Shortbread – from Paupers to Posh Parlors

Ever wonder who the first person was to invent your favorite food or dessert? At Vermont Shortbread Company, we ponder such matters all the time… so, we did a little research on shortbread to see what age-old secrets the internet might reveal!

Shortbread, like many other foods that we now consider delicacies, was believe-it-or-not, once snubbed by royalty because it was made with butter, which was considered a waste by-product of milk. Can you even imagine a time when butter-rich foods weren’t considered sheer decadence? We certainly can’t!

Yes, back in the medieval days of knights and noblemen, European dairy farmers would sell most of their milk to the landlords and turn the surplus into cheese and butter, both of which were valued for their long shelf life, and dismissed as a peasant food by the well-to-do who had cash to throw around and apparently gallons of milk to waste freely.

At Christmastime, poor families of the Middle Ages found a brilliant use for the tons of “scorned” butter that remained lying around: mix with sugar, oat or wheat flour and other flavorings to create a sweet and rich-tasting cookie that would later become known as shortbread. Of course, we have no way of knowing who was the original chap to make shortbread… but we do know that once the wealthy got a taste for what they were missing, shortbread and other butter-based cookies became a must-have at the Queen Mum’s afternoon tea table!

Shortbread isn’t the only recipe that wears the rags-to-riches badge of culinary honor. The truth is, *most* gourmet foods and desserts that are prepared by world-famous chefs and listed on the menus of expensive restaurants and posh patisseries, were likely dreamed up by the common folk. Dandelion greens, an acquired taste but nevertheless popular in fine restaurants, were first eaten in America during the Depression when food was sparse and folks had to survive on whatever they could find in the field. In Mexico, the unforgettable avocado is known as the poor man’s butter! And if you consider any of the wild game delicacies that high-end restaurants serve as specialty items (rabbit, wild boar, venison, quail), you might remember the “uncivilized” who first sampled such foods – hungry men on the brink of survival who had to go out and catch their dinner themselves.

So, after our little foray back in epicurean time, it’s clear that shortbread is just one of millions of foods that sprang from a need and blossomed into something amazing thanks to the love, care and creativity of the world’s greatest chefs (many of whom will never get the credit they deserve for their amazing culinary contributions!). And it’s also pretty evident that after several centuries and only slight modification to the recipe, shortbread is as close to perfection as a cookie can get — and a tradition that’s here to stay.

Copyright 2006 Vermont Shortbread Company. All rights reserved.

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Source by Ann Zuccardy