon
                              rworange May 24, 2007 08:58 AM

                              In a REALLY old Chowhound post Jonathan Gold wrote ...

                              "You know, agriculture is a nasty thing. Wine is made out of rotted grapes, cheese out of rotted milk, bread out of rotted grain."

                              In your OP you said ...

                              "Far from it. I simply wonder if it's a question of supply & demand, plus marketing and familiarity. In any case, are there any other cuisines where you wonder about the current prices versus original intent?"

                              I think the answer is all of the above.

                              Necessity drove people to consume the rotted or less desirable products and IMO people then did the best they could to make those items as tasty as possible. The other thing is they developed a taste for the food.

                              Yogurt was spoiled milk. I remember not so long ago few people whose culture didn't include that product would not touch it ... yogurt ... eewwwww. Yet smart marketing in the mid-20th century turned it into a product that few of us would think twice about eating today.

                              The other thing that comes into play is dumbing down the product ... add sugar and fruit ... make it a crowd-pleaser.

                              I remember an old Bevery Hillbillies episode where granny was making goat cheese and the Beverly Hills crowd recoiled in horror at the thought of eating a non-cow milk product. Now it is chic and a cheese mainly associated with the mid-to upper classes ... they ain't buying goat cheese at Food For Less ... good marketing. Kraft has to find a way of upscaling Velveeta.

                              A few years ago we went through the expensive donut phase and there is still a joint that sells a small basket of beneigts for $7. Good marketing.

                              I just bought a $10 hot dog and there are reports of franks for $15 or more. Artisan hot dog, ya know. Marketing.

                              Hot dogs came out of poverty ... to use up scrap meat and fat and intestines ... they are comfort food ... so the familiarity along with marketing is there. Don't get me started about the pricy mini corn dogs at Michael Minna aimed at our inner child ... what about rose geranium cotton candy at another joint ... which I sadly want because I just loved cotton candy as a kid ... it made me happy.

                              It always cracks me up with the upscale restaurants serving 'variety meat' and charging a pretty penny for eating offal. A recent such dinner featured cocks comb for heavens sake with people swooning over that and eating tripe, etc and paying well over $100 for the privledge of eating food that were the leftovers of the poor ... or even the poor wouldn't touch cocks combs for the most part ... or would have ground them up into something.

                              The chefs at these restaurants probably hail from families where a few generations back, their ancestors were forced by necessity to eat offal and were able to make this food delicious. So there is the familiarity and passing on that knowlegde of peasant-based deliousness ... at a price.

                              In the film Gigi, Gaston says he prefers the deliciousness of the lowly casoulet of Gigi's grandmother to the fancy food of the day. What's casoulet sell for these days?

                              People remember the delicious food from grandmothers kitchens. When the next generation improves their status they continue eating that food and up the ingrediants.

                              Marketing also plays a big part. A few years ago, few would eat yogurt or goat cheese. So far smart marketing hasn't tapped into the bug market. Maybe 10 years from now we'll be swooning over grasshoppers, ants and worms. We eat snails, don't we?

                              Pardonez-moi ... escargot.

                              1. re: rworange
                                Eat_Nopal May 24, 2007 09:43 AM

                                Well as you probably already know... a number of very wealthy Americans have already paid top dollar to eat bugs in Mexico City's most chic restaurants.

                                One point that I am trying to make however... is that there is a lot of relativeness to pricing & value. Just because people in the middle ages didn't have the skill or knowledge to know what to do sweetbreads and threw them away... doesn't mean they are actually worthless. From a Supply sense... there are less sweetbreads per volume than steaks on a cow so they should be worth more (as long as the Demand exists) etc.,

                                Do you guys know that in many cultures the Tenderloin and other adjacent sections of the cow just gets ground up into a sorts of things like sausage because they never received their copy of the French butcher's roadmap?

                                While I haven't quite thrown my stocks into bug eating.... you have to recognize that more than marketing its trendiness has noble origins... Mexico City fresas & intellectuals alike advocate it as an eco friendly way to boost the quality protein intake of poor peoples all over the world. I think it would be fabulous if the culinary institution could make it chic & then spread the knowledge of how to prepare tasty, nutritive bugs & worms to people every where closing the very sad protein gap.

                                1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                  tastyjon May 24, 2007 08:09 PM

                                  Poor people all over the world have beeen and are still eating bugs, grubs, worms, larva and any other protein they can muster. They certainly aren't sitting around the bush in eager anticipation of Mexican fusion recipes. The only new market for this fare will be those Westerners tired of current restaurant offerings and daring to try something new.

                                  Similarly, in most places where food is or has been traditionally more scarce, they hadn't the luxury to choose one part over another - but used everything possible. If anything, the use of organs and other 'odd bits' define many a national dish.

                                  In which cultures did they throw sweatbreads away because they didn't know how to cook them?

