Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pancakes Anyone?

It was spring break for me last week, so when I got back up here for school on Sunday evening, I realized that there was nothing to eat in my apartment. Ok, there were things to eat, however since most of the stuff left in the fridge were food items that wouldn’t go bad, there wasn’t a lot of food I could piece together to make a meal with. So my roommate and I went to the supermarket to stock our fridge with food, which always makes me happy.

Now, one item we had used up before the break was pancake mix. Now, for as long as I can remember my family has been a Bisquick house, so naturally I went looking for the Bisquick when we finally found the pancake mix. However, we soon realized there was no dry pancake mix.

So instead, I wanted to try Aunt Jemima’s Pancake Mix. And that is what we bought. I’m assuming most people are familiar with Aunt Jemima’s Pancake Mix, it has been around since 1888, a long time.

But what most don’t know is the reason I wanted Aunt Jemima’s Pancake Mix was because I read an article on it in one of my history classes. Yes, I am enough of a nerd to seek out specific brands because of their historical appeal.

This article explained the entire history of Aunt Jemima’s Pancake Mix, over the last 100 years it has been around. It first explained how the mix got its name. The original founders, Chris L. Rutt and Charles G. Underwood created a mix, and needed a brand name to go along with it. After seeing a show Rutt stumbled on the name Aunt Jemima after seeing a show featuring a character with the same name.

The Aunt Jemima character was a staple for comedy shows in the South after the Civil War. She was a character in the same way Uncle Tom was, usually being the butt of a joke. However, she was unparalleled in the kitchen, an amazing cook. She was similar to the mammy character, which is basically the well-treated content happy slave character Southerners created to help justify slavery. That’s right, when you buy Aunt Jemima’s Pancake Mix, you’re really buying into a long held stereotype.

Aunt Jemima went through a transformation, and an elaborate story was placed behind her character. Crafty marketers shaped her into a real woman, one who witnessed the Civil War, and whose pancakes were known throughout the South. After the war, the story went, she sold her recipe so people at home could enjoy the same wonderful pancakes she had made before. Though the sales pitch, and the colorful women found to portray Aunt Jemima, the pancakes began to sell quickly, and became a hit in the U.S. It was a simple illusion, the working class woman could have the luxurious pancakes featured in a Plantation in the South. And it worked.

Most of my information I received from an article I had to read for a class, “Aunt Jemima Explained: The Old South, the Absent Mistress, and the Slave in a Box” by Maurice M. Manring. Therefore, it is only right to credit him for his research, and for the information I gained from it. As always, if you want to learn more about the subject, read the material. Also while searching I found that Manring also published a book titled: “Slave in a Box: the Strange Career of Aunt Jemima.”

I must admit: Aunt Jemima makes a good pancake. So go break open the box of pancake mix, and stir up a little history.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What makes St. Patrick's Day Specail?

This Wednesday, March 17th is a special day. It is St. Patrick’s Day, an Irish holiday which traveled to the U.S. probably with the Irish immigrants at the end of the 19th Century.

There are two larger questions regarding this holiday. The first was who is St. Patrick? According to the historychannel.com, St. Patrick was originally British, and came to Ireland after the fall of the Roman Empire when the Irish began raiding Britain for slaves. He was enslaved in Ireland for 10 years before he finally escaped to the continent, where be became a priest. He returned to Ireland and successfully converted the entire country from a pagan society to a Catholic one. Thus, the story about St. Patrick banishing all the snakes from Ireland is half true. A snake in Christianity is someone who deals with the devil, someone who does not believe in the same religion, someone like, oh I don’t know… a pagan perhaps.

The other question to ask at this point is the one posed on my subject title for this week: what makes St. Patrick’s Day special? The answer is pretty obvious (at least for me, a college student)… it is a massive party. And what makes this party so much fun? Mass amounts of drinking of course.

Today, I’m going to do something a little different. In conjunction with the holiday, I am going to blog about a commodity, a good in today’s society. A certain beverage that has been in our society for ages. This beverage is one many know, and love… beer.

