All American as apple pie? Not necessarily so. Though many American dishes are considered to be all American staples such as cornbread, chicken fried steak, hotdogs and ice cream, many of our most loved American dishes and smorgasbord items may not necessarily have originated in the United States.
As a melting pot of cultures, it’s not surprising that Americans have adapted several food items, cooking methods and dishes which immigrants brought from other parts of the world and put their own twist on them to adapt to the new world. Whether it’s French fries, hotdogs, corn on a cob or Tex-Mex cuisine, here’s a quick take on the origins and foreign influences of some favorite American dishes.
Many believe that apple pies started in medieval England, when it was called pyes that were filled with meat items instead of fruits. However, pie making itself goes back to the time of the Greeks, who are credited to making early forms of the pastry shell using water and flour. As pie making spread to Europe, various fillings emerged. Early English versions used apples and didn’t use sugar in the recipes. It wasn’t until the early 19th century that apple pie became popular in America.
Burgers and Hotdogs
Hotdogs, whether barbecued, steamed and served on a bun or deep-fried in batter are American favorites, but German immigrants were the ones who introduced these tasty sausages. Called wienerwurst and served on rolls with sauerkraut this was brought to America in the 19th century. Americans of all ages have since been enjoying this tasty treat.
At the same time, though hamburgers are an American invention, the idea of using meat seasoned with spices came from the Germans. The name hamburger comes from the city of Hamburg, which is the second largest city in Germany, and the city of origin of many German immigrants who settled in America.
Chicken Fried Steak
Southern comfort food item chicken fried steak is best eaten with gravy and mashed potatoes, but German and Austrian immigrants first called this tenderized meat Weiner Schnitzel. These immigrants settled in Texas and used veal cutlets to create this deep fried breaded dish in the 19th century. In fact, the city of Lamesa in Dawson County on the Texas South Plains is often regarded as the birthplace of the chicken friend steak.
Mac and Cheese
Early versions of the pasta and cheese dish dates back to 14th century England. You may think that macaroni and cheese probably descended from our Italian friends (though they have their own take on it), but the recipe actually comes from France. The modern day mac and cheese comes from Paris in the 18th century. We have President Thomas Jefferson to thank for this. He tasted it in France during a visit to the country and even commissioned William Short, the American ambassador to Paris to get a machine that could make the pasta. Jefferson decided he wanted it served in the White House and in 1802, macaroni pie was prepared and served as a dish during a state dinner. Incidentally, the word macaroni is derived from a Greek word, makaria.
Buttered corn on the cob goes great with barbecued ribs but this staple item actually came from Mexico more than 7,000 years ago. The ancestry of the corn comes from teosinte, a type of wild grass. Native Americans later cultivated the plant as Mexican maize which spread to other parts of the world.
When the ice cream truck plays its musical jingle, children come out in droves especially during the summer. Ice cream dates back to 400 BC, during the time of the Persians who enjoyed a type of sorbet. Back then, they would use snow and serve it with a grape juice concentrate. The Arabs are known to be the first to use milk as a primary ingredient and combining it with some fruit or ingredients such as saffron. The modern day creamy ice cream on the other hand is credited to the French, who used flavored ices back in the 17th century. The chilled treats were so good, they spread to other parts of Europe, before English immigrants took the treat with them to the Colonies.
Americans love eating beans whether it’s baked, refried or served with pork. Cowboys and beans go hand in hand. Baked beans can be traced to Colonial America from immigrants in England, where it was called pease pudding or pottage. At the same time, the consumption of beans dates back to Spanish Jews and those living in North Africa, who often ate beans as a traditional Sabbath food item.
Coffee and Donuts
A favorite afternoon snack or breakfast food item, sweet, tasty donuts that come in ubiquitous pink boxes go perfect with coffee. It’s not quite clear where exactly donuts came from, but it is believed that Dutch settlers made this when they settled in North America in the 19th century. These doughy treats were called by the Dutch word oliekoek, which translates to oil cake.
Incidentally, coffee is believed to date back to the 13th century in Ethiopia. It is said that coffee spread to Egypt and Yemen, where coffee drinking became a norm in the 15th century in monasteries found in Yemen. It wasn’t until the 16th century that coffee found its way to the Middle East, Turkey and North Africa, before finding its way to Italy, Europe, Asia and America. The word coffee also comes from the Dutch word koffee, which is derived from the world kahve in Turkish. Kahve, on the other hand, is from the Arabic word qahwa, which is an abbreviation of a phrase meaning wine of the bean.