                                  1. re: tastyjon
                                    Eat_Nopal May 25, 2007 07:30 AM

                                    Sam Fujisaka.... you have worked with poor communities all over the world... could you please weigh in on the consumption of bugs, grubs etc.,

                                    From my understanding most native communities around Mexico didn't eat them... I have found any evidence for regular consumption outside of the Anahuac, Oaxaca, Guerrero & Chiapas. And it seems very few communities in Central & South American consume them.

                                    And I wouldn't think the Africans would be suffering all the protein deficiency related diseases if they consumed them.

                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                      Sam Fujisaka May 25, 2007 11:48 AM

                                      Thanks, EN. A problem is that most grubs and insets are crop pests at some stage in their lives. No one would encourage their production. The true bugs we eat in the Philippines are adults of white grubs that eat the roots of upland crops. Adults swarm once or twice a year depending in species, are knocked out of trees, fried and eaten. Very good.

                                      The ants we eat in limited quantities in Colombia don't otherwise do people any good.

                                      Grubs in tropical forests are found in small quantities and are a food of opportunity.

                                      Ricefield rats in Burma are similar--eating the destructive pests provides just a bit of revenge (and a quite tasty dish).

                                      The golden kuhol snail is a major rice pest in the Philippines. They eat rice seedlings and have reversed a labor saving trend from transplanted to direct seeded rice. The (largely inedible) snails were introduced by well meaining projects trying to provide more protein in poor rural reas.

                                      The insect snacks of Mexico are good, but I know nothing about those insects.

                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                        Eat_Nopal May 25, 2007 12:02 PM

                                        Hey Sam,

                                        If you ever have some free time, you might be interested in how Aztecs used instects & grubs as part of their ecological management policies... particularly:

                                        > Consumption of Agave Worms as a part of their 100% exploitation of Agaves (Aguamiel for nourishing beverages & octli (pulque), the leaves used in barbacoa & mixiotes as well as clothing & building materials & medical instruments among other things) and of course the pest control & nourishment aspects.

                                        > Consumption of Ahuehetls (mosquito larvae) & Acociles (acquatic salamanders) as a way of managing Texcoco Lagoon's ecological balance

                                        There are others too.

                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                          Sam Fujisaka May 25, 2007 02:13 PM

                                          Cool. Were those Aztec or predecessor Nauhautl traditions?

                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                            Eat_Nopal May 25, 2007 03:37 PM

                                            Interesting question... I can't say for sure. But I think Aztec exotic eating habits are one of the reasons that their more civilized rivals accused them of being barbarians (I am of course referring to the people of Azcapotzalco, Nezahuacoyotl etc.,)

                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                              FoodFuser May 27, 2007 09:22 PM

                                              Some anthropologists have proposed that insects were a huge part of our food prior to agriculture, and have run the calorie expenditure numbers to "prove" that it would have been more efficient to get protein calories from insects than from hunting vertebrates. Rolling over the right rotten log does indeed have its rewards. And, Ancestral Anger Management Exercises surely yielded good results when they kicked into a termite mound.

                                              Other folks project that same calorie efficiency of collection to the future, and urge efficient harvest of insects to ease protein deficiencies. Hounds who are interested insectivores can visit http://www.food-insects.com/ for links.

                                              As to Peasant Food, for which it seems okay to sorta define as we wish in this interesting thread, I'll go with a fixed point in time of 1800, just prior to the "industrial age" migrations to the cities in western civilization. Cuisines that we now recognize were somewhat fixed by that time, since New world introductions were already established in the cultural cuisines. IE, the Irish and the Germans were newly happy with their taters, and the Italians were on a winning run with tomatoes.

                                              A close look at the new USDA food pyramid is a mirror of the probable ratios of foodstuffs in many peasant cuisines: a low consumption of meat for protein, and high consumption of Whole grains or legumes that were storable for several seasons in granaries, if you had enough cats and terriers to keep the rat population low. Gruel was the rule. Milled (= white) grains were only for the wealthy, because of the expense and the loss of valuable endosperm from the milling process. Cows were for converting the vegetation of marginal less arable lands into milk protein and milkfats, and pigs and chickens to convert the scraps of a diverse farm into protein products. Peasants didn't eat their cows and chickens nearly as much as their pigs, because the pigs didn't give palatable milk and eggs. The genus brassica, most commonly in some cultivar of head or leaf cabbage, was embraced by peasant cultures for it's storabilty after undergoing some level of salt-fermentaion processes from kraut to kimchi.

                                              Euro-centrism, or more correctly 30th-parallel-centrism (see Jared Diamond), can color a perspective of what is "peasant." My above date fixing of 1800 is totally Eurocentric, from some British dude (Watt's his name?) harnessing steam power. That date is far less relevant to the cuisines of Africa and South America.

