How traditional are "traditional" receipes?

This video from vlogbrothers made me wonder, just how old are most traditional foods and dishes.

The old cookbooks I have seen have lots of receipes for dishes which were regular food once but rarely eaten anymore. Of course even stuff which got to the present day has had to adapt to changing availability of items.

Would say someone from 1918 (lets ignore the war and rationing for the moment) recognize the stapl foods and dishes that are eaten today? In the US. Europe. I know the answer for S Asia is no, since chicken and various pulses are eaten a lot more than they used to be.

I would guess a couple hundred years at most. Tomatoes are a significant part of southern Italian cuisine but there’re from the new world and even after they made it to Europe it was thought they were poisonous and were ornamental only for some time. Similar history occurs with potatoes and Ireland, and any cuisine such as Thai or Schezuan with hot peppers - both new world plants.

Yup, stupid me. I should have specified, post Columