Why We Drink Mint Juleps at the Kentucky Derby

Mint Juleps

Photo Credit: Tori Avey, ToriAvey.com

It is the very dream of drinks, the vision of sweet quaffings. The Bourbon and the mint are lovers. In the same land they live, on the same food they are fostered. The mint dips its infant leaf into the same stream that makes the bourbon what it is. The corn grows in the level lands through which small streams meander. By the brook-side the mint grows. As the little wavelets pass, they glide up to kiss the feet of the growing mint, the mint bends to salute them. Gracious and kind it is, living only for the sake of others. The crushing of it only makes its sweetness more apparent. Like a woman’s heart, it gives its sweetest aroma when bruised. Among the first to greet the spring, it comes. Beside the gurgling brooks that make music in the pastures it lives and thrives.

- J. Soule Smith, The Mint Julep: The Very Dream of Drinks, 1949

The mint julep, a cocktail made from a mixture of bourbon, powdered sugar, water and mint, is often associated with horse racing. It has been the official drink of the Kentucky Derby for almost a century; according to the website of the annual event, nearly 120,000 juleps are sold at Churchill Downs over the two-day race period. Like most recipes that come from the South, mint juleps have a long and often debated history. It’s widely believed that the name of the drink comes from the Persian word gulab and the Arab word julab, both of which translate to “rosewater.” The term julep was also used to refer to any type of syrupy mixed drink taken with medicine. As early as 1784, mint juleps were prescribed to soothe aching stomachs and help patients who had difficulty swallowing. A legend claims that the mint julep arrived in America when a man was searching near the Mississippi River for water to add to his bourbon. When he saw mint growing wild, he decided to drop a few leaves into his libation—ta da! Mint julep. This is almost certainly a wives’ tale, or as my friend Gil Marks called it, a bubbe meise; most historians agree that the mint julep was developed within Virginia high society during the late 1700s or early 1800s

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Are There Cancer Fighting Foods?

Cancer Fighting Foods

We are what we eat. Though we may not give it much thought on a day-to-day basis, the foods we put into our bodies have a huge effect on our overall health. In recent years, more attention has been paid to nutrition as a means to help prevent illness, and in some cases to support healing. Though it might seem tempting to dismiss diets like gluten free, paleo, macrobiotic and raw as mere fads, they have provided physical relief and supported healing for many individuals. Every body is different, and it can take years of trial and error to find the foods that best suit you as an individual. In the case of a major illness like cancer, there is no silver bullet or magical cure that food can provide. However, a healthy diet is a vitally important part of any healing process. Certain foods have proven nutritional benefits that may help support healing in the fight against cancer.

In our lifetime, most of us will be touched by cancer in some way. Whether we experience it personally or alongside a loved one, this is a battle we are all vested in winning. Food can be looked at as one important part of a comprehensive plan to fight back against this disease. I have compiled this list of foods to share their healing benefits, with a focus on their historical medicinal use. Because each body is unique and every illness has its own challenges, a nutritional plan to support the healing process should be carefully planned in coordination with a physician.

Garlic

Ancient Greek Olympic athletes ate raw garlic to boost their strength and stamina. Long seen as a curative remedy, garlic has been utilized as a natural medicine throughout history, for epidemics ranging from typhus to cholera to dysentery. It’s a great source of antioxidants and it also has anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown that eating garlic may help to lower risk of certain cancers; it has also been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Some substances found in garlic are believed to slow the growth of cancer cells, particularly in the lungs and breasts. A study in San Francisco determined that the risk of pancreatic cancer was significantly lower, around 54 percent, in folks who consumed garlic regularly as opposed to those who ate it occasionally. I’d say those odds are worth a bit of bad breath.

