There are so many things in our lives that we take for granted. Simple things like spoons and combs and toilet paper weren’t around when early man left the savannahs of Africa for parts unknown. Those things had to be invented by people who saw a need and devised a better way. Spoons and combs are infinitely better than fingers, and without question toilet paper is superior to leaves or handfuls of sand(!)
Many things we know and love came about with a dash of serendipity. For instance, the soap we know today was surely started from a combination of circumstances at the hearth — wood ash and water make lye. Fat from cooked meats when exposed to lye sets off a chemical reaction. Taken together, ash, water, and fat make soap. The thing is, serendipity requires someone to notice something. Then it takes someone to do it again on purpose.
This business of noticing and perfecting serendipitous events takes many forms. Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin is one such moment of serendipity. Corn Flakes breakfast cereal is another. In fact, many episodes of serendipity built up over time actually lead us right to cookies.
After consuming one too many cookies during the holidays, I’m still keeping them at arm’s length until spring. If you stop to think about it, the humble cookie owes its existence to many unrelated serendipitous events. Off the top of my head — Flour: Hunter gatherers harvested wild grains wherever they came across the plants until someone thought it would be easier to put the seed where they wanted it to grow. Then someone thought the largest most robust seeds were best. Then someone cultivated only the best. From there we have agriculture.
Other things factor in to the cookie‘s background. Take animal domestication. Eggs and butter for human use came about much the same as agriculture did. It was just easier to keep the birds in one place and take their eggs as needed and borrow milk from lactating goats, cows, and sheep you kept in a pen. Other components required someone to notice them first before they became perfected processes. Yeast, for example, floated through the air and helped bread to rise and liquids to ferment. Someone had to notice the changes and wonder why. Baking powder came about because a scientist thought to help his wife whose allergy to yeast prevented her from enjoying breads. Making sugar from various plant juices began when someone figured out when sweet juice evaporated it left sweeter crystals behind. Again, someone had to notice. These are just the main ingredients. There’s more! Peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies have very complicated beginnings:
Peanut butter >> Global exploration to South America (global exploration consists of its own pile of serendipitous events) >> cultivation >> Peanuts tweaked by George Washington Carver’s personal inspiration.
Chocolate Chips >> Bitter Cacao used by Olmec, Maya and Aztec civilizations>>>Global exploration to South America >>cocoa tweaked by the Dutch>>>Ruth Wakefield chops up a chocolate bar to add to her sugar cookie dough and invents the first chocolate chip cookie in 1937 — the Toll House Cookie.
Add to all of the above what it took to turn iron ore into steel baking pans and utensils. Add to this fuel production for our stoves. And finally, add the myriad this and thats I’ve forgotten. Connections between disparate things and events always fascinate me.
So why am I talking cookies today? It’s National Fig Newton Day.
Cookie fact: To test oven temperature before baking a large cake, Dutch cooks would bake a little batter first. These little test cakes were called koekje or little cake.
I often wonder where certain words and sayings come from. For the next few weeks this word collector will be examining some familiar phrases to get at their heart. I think you’ll be surprised.
The phrase for today is ~As the Cookie Crumbles
Like the French C’est la vie ( such is life) As the Cookie Crumbles is one of those certainty phrases that refer to our accepting the unpredictable fortunes of existence. Variations include that’s the way it goes and that’s the way the ball bounces. As far as I’ve been able to discover, this slang term appears in print in America sometime in the 1920s. Hey, cookies have crumbs. It’s a sure thing.
Today is Author Jean Hart Stewart’s blog day. http://romancebooks4us.blogspot.com/
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