FORGOTTEN IN PLAIN SIGHT Have you ever wondered what it would be like to invent a dish and have it named after you, only for your involvement in the whole affair to be forgotten in the cruel passage of time?
How would John Montagu the 4th Earl of Sandwich feel if he found out that a) his penchant for asking servants for a slice of meat between two slices of bread to sustain him throughout arduous games of cards in the 1700s has been adopted by schoolchildren and office workers the world over and b) his part in the evolution of this most treasured of lunchtime meals has been largely forgotten.
Behind the names of some of our most ubiquitous ingredients and dishes lie the stories of the people who discovered or invented them. Most food fans know the story of the sisters behind the Tart Tatin. Like many of life’s greatest inventions, the Tart Tatin is said to have been invented by mistake sometime in the 1880s. Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin were the proprietors and cooks at Hotel Tartin in Lamotte-Beauvron, France. It’s thought that the Tart Tatin came about when Stéphanie tried to save a burnt apple pie by turning it upside-down, and ended up created something even more delicious, thanks to the wonders of butter, sugar and caramelisation.
Also on the subject of apples is Granny Smith, named after their cultivator Maria Ann Smith. Smith, originally from Sussex, invented this tart apple in her adopted home of Australia in 1868 when she accidentally mixed some crab-apple peels and seeds with other apple varieties in her compost heap, and then tended to a seedling that appeared some months later. It wasn’t until after her death in 1870 that her Granny Smith Seedlings were popularised, with the help of orchardist Edward Gallard, who bought the Smith’s farm following the death of Maria’s husband Thomas in 1876.
The creamy Californian Hass Avocado also takes its name from its cultivator, amateur botanist Rudolph Hass. A migrant to California from Wisconisn, Hass was working as a door-to-door salesman when an illustration of an avocado tree with dollar bills hanging from it inspired him to put all of his savings into buying a small avocado grove. With the help of his hired hand, a professional grafter remembered simply as Mr Caulkins, Hass cross-pollinated trees to create a sturdy and prolific fruit-bearing tree that he patented as the Hass avocado tree in 1935.
Unlike Granny Smith, Hass was able to see the fruits of his efforts in his lifetime, as the Hass avocado became a success. However, similar to Granny Smith, he didn’t make much of a profit, as his patent wasn’t much respected and many other growers installed the Hass avocado in their own groves.
Today, you’ll find Hass avocados smashed into delicious guacamole on top of any decent plate of Nachos. Named after their inventor Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, this Mexican restaurateur is said to have put his signature dish, Nacho’s Especiales, on the menu at his restaurant El Moderno in the Mexican town of Coahuila in the early 1940s.
The next time you’re washing down a giant plate of Nachos with a Margarita, you might stop to think of these two inventors.
Raising a toast to the inventor of the Margarita is a little more complicated, however, with a number of stories floating around the origins of this tequila-based cocktail. Some say a Mexican bartender invented it for Margarita Henkel, the daughter of the German ambassador in Ensenada. Another story is that Dallas socialite Margarita Sames shook up the drink at her Acapulco holiday home in 1948. Other Margaritas that this drink may be named after include the Mexican showgirl Rita de la Rosa and the singer Peggy (often a nickname for Margaret) Lee.
Another chef who left an imprint on his own dish is Caesar Cardini, widely thought to have been the inventor of the Caesar salad. Cardini was an Italian immigrant to the US, who opened a restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico, to avoid Prohibition laws. With the Caesar salad, part of the appeal was that Cardini himself would toss the salad at your table, and the simple salad became a Hollywood staple. Julia Child told of a childhood memory of eating a Caesar salad at Cardini’s restaurant in the 1920s. In her cookbook From Julia Child’s Kitchen, she wrote: “My parents, of course, ordered the salad. Caesar himself rolled the big cart up to the table, tossed the romaine in a great wooden bowl.”
Enemies of the anchovy will
Holy moley: Nachos and guacamole
be pleased to hear that the original salad did not include these salty little fishies, but rather Cardini’s application of Worcestershire sauce was where the saltiness came from.
There is a question mark over this whole story however, as Cardini’s partner Paul Maggiora and his own brother, Alex Cardini, claim to have been the first to produce the salad in 1927, which they called the Aviator salad. Even earlier than that, Livio Santini, who worked at Cardini’s, claimed that the Caesar salad was his mother’s recipe and that Caesar stole the recipe from him in 1925.
Perhaps The 4th Earl of Sandwich might take some solace in the fact that his invention appears to have been accurately attributed to him, even if he isn’t remembered with every lunchtime bite.