The Weekend Series: five of your favourite foods that weren’t meant to happen
It’s the ultimate zero to hero scenario – you get home after a long day at work to realise you’ve skipped grocery shopping (again) and are forced to create some sort of ‘fridge a la surprise’ concoction from scratch. Nine times out of ten these creations are sketchy at best, but every now and then we can strike gold using the genius combination of laziness, necessity and luck. As it turns out, some of the world’s most beloved cuisines were the result of accidents – from potato chips to cereal, we’ve picked five of our favourite food flukes from history.
As well as being convenient and delicious, ice-cream cones were created on the spot as a quick-fix solution. It was 1904 at the St. Louis World’s Fair where a man named Ernest A. Hamwi was selling a crisp, waffle-like pastry called zalabis – in a booth right next to an ice-cream vendor. Ice-cream proved so popular that the vendor ran out of bowls to hold it, which is when Ernest stepped in with his MacGuyver-style solution – he simply rolled his zalabis into a cone shape, waited for it to cool and then his next-door neighbour was able to use it as a vessel for the frosty goods.
This is probably one of the only times when we will say that an insufferably fussy customer was actually right in being a jerk, because it led to the creation of the potato chip. The year was 1853 and George Crum was dealing with some serious sass from a gent who kept sending his French fries back, claiming that they were too thick. George ran out of patience and sliced the potatoes razor thin, fried them until crisp and covered them in extra salt. Turns out the customer thought they were an absolute delight – so many years later, here we are reaping the benefits of a salty chef.
Here’s one accident that goes quite a way back – to ancient China if you want to get specific. There are a couple of theories floating around as to exactly who is responsible, but legend has it that boiled, ground soybeans were accidentally mixed with impure sea salt that was contaminated with calcium and magnesium salts. This made the soybeans gel, and tofu was born! Another account attributes a clumsy chef accidentally dropping nigari (a natural coagulant) into a pot of soybean milk, creating a curdling effect that produced tofu. Either way, vegetarians the world over are grateful.
If the Seventh-day Adventists didn’t have such a strict diet, we wouldn’t have one of the most universally loved breakfast cereals. In 1894, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the superintendent of The Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan and an Adventist, was trying to develop a vegetarian diet for his patients. John and his younger brother, Will Keith Kellogg, left some cooked wheat to sit while they attended to some drama going down at the sanitarium. By the time they got back, the wheat had gone stale, but these were some brothers on a budget. They tried to salvage the product by forcing it through rollers, hoping to obtain long sheets of the dough. To everyone’s surprise, the machine made flakes, which they toasted and served to their patients – the results were very tasty indeed.
Here in Queensland we are no strangers to the humble ice block, so it may blow your mind when you discover that this summertime staple was invented by an 11-year-old kid. The year was 1905, and a young Frank Epperson had unwittingly left a cup filled with powdered soda, water, and a stirring stick on his San Francisco porch. Low overnight temperatures caused the mixture to freeze, and Frank’s ‘Epsicle’ was created. It wasn’t until 1924 that he patented the treat, changing the name to ‘popsicle’ (because his children called them Pop’s sickles – cute!).
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