Culinary Mythology

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

Culinary Mythology potentially a subject for a whole book, is here confined to a small number of notorious examples. The historian Andrew Smith (in Walker, 2001) calls them culinary ‘fakelore’ and points out just how many tie broad movements or phenomena to a single individual, such as the tomato which was first eaten in the USA by one Robert Gibbon Johnson on the court-house steps of Salem in 1820, or the ring that was put into doughnuts by Hanson Crockett Gregory in 1847. Other examples of persistent myths can be found under the entries for aphrodisiacs, banana, chips & crisps, feet, lutefisk, monkey, pancake, pretzel, and water ices. Their persistence and their shared characteristics may also be compared to those of urban or contemporary legends. (Urban legends do not, however, have much relevance to food matters, save those myths relating to the presence of taboo ingredients in fast-food or ethnic food dishes.) The frequency with which particular foods are linked to individuals or, sometimes, businesses or corporations is very marked. It happens in every culture (as does myth and folklore), not only in Europe, witness the myths surrounding the adoption of ramen in Japan. There are also, to give balance to the whole argument, plenty of instances of the creation of a particular dish, or even a style of cooking, which really were due to the activity of an identifiable single agency (see banoffi pie for just one).