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Random Thu Jan 26 2012

Spoons Came to Chicago in 1893?

America's Test Kitchen FEED blog posted an infographic titled Cakes Throughout US History today. In addition to sharing some tasty looking cakes and their historical significance (starting with Boston cream pie in the 1850s and ending with Smith Island Cake, which became the state dessert of Maryland in 1981), the infographic includes other culinary history trivia to ostensibly put the cakes in context. About a quarter of the way down the timeline, a blurb about the 1893 World's Fair caught my eye.

1893_spoon.jpg1893 Chicago IL Columbian Exposition in Chicago, at which a newfangled eating tool known as a "spoon" becomes all the rage.

So, wait, before 1893, Americans ate their soup with a knife and fork? Thomas Jefferson's slave invented macaroni and cheese but didn't have a spoon to stir it with? Paul Revere's silver shop made place settings of knives, forks and other forks? That seems unlikely.

With a little digging, I think I found the historical tidbit author Mari Levine and illustrator Jay Layman seem to have misinterpreted. According to PBS's "History Detectives," the souvenir spoon was invented in 1889 by a Washington DC silversmith, servicing the fad among the European travelers for collecting small souvenirs bearing the name of the city or country visited. The concept took off, and soon there were hundreds of commemorative spoons being sold in cities across the country. In 1893, the year of the Chicago World's Fair, silver prices plummeted, making souvenir spoons cheaper to produce and more affordable to common folk. The Columbian Exposition was the perfect venue for the fad to explode, as 27 million visitors streamed through. (The spoon, incidentally, has been in use in at least parts of Europe since the 1500s, and in the American colonies since the 1630s.)

1960s_bloodymary.jpgThe infographic's other Chicago footnote is more accurate, if potentially more legend than truth. Supposedly the Bloody Mary received its traditional celery stick garnish in the 1960s when a guest at the Pump Room in the Ambassador East Hotel grabbed one from a relish tray to stir his cocktail. According to historian Barry Popik, the claim is unverifiable, but celery stalks had been served with tomato juice-based drinks in the 1950s and earlier. But hey, at least it's not a complete misstatement of history.

View the full infographic here.

1893_spoon2.jpgUPDATE: America's Test Kitchen has corrected the infographic. It now reads, "World's Columbian Exposition happens, kicking off the Golden Age of collecting commemorative spoons."

 
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Wendy / January 27, 2012 10:42 AM

Just a note: Smith Island Cake became Maryland's Official Dessert in 2008, not 1981.

Andrew Huff / January 27, 2012 11:32 AM

Wow, so they messed up on another date? Who proofed this thing?

vcb / January 29, 2012 6:30 PM

They also left out: BROWNIES invented in 1893 & TWINKIES in 1930, both invented in CHICAGO.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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