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Food History - Cooking

Somebody very long ago discovered that cooked food is healthier and lasts longer, and so began culinary history. Archaeology of prehistoric sites shows that fires were used for cooking as well as warmth. Before pots and pans were developed, stone-lined or earthen fire-pits were used. In some methods, stones were heated in a fire and then dropped into water in the fire-pit, and food was cooked in the heated water.

Campfires and other forms of outdoor cooking were popular, especially in hot climates or for people traveling, including army camps in wartime. Cooking indoors requires ventilation. Simple structures such as tepees used a hole in the top for smoke to escape, and smoke-holes are seen in many dwellings. Chimneys allowed use of indoor fireplaces. Historically, the hearth is pictured as the activity center of every home. Stoves gradually replaced fireplace cooking, but the kitchen remains a family gathering place.

Soups, stews, and roasts were easy to cook because they don't require exact temperatures, perfectly measured ingredients, or precise cooking times. Baking required ovens, pictured in many forms, often outdoors. A type of adobe Native American oven in the US Southwest called an horno is still in use today, along with other vintage cooking methods and equipment.

People also learned ways of processing raw food and other food preparation methods. Grinding-stones or a mortar and pestle allowed corn, acorns, or other kernels to be crushed into flour or cornmeal. Many Anasazi sites contain metates y manos, which are two stones, one held in the hand to rub against a flat base stone worn down by grinding. The dried corn was stored and then cooked into tortillas or breads or other meals. Later flour mills were mechanized and used windmills or waterpower instead of hand grinding.

Another form of historical food preservation involved drying or salting fish, which preserved a fisherman's catch for meals during winter or bad weather. Jerky, or pemmican, was a Native American form of dried meat. Fruits and other crops could also be dried or made into cooked preserves.

Home cooking has been an essential household chore in every culture. In cities and towns, where people no longer grew their own food, food markets developed, with specialties such as fish markets and farmers' markets. Historically, spices were valued for flavoring, and pictures of the spice trade show its importance in medieval commerce as well as motivating exploration of exotic lands in search of these valued commodities.


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