Turmeric

Turmeric has been used medicinally for over 4,500 years, but only recently has it attracted attention for its natural healing properties. Around 500 BCE it emerged as an important part of Ayurveda, an ancient Indian system of natural healing that is still practiced today. Among other things, inhaling fumes from burning turmeric was said to alleviate congestion, turmeric juice helped to heal wounds and bruises, and turmeric paste was applied to all sorts of skin conditions – from smallpox and chicken pox to blemishes and shingles. Curcumin, the healing substance that supplies turmeric’s vibrant color and powerful antioxidant advantages, has been shown to protect healthy cells, particularly those found in the colon, from cancer-causing agents. A 2011 study at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center discovered curcumin’s unique ability to differentiate between cancer cells and healthy cells. Furthermore, it was able to create cell death, known as apoptosis, in cancerous cells while boosting the health of normal cells. Combining turmeric with black pepper may amplify the nutritional benefits. More on turmeric here, including several recipes to try.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes originated in South America; the earliest varieties were small and yellow. The Aztecs of Central America were the first to consume the fleshy fruit and often combined them with peppers to make an early form of salsa. Tomatoes arrived in Spain during the early 1500s and soon after they made their way to Italy. Italians immediately noticed a resemblance to the psychotropic mandrake and belladonna plants and deemed tomatoes a toxic food. This misconception led to tomatoes being used as a mere ornamental plant for some time. Generations of Europeans missed out on tomatoes as a food item. It took over 100 years for the tomato to first appear in an Italian cookbook, and it was not taken seriously as food item until the mid 1800s. More than just a tasty fruit, tomatoes contain lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. Recent studies suggest that lycopene may slow the development of prostate cancer by directly disturbing the enzymes that cause cell tissue growth. Some evidence has shown that the body absorbs lycopene more effectively through processed tomato foods such as sauces, pasteurized tomato soups and ketchup. Adding oil to heated and crushed tomato dishes can also help with lycopene’s absorption into the bloodstream.

Fermented Cabbage

Cabbage was first cultivated over 6,000 years ago. Despite its humble reputation as a cruciferous vegetable, it has appeared in Greek mythology and medieval literature as a symbol of wisdom. While most cruciferous vegetables have cancer-fighting properties, cabbage is unique in that it is most often consumed in the form of sauerkraut. The production of enzymes, vitamins and probiotics created through fermentation aid the body in digestion. Evidence suggests that certain probiotic strains contribute to the microbial balance in your digestive system, which reduces inflammation and supports the immune system.

Chocolate

Every time I read about the health benefits of chocolate, I get happy. Our history with chocolate stretches all the way back to Pre-Columbian times, when the Maya and Olmec civilizations discovered a way to extract chocolate’s rich and complex flavor through fermentation and roasting. Kings and nobles indulged in rich and spicy drinks made from cacao, cornmeal and chilies. For a while now we’ve been hearing that dark chocolate is good for us (in moderation, of course). It has only very recently been studied for possible cancer-fighting properties. Scientists have observed that cocoa contains proanthocyanidins (also known as condensed tannins) that may help to slow the development of certain cancers, particularly those found in the lungs. Further studies are needed to confirm just how much potential chocolate has as a cancer fighter, but so far lab results are looking positive. Note that certain varieties of chocolate have recently been flagged for containing lead and cadmium, so choose your chocolate carefully.

These are just a few of the natural foods that are being studied in the fight against cancer. It’s important to keep in mind that in the medical community, discoveries happen all the time and prevailing wisdom can change. Likewise, each body is different and the foods that support one person’s healing might not be as helpful to another. It’s always best to seek the help of a physician in creating a comprehensive nutritional plan.

If you’re in search of dishes that incorporate some of these formidable nourishing foods, check out the recipes below.

Recipes

Toum recipe

Toum Recipe – Middle Eastern Garlic Sauce

Vegan Lentil Cauliflower Tacos recipe

Vegan Lentil Cauliflower Tacos Recipe

Roasted Tomato Sauce recipe

Roasted Tomato Sauce Recipe

How to Ferment Cabbage and Make Sauerkraut

How to Ferment Cabbage and Make Sauerkraut

Dark Chocolate Fruit Candies recipe

Dark Chocolate Fruit Candies Recipe

Research Sources

Béliveau, Richard, and Denis Gingras. Foods to Fight Cancer: Essential Foods to Help Prevent Cancer. New York: DK Pub., 2007. Print.

Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.

Garlic and Cancer Prevention. National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. Web. March 31 2015.

Madison, Deborah. Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Pub., 2007. Print.

O’Leary, Bill. How much lead is in your chocolate? Washington Post, Feb. 11 2015. Web.

Petrovska, Biljana Bauer and Cekovska, Svetlana (2010). Extracts from the history and medicinal properties of garlic. Pharmacognosy Review, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Web, March 31 2015.

Varona, Verne. Nature’s Cancer-fighting Foods: Prevent and Reverse the Most Common Forms of Cancer Using the Proven Power of Great Food and Easy Recipes. Paramus, NJ: Reward, 2001. Print.

Meet the Author

Tori Avey is a food writer, recipe developer, and the creator of ToriAvey.com. She explores the story behind the food – why we eat what we eat, how the foods of different cultures have evolved, and how yesterday’s food can inspire us in the kitchen today. Tori’s food writing and photography have appeared on the websites of CNN, Bon Appetit, Zabar’s, Williams-Sonoma, Yahoo Shine, LA Weekly and The Huffington Post. Follow Tori on Facebook: Tori Avey, Twitter: @toriavey, or Google+.

What is the History of Turmeric?