I think every person has his or her preferred beer, I like mine dark. But what I don’t think a lot of people know is the history of beer, which is a really long one. I found a really wonderful article giving some background information in early history about beer and how it was consumed around the world. I only have the space to summarize it, but it really is fascinating, so if you have the time, click the link to check it out.

Fermented beverages (yes that includes beer) have been consumed for centuries. Some have even been made out of rice as well as grains. These fermented drinks played an important role in the early religious life in China; they believed the Gods prescribed the use of alcohol in moderation. These drinks were used throughout society for hospitality. Fermented drinks made of grapes (i.e. wine) were not as well known in the east.

In South America “chicha” is the term that referred to native beer, which contained a slight amount of alcohol. Maize was usually used to create this beer, although other materials could be used, like potatoes (which originated in South America, not Ireland).

In fact, only the Aborigines people of Australia and the Eskimos lived without consuming alcohol in their diet!

It was in Mesopotamia where beer was born, because it was there where barley could be grown. In addition to the other grains which were grown in the area, the Mesopotamians were able to produce a wide variety of beers, although they were not strong by today’s standards. These beers were also drank with straws so the drinker did not consume the sediment left at the bottom of the glass (gross mental image). Beer was a popular drink in Ancient Egypt, enjoyed by all classes of society.

Wine has always been the preferred beverage of the wealthy, and it seems the only claim the drink had was its stronger alcohol content than beer. Wine was also consumed widely through the ancient Middle East. This eventually spread to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who preferred wine over beer. Beer was consumed in the Roman Empire, especially along the boarder areas. This makes sense: the tribes around the Roman Empire preferred beer, especially the Celts in Britain, France and Germany. It was at high Celt festivals where mead was preferred to beer. It is also believed it was the people of Celtic origin who kept the practice of brewing beer alive all through Europe.

Now, to the Middle Ages. Again, if anyone is interested, I found several references to a book titled: Beer in the Middle Ages and Renaissance by Richard Unger. So, want to do a little light reading about beer in the Middle Ages, check out the book.

I have learned in a previous class (Medieval England) that brewing was predominantly a woman’s job. During this time period, sanitation was not existent, so beer was the safer bet than the water supply was. For this reason, mead, or beer was the better choice, and almost every family produced their own supply of beer. This caused many Kings, including one King of England to create an Assize of Ale. This meant that if you did not follow a precise recipe to produce your beer, you would be taxed. The catch, this recipe created a very weak beer. People did not follow the Assize, and when they were caught they were taxed.

However ale is not the same as beer, since it consists of malt, water and yeast. At the start of the 15th Century beer came into existence when the recipe was important to England from Flanders. Hops was added to the mixture, making the beer bitter. Beer was readily available to every person, from the queen and her court, to the common person. It was even common at the work place, again because the water supply was still unsafe and unfit for consumption comparatively.

Americans were introduced to beer through our European roots, and it has taken off today. There is a long history of beer in America, but today beer serves a different purpose than during the Middle Ages. Water is safe to drink, and beer is not just of religious rituals anymore. However, it does serve as a good beverage to celebrate just about anything, a holiday, a good test grade, or making it through a hard day. Today, beer is just as important as it was in the past, and it has survived the test of time. So next time you grab a beer realize it has an interesting history, and thousands of years have gone into producing that beer you are about to enjoy.

Feel free to post on my blog, your favorite beers, or maybe what you use it to celebrate, or any other feedback you want me to know. I’m open to just about everything. I think I’ll celebrate this blog by grabbing myself a beer. Until next week, as always, happy history!

Monday, March 8, 2010


As I was searching for something to blog about this week, I realized that nothing happened this week. Ok, not true, things did happen; despite common knowledge something happens every day. But I could not find something really riveting that I wanted to blog about this week. March 8th marks the anniversary of the first Russian Revolution, but I already blogged about the event marking the February date corresponding to the Russian calendar.

So I find myself in a predicament; I really want to find a good topic to blog about this week since I didn’t really do anything too historical last week.