                                              Peasant food from many cultures can be one of the healthiest way for us to eat. Ironic how today in the USA the "poor people's food" of white bread and bologna and other overprocessed various vehicles of salt sugar and fat are a far cry from the historical standard diets of the masses.

                                              1. re: FoodFuser
                                                Sam Fujisaka May 28, 2007 07:51 AM

                                                Re: "Gruel was the rule. Milled (= white) grains were only for the wealthy, because of the expense and the loss of valuable endosperm from the milling process."

                                                Small farmers, urban poor--"peasants" in general have--always milled their rice because unmilled rice: a) spoils, b) suffers from storage pests, especially weevils, and c) requires much more fuel to cook. Rice is and has long been the world's largest contributor to human dietary calories. For the poorest in Africa and Asia, a lot of the milling is done by hand by women, who also have to gather firewood for cooking.

                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                                  Karl S May 28, 2007 02:20 PM

                                                  Correct. Milled grains also provided more readily available energy in the diet for the very reason that Atkins folks find horrifying.

                                                  1. re: Karl S
                                                    FoodFuser May 31, 2007 02:13 PM

                                                    Karl and Sam, I'd really like to hear more about when milling was developed in various cultures, and the technology and tools they used. I had always assumed that since we see the pictures of winnowing the husk, then the pictures of grinding to meal, that whole grains were used.

                                                    1. re: FoodFuser
                                                      Sam Fujisaka May 31, 2007 03:35 PM

                                                      Wooden mortars and pestles, with the mortar made from a log section with a bowl of up to two feet wide and an equal or greater depth were independently invented and diffused throughout the rice growing world. The mortar bowls are often wide enough that two women, each with a two-meter pestle can work de-husking and milling the rice, alternating with rhythm. These are still common in south and southeast Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa.

                                                      Last time I worked with mills was in East Timor, with a small unit developed in the Philippines and powered by a small Chinese diesel engine. The idea was for cooperatives of women to use, manage, and profit from the mills and to free them from the hand labor.

                                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                                        FoodFuser Jun 4, 2007 12:08 PM

                                                        Thanks. Are tumble drums also used with human power?

                                                        1. re: FoodFuser
                                                          Sam Fujisaka Jun 4, 2007 12:40 PM

                                                          FF, what is a tumble drum?

                                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                                            FoodFuser Jun 6, 2007 03:14 PM

                                                            Picture a 55 gallon drum, mounted on a central axle, with a handled for rotating on the axle. The drum can be partially filled with an item you want to polish, then harder polishing agents, like rocks, are added. When the drum is turned over and over, the softer material is polished. There's bound to be a "real name" for that thing.

                                                            In the past, hollowed logs with end caps would have been used to same effect.

                                                            1. re: FoodFuser
                                                              Sam Fujisaka Jun 6, 2007 09:58 PM

                                                              FF, fascinating. I can see it in my mind but never have in reality. Do you have any links or references?

                                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                                                FoodFuser Jun 7, 2007 03:35 PM

                                                                Not at this time... my home cpu is down and I'm limited to 30 minute sessions at the library so no surfing till repairs or new purchase. A quick and dirty search for "milling" is confounded by the word being used for so many different phases of the process, not just pericarp removal. My memories of where the notion of such a mill was used are distant and mixed, but include for sure gravel "finishers" and decorative stoneworkers who tumble various rock, and I seem to recall the same technique for grains. But alas, as we see from my initial posting on 5/27, my memory nodules seem to have been tumbled as well.

                                      2. re: Eat_Nopal
                                        drmimi May 26, 2007 09:37 PM

                                        Actually different insects are eaten in parts of Africa- particularly the Kalahari Desert. Folks eat "bush meat" (think monkeys, chimps, other primates) as well.
                                        Part of the nutrition problem is in places where drought and deforestation have taken their toll. It took Al Gore to identify that pollutants that are produced in the developed world have had a devastating impact on rain fall throughout much of Africa.
                                        The other part of the nutrition problem is that people migrate to large cities where there isn't the availability of farming. Also much of the continent has experienced major wars and conflicts displacing millions of people in Sudan, Chad, Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Congo and other places. AIDS has wiped out many people of work age in many places on the continent.
                                        I haven't had any bugs knowingly lately. But friends tell me that crickets and grass hoppers have a special spicey taste. One persons' EWWW often is another person's delicacy. I think it is all in the marketing. Tomatos from the New World were considered poisonous until some smart folks shifted the paradigm and made them a desirable food. The same is true for potatos and peanuts.
                                        I wonder what foods in a 100 years will be considered way cool...

                                    2. re: Eat_Nopal
                                      s
                                      Sharuf May 27, 2007 06:30 AM

                                      Re throwing away sweetbreads, I don't think so. On our family farm, they would get fed to the pigs or chickens or cats or dogs.

