Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Mystery of the Pineapple Upside Down Cake

"Every age, every culture, every custom and tradition has its own character, its own weakness and its own strength, its beauties and cruelties;"- Herman Hesse

Although it is still a mystery to most food historians on when the first Pineapple Upside Down Cake was originally made, the cake has been dated back to 1924 (Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads (1995) Sylvia Lovegren). Since this cake is one of my favorites, with caramelized sweet and succulent pineapple in combination with a light airy cake topped with Marachino cherries, it always makes me smile when I eat it. So, I chose to make a variation on an old theme by making Pineapple Upside Down Muffins.

This idea of making a variation on an old theme got me to thinking about modern day food and its evolution compared to tradtionaly prepared food and menus. It is no surprise that people eat different today than in years or centuries past. People have evolved, food products are readily available, and technology has played a large part in the evolution of food preparation. What once took several hours to prepare, might now only take an hour. Old traditions and cultures slowly have evolved and have been replaced with modern conveniences and new ideas of how life is to be lived with an emphasis on making things faster, quicker and easier.

As I began to emphatically study French cuisine since I have moved to France, with of course Julia Child serving as my reference Bible with her clear American explanations and instructions which I love, I decided to start looking into the nuances of French culture and traditions that I feel both are related to each other gastronomically and philosophically.

What strikes me as most interesting is the fact that one of the reasons that a country like France appeals to many people worldwide is its wealth in its preservation of its grandiose historical landmarks and architecture, and the way that the French live with this constant underlying presence of an ancient time with their small streets and old buildings, yet in a modern era with cell phones and laptops. It is this ancient influence that I as an American, believe that the French are rich in their traditions, even though globalization and new generations are tending to slack off on keeping these traditions as alive as they used to be.

So now, with all of this in mind, I fear that gastronomically, we are losing our keeness in traditional flavors of classic prepared dishes, that are either unappetizing now, because of their fat content and the long time they take to prepare. Lets face it, microwaves are in most kitchens, and in 2 minutes, Voila! I can have a hot dinner. Where does that leave the gastronomic imprint in our minds when a certain flavor is lost or forgotten over time.

As I obsessively study my cookbooks and food magazines, I see all the artfully prepared gourmet presentations, almost too beautiful to eat, but I wonder, if these plates would take me back to a historical time in France, or even to a grandmother's kitchen. I highly doubt it.

For me, food is passion, food is love, food is an experience of life, and a representation of what we grow, the time it takes to grow, the harvest, and how we transform these precious ingredients into a tradition that stays with us throughout our lives and the lives of our children. My fear, is that these traditions are slowly fading, and that generations before me will not reach the minds of generations to come.

I can study, cook and read to my hearts content, but I must not forget the flavors of yesterday since they are the basis and foundation of every plate I will cook.

But I have to say, these Pineapple Upside Down muffins sure taste good.

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