So, as I’ve been searching, for something, anything really interesting not only for me to learn about (Because surprisingly I actually learn quite a lot about random history by doing this blog) but also something interesting for my readers.

And the best I found under the circumstances were a lot of hockey events happening this week. So I’ll take the bate, and look a little closer at hockey this week and how it came to be a major sport not only in the U.S. but around the world.

Personally, hockey is not one of my favorite sports, and beyond watching the game between the U.S. and Canada at the Olympics, don’t really follow the sport. However, just like football which I blogged about earlier, Hockey has a long interesting history.

In my search through websites Hockey began to be played as far back as 4000 years ago, and it was known as the “ball and stick game.” That does make sense, you try to hit a ball with a stick, I do know that much about the sport (I really do know more than I’m letting on). Hockey was played in Egypt, Rome, Scotland and South America, although it was referenced differently in each location. The Irish dubbed the name “Hockie” and the term stuck. I see the similarity, hockie to hockey… pretty crafty.

In the 17th and 18th Centuries in England the game became fierce, with nearly 100 players on one team, and some games lasting as long as half a month. Eventually hockey was organized more and rules were introduced to the sport from Eton College in England, and in the year 1875 the Hockey Association was formed.

The sport really began to grow in North America, where it spread first to Canada then the United States. In 1875 the first game of ice hockey was played, and the origins of the sport are credited to J.G. Creighton. The first rink for ice hockey was used for curling, and initially there were as many 30 players on each team and the goals were two stones frozen on one side of the ice.

The game eventually traveled to America by 1893 and traveled to Europe by the 1900’s.

Speaking of the latest Olympic games, once the game was introduced to the Olympic games in 1924 that the sport grew in popularity. Back then only male teams were allowed to play.

The NHL was formed in 1917, with 30 teams, 24 that are in the U.S. and the others in Canada.

Once again, I do not frequently watch Hockey, I only watched a couple games in middle school because everyone loved hockey. Back then Colorado had a great team, and then there was the walk out, and the game got changed dramatically. Even so, today Ice Hockey is one of the most popular sports in the U.S.

I am sorry if my knowledge of hockey is not up to par, but more than anything I hope that after reading this you know a little more about where the game came from and the sports long history. Next week I have a very interesting blog planned. Until then I wish everyone a great week, and as always happy history!

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Once again, another week, another blog, and I do always look forward to writing. Although instead of looking for a historical event, I’m going to blog about the Holocaust. Now, the Holocaust is one specific genocide in a list that is longer than most people would care to acknowledge, or even worse, a list than is longer than some people know.

I am at taking the opportunity to blog about the Holocaust this particular week because for the second year I am a part of a Colorado State University group known as Students for Holocaust Awareness. Our main goal as a student org is to put on a Holocaust Awareness Week every year, a week that has different events every evening. There is the Survivors Panel on Monday night, a move on Tuesday, a Key Note presentation Wednesday, and a genocide evening Thursday.

The Holocaust is something that hits home with me on a personal level, which is why I decided to join the group. My mother is Jewish. My grandmother worked in a work camp, and was able to survive the war. Some of her family was not so lucky. But after having to deal with people’s bullshit for the second year in a row, the impact the week has on people has been lost to me. I’ve been funning around, and barely had any time to myself, while others simply took my hard work for themselves to make themselves look good.

There is surprisingly, a person behind the blog after all, and I suppose I am allowed one bitchy blog at least once a year. Being sick, tired and emotionally drained, I think I’ll take advantage.

There is nothing I could say about the Holocaust that would surprise anyone (at least I hope not). Every time I hear a survivor speak I hear something new, and while I have been exposed to the stories since a young age, there are still things that shock me, although not much. The universal life suffering events are the same, but the stories of hope and survival are all unique.

I think one thing people need to realize is the Holocaust is one specific genocide. We strive to teach people so it will not happen again. Yet even though the knowledge of the past is there, genocide is still happening.

My goal is to try and apply history to today so perhaps people can understand its relevance. I think this is one of the most relevant pieces of history to today.