Hail to Ye Olde Non-Locavores!
Let’s face it.
If our culinary forebears had stuck to locally grown foods, and not carted crates of edibles half way around the world, we would be boring eaters, indeed. Many fabulous dishes and flavors we associate with the Old World would not exist.
Of course, there were mistakes along the way as people moved foods into new environments. The most egregious that comes to mind is phylloxera. A root louse to which American grapes are immune, these pests hitchhiked to Europe on vine cuttings and nearly destroyed the European wine industry in the 19th century.
And, the Americas could have done without Europe’s dandelions, thank you.
On a happier note, take chili peppers and bell peppers, originally from Latin America.
The source of the heat we associate with Indian food, chili peppers did not exist there until introduced by Portuguese and Spanish sailors only a few hundred years ago. Vindaloo, the searing stew from the Goa region, is actually a derivative of a Portuguese dish called “carne de vinha d’alhos”, meat with wine and garlic. Peppercorns, native to the Far East, used to be the main source of culinary heat in that part of the world, and having tasted fresh green peppercorns on a curry in Bangkok, I can attest to their fiery flavor.
What would Hungarian cuisine be without paprika? Similarly, stuffed bell peppers are staples of many other middle/northern European cuisines, and Italian sausage and peppers is a classic.
Tomatoes, eggplants and potatoes are other foods of the Americas which enriched cuisines wherever they were imported. Imagine pasta without red sauce, Provence without ratatouille, and Ireland without potatoes.
While legumes such as fava beans, lentils, dals, soybeans, and black eyed peas were staples in the Old World, it was not until the 16th century that string beans, navy beans, lima beans and the like were introduced there. Enterprising French botanists created what we now call the flageolet, a delicious bean we associate with that country; similarly cannellini beans were developed in Italy from American stocks. France’s famed cassoulet, originally made with favas, not the white beans used today, is the ancestor of Boston baked beans.
Traveling in the other direction across the Atlantic were most of the fruits we Americans take for granted: peaches, plums, pears, melons and even apples.
“As American as Apple Pie”? Not quite!