                                      1. re: Sharuf
                                        Eat_Nopal May 28, 2007 07:51 AM

                                        That is exactly what I meant.... you didn't use them culianarily. Perhaps if you had Molto Mario back then.....

                                    3. re: rworange
                                      t
                                      thinks too much May 25, 2007 08:06 AM

                                      In today's society we have removed our supply sources from our demand. Therefore slaughter houses may be hundreds of miles even a thousand or more from the chic restaurant where offal is offered. Unfortuantely although each specific item of offal is far outweighed by the muscle content, it is also much richer in blood content, making it more susceptible to bacterial growth and other nasties. If the local butcher was eager to unload the offal onto poorer customers, it takes more time and effort to get quality offal to NYC or Cal if it was slaughtered in southeast Colorado.

                                      I guess it just ties in with the Lobster theme. Lobster did not get popular until the spread of railroads allowed inland shipping of a delicacy. (I loved the pertinent scene from Mystic scene. Anyone remember it?)

                                      1. re: rworange
                                        Cookiefiend May 25, 2007 03:59 PM

                                        "rose geranium cotton candy at another joint ... which I sadly want because I just loved cotton candy as a kid ... it made me happy."

                                        That's not sad.
                                        It's sweet.
                                        Check this out, http://tangmeister.com, and click on the Alinea link there's a picture of something that looks like a ice cream cone w/cotton candy, it's called the Licorice Cake... I don't know if it would be a dessert or just a crazy course in the middle of the dinner but anyway. It looks fabulous and Tangmeister makes it sound like something you gotta have.

                                        I love cotton candy too!

                                  2. mrbozo May 24, 2007 09:22 AM

                                    Cabbage rolls come to mind. Cabbage, ground meat (usually beef or pork) and rice, plus some very basic seasonings. Pretty pricey stuff, eh?

                                    A better example is risotto. A simple rice gruel that can command $40 CDN a serving here in Toronto. Granted one can add expensive ingredients, but even so, the quantity of same would hardly break the bank.

                                    It comes down to "cachet" (you know, "How exotic!"), laziness re prep times, and what the European Common Markup will bear in terms of pricing on this side of the Atlantic.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: mrbozo
                                      Father Kitchen May 27, 2007 01:59 PM

                                      I tuned in late on this one and maybe missed something in going down the contributions. But I think the best insight into "peasant food" that I have come across is Patience Gray's classic book "Honey from a Weed." Lots of things go into the equation that people who have easy access to food and cooking gear are likely to ignore. In Kenya I learned that even access to firewood or chacoal made a huge difference. So do metal pans or earthenware pots. Beyond that, I think that we need to find a different term than "peasant food." Many Romance languages have a term meaning "of the people" (as opposed to the ruling classes). I don't know if it would be a recognized culinary term, but I would think the Italian words "cucina popolana" would cover the class of cooking we are talking about. And, of course, besides haute cuisine, France knows the cuisine de bonne femme. maybe we should call it simple cooking, a term RIchard Olney used. John Thorne writes about it a lot. And that brings me to sauces. What would Mediterranean cooking, even of the vegetarian sort, be without it? And on our own shores, what would Cajun cooking be without the sauces based on roux? At any rate, count me in for preferring simple cooking, especially when it is based on fresh ingredients in season.

                                      1. re: Father Kitchen
                                        m
                                        MakingSense May 27, 2007 02:24 PM

                                        Excellent point. Maybe the concept is quotidian cooking. Some simple food requires a lot of work and it's not always strictly seasonal or fresh.
                                        If you shoot a goose, it's a long process through the preserving of the flesh in fat as confit to pulling some of it out to use in a cassoulet in the dead of winter. Same thing with butchering a pig and putting all the various cuts to use as different types of meals, soap, bristles, skin, etc. Some to be used fresh, some preserved.
                                        There was always home-cooking by women, hunters, trail cooking, and meals eaten outside the home by those who didn't have cooking facilities, maybe because of poverty or because they were traveling. Even simple street foods have been around forever.
                                        This differs from the cuisines of those who employed chefs and had easy access to foods they didn't have to grow and produce themselves.

                                        1. re: MakingSense
                                          h
                                          HollyDolly Jun 1, 2007 07:28 AM

                                          To me peasant food is food of the people,the average working man and woman.My mother made cabbage rolls at timesAnd speaking of offal,my grandfather was a butcher and bring things like the tongue,liver and brains home was well as regular meat.I recall my dad saying that grandma hated making brains because there is a lot of prep work to do.They are considers a delicay and I'm sure quite pricey in a fancy restaurant.
                                          My dad would sometime make sweet breads for my mom,but not often.
                                          Many fancy dishes started out as peasant food,but those that could have a chef,well the chef may have added a spice here a sauce there,and elevated it to haute cusine.
                                          And no I'm not paying someone $15.00 for a pasta dish when I can make my own at home.

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