History of Tumeric

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Turmeric, the golden colored strongly flavored spice, is having a “moment.” This ancient spice, celebrated for centuries as both food and medicine, has resurfaced within the health and nutrition communities thanks to curcumin, the healing substance which supplies its vibrant color. Curcumin has significant anti-inflammatory properties that are said to rival those found in ibuprofen. Unlike over-the-counter drugs, turmeric has no toxic effects on the body. Curcumin’s powerful antioxidant advantages have been shown to protect healthy cells, particularly those found in the colon, from cancer-causing agents. It aids the body in destroying mutated cancer cells before they have a chance to spread to other areas. Turmeric also helps to lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease. All that, and it’s tasty too!

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Food of the California Gold Rush

California Gold Rush

A forty-niner gold panning in California’s American River, 1850
Photo: L.C. McClure. Source: Wikimedia Commons

When James W. Marshall discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California on January 24, 1848, news traveled fast. In the years that followed nearly 300,000 folks from the US and abroad made their way to the west coast to take a chance at finding their fortune. In 1849 alone, 80,000 new faces entered California. These gold-seeking travelers were dubbed the “forty-niners,” a reference to the year when the rush for gold really picked up steam. Prior to this time California was a territory focused primarily on agriculture. Once word of the gold discovery spread, many farmers abandoned their fields in favor of seeking their fortunes. The small oceanside harbor village of Yerba Buena was soon overflowing with ships; the area became the booming metropolis now known as San Francisco. This turn of events had a major impact on the culinary landscape of California. The state’s potential to become an agricultural heavyweight was put on hold as Oregon stepped up to become the main food provider to the gold-rush population. In 1849, when gold rush towns were first taking root, most food was cooked at the mining sites or in newly established boarding houses and saloons. As more and more travelers arrived from a variety of regions and economic backgrounds, restaurants, hotels and inns were built to accommodate and feed them.

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What Is the History of Eggnog?

History of Eggnog

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Eggnog is a drink that most people either adore or despise; there is rarely a middle ground. It’s not difficult to understand why some folks are wary of the rich and creamy holiday drink. The combination of raw eggs, milk and sugar might seem strange, until one realizes that unfrozen ice cream has the same basic components. Those who fall on the side of loving eggnog look forward to winter, when grocery store coolers fill with every variety of the drink they can dream of. From pumpkin eggnog to organic to dairy free “soy” nog and yes, even eggnog-flavored ice cream… there are many delicious options to toast the holiday season each year.

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History of Pumpkins and Recipe Round-Up

Pumpkin Pie

There is no denying that once autumn rolls in, the pumpkin reigns supreme. All year long folks wait for their favorite coffee shops to fill with the aroma of pumpkin spice lattes. It’s the season when grocery stores stock their shelves with limited edition pumpkin cookies and ice cream. October is synonymous with Halloween jack-o’-lanterns; as Thanksgiving approaches we pull out our time-honored pumpkin pie recipes. It seems that no food symbolizes the blustery fall season quite like pumpkins.

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Mark Twain: A Little Bill of Fare

Mark Twain

Mark Twain. Detail of photo by Mathew Brady, February 7, 1871. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

“An American loves his family. If he has any love left over for some other person he generally selects Mark Twain.”

- Thomas Edison

Mark Twain, American literary luminary, was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835. A brilliant writer and humorist, Twain left behind a number of timeless and eminently quotable works. He is perhaps best known today for his classic American novels, Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In his time, however, Twain rose to fame as a journalist writing short, humorous stories for newspapers. His works of fiction were often inspired by the experiences of his childhood in Hannibal, Missouri. At the time, Missouri made up part of the country’s western border and legally allowed its residents to own slaves. His summers were spent in the slave quarters of his uncle’s farm. There he heard many of the tales that would later influence some of his most famous stories.

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Discover the History of Beets

Beets

Photo courtesy of Tori Avey – How to Roast Beets, ToriAvey.com

They are said to have grown in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The Elizabethans enjoyed them in tarts and stews. Thomas Jefferson planted them at Monticello. Medieval cooks stuffed them into pies. The colorful, sweet root vegetable known as the beet tends to spark an impassioned response from folks who either love it or loathe it. In the anti-beet camp are President Obama and his wife Michelle, who asked that they not be planted in the White House’s organic vegetable garden. Many complain that beets have an “earthy” taste, which isn’t far off the mark. Beets contain a substance called geosmin, which is responsible for that fresh soil scent in your garden following a spring rain. Humans are quite sensitive to geosmin, even in very low doses, which explains why our beet response ranges from one extreme to the other. Some people adore the sweet and earthy flavor of beets, while others can’t stand the thought of them.

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