Monday, May 30, 2011

Fire and cooking; we are what we eat

Fire is a very important element of our life, like air, water and earth. It’s importance has been underlined from the very beginning of our civilization. It made us “humans”, as theories goes, by modifying our primitive state of being. First by changing the diet from raw food to cooked food, second, by providing heat, third then by allowing to acquire other skills. Fire was (and still is) used to make the first metal tools and burn ceramics.

Feeding the baby
Rudolf Epp, german painter, 1834 - 1910
Then, aside from being such indispensable element in our lives and because it is so important, fire has been integrated in religious and philosophical systems around the world: the four, or five, or sometimes seven elements (the our of them are water, air, fire, earth).

The oldest records of a fire dates back 420 million years ago. But it is said that humans started to make fire some 500.000 to 400.000 years ago.  This domesticated fire wasn’t used for cooking right away, more likely it was used to keep them warm. But the wild fires provided them with already cooked meat: the meat of the animals caught and burned in the fire. It must have tasted delicious. Then they started grilling. I imagine it wasn’t only meat that got cooked by wild fires but also some vegetables and fruits along with the edible parts of some plant roots.

Late on, in late paleolithic, they may have also started  to heat water by putting hot stones in a put or heating the water in animal belies over open fire. That was the beginning of cooking.

In neolithic people started to use earth ware pottery and this fact is seen today by the historians and archaeologists as being a food revolution. Using pottery for cooking allowed our ancestors to cook in boiling water, fact that change the tests, the nutrition balance and the eating habits. They would also grill, bake and braise.

There are lots of ways to start a fire and the primitive man must have known at list few. As they advanced and settled, they also preserved fire, which is much easier then starting it.
From this point, the cooking process and the food we ate only got better.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I always wondered how did people lived 100, 1000, 10.000 years ago. What did they eat? Where did they sleep? What did they think? What made them happy or sad, what made them laugh or cry? Did they love their mates or there were other emotions involved? How did they discovered simple things like using spices and herbs for cooking? Or counting, writing and painting? How was life without TV, computers, cars and airplanes. Or without refrigerators and stoves or washers and dryers? How was life before the bulb?

The older generations of our time may remember some ancient things like the telegraph or the big bulky radio. Or they may even know how to store food for winter. Some may know to make their own shoes or sew their own clothes. Other may know plants that sooth wounds or cure a stomach ache. But most of us are totally helpless without the use of modern technology. We are highly addicted on others for everything we own or need, from food and clothing to entertainment and health.  We forgot how to accomplish the basic tasks of survival.

In this blog I will try to answer some of my own questions as well as others. I will try to bring light to the life of ordinary people of the past. I may, occasionally, find some extraordinary people that lived a common life. I may find some extraordinary events that have influenced the ordinary life.

Aside from my own curiosity, I was inspired by the historians of L'Ecole Des Annales and their great books.