Food is one of the most basic necessities of life, but just because it’s basic doesn’t mean it’s simple. (Yes, even pie.)
Over the years, TIME has occasionally hosted a regular “brief history of” feature, and it often took a look at some of the facts that lie behind what’s on our plates. From the disputed Buffalo wing creation myth to peanut-butter-based health trends of the 19th century, those stories add the flavor of history to items that are already pretty flavorful on their own.
Here are some of our favorites:
- From Jan. 6 to Tyre Nichols, American Life Is Still Defined by Caste
- As People Return to Offices, It’s Back to Miserable for America’s Working Moms
- The Real Reason Florida Wants to Ban AP African-American Studies, According to an Architect of the Course
- Column: Tyre Nichols' Killing Is The Result of a Diseased Culture
- Without Evusheld, Immunocompromised People Are on Their Own Against COVID-19
- TikTok's 'De-Influencing' Trend Is Here to Tell You What Stuff You Don't Need to Buy
- Column: America Goes About Juvenile Crime Sentencing All Wrong
- Why Your Tax Refund May Be Lower This Year
The “pye”—as it used to be spelled—is a venerable dish, which can be traced all the way back to ancient Greece and Rome. But those pastry-based dishes weren’t the desserts we tend to think of today. Instead, they were overwhelmingly savory dishes. And for good reason: the crusts could help the contents of the pie (meat, typically) last a little longer than they would otherwise.
Even apple pies didn’t used to look the way they do now:
Read the full story here: A Brief History of Pie
Eggnog is centuries old, it turns out:
But it wasn’t always associated with the end-of-year holiday season. That happened when the drink came to the Americas; even George Washington had his own signature recipe for eggnog, which by his time had begun to be made with rum.
Read the full story here: A Brief History of Eggnog
This peculiarly patterned breakfast staple has a surprisingly long and illustrious history. The ancient Greeks used a tool kind of like a waffle iron to make cakes, and the treat came to the New World with some of its earliest European settlers:
But it wasn’t until the 1930s that a California family combined instant waffle mix, electricity and ingenuity to come up with a way to mass-produce waffles. The eventual result, if you haven’t already guessed, was Eggos.
Read the full story here: A Brief History of Waffles
Peanut butter’s origins are a bit mysterious. Contrary to the popular myth that George Washington Carter came up with the idea, there’s evidence that some version of peanut butter was being made at least a couple decades before he published his 1916 text How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it For Human Consumption:
Read the full story here: A Brief History of Peanut Butter
Unlike peanut butter, Buffalo wings have a an easily identified origin: Buffalo, N.Y. But what exactly happened to spark its birth is a little blurrier:
In one version of the story, the dish was invented merely to get rid of a surplus of chicken wings; in another version, Bellissimo’s son specifically asked for wings.
Read the full story here: A Brief History of Buffalo Wings
The American maple-syrup industry can be traced back to the 17th century, when farmers began to tap the trees on their properties for a sweetener that was, at the time, cheaper than sugar:
The old system of making maple syrup—leaving buckets under taps, collecting sap, hauling the buckets to the sugar house to be heated—was eventually widely replaced by a method that used tubes and vacuums rather than buckets and gravity.
Read the full story here: A Brief History of Maple Syrup
Salt isn’t technically a food in itself, but it makes so many foods taste so much better that we couldn’t leave it off the list. Plus, its history is one of the longest, most interesting food stories out there, dating all the way back to the days when, as TIME put it in 1982, “animals wore paths to salt licks [and] men followed.” Salt was, eventually, one of the pillars of civilization:
Read the full story here: A Brief History of Salt
Though the word “barbecue” is misapplied to all manner of grilled meats, it actually refers to a specific process (indirect heat, slow cooking) and comes from a specific tradition:
Eventually, barbecue separated into several regional styles with their own preferences for meats and flavors.
Read the full story here: A Brief History of Barbecue
So, you run out and make or buy all these foods, now that they’re on your mind, but there’s no way you can eat them all right away. Which brings us to leftovers. It’s not as if someone had to “invent” the idea of saving what remains at the end of a meal—after all, in the pre-modern feast-and-famine cycle, saving the fruit of the harvest was a matter of life and death. But that doesn’t mean that the look of leftovers hasn’t changed over the years. Thanks, largely, to refrigeration:
Read the full story here: A Brief History of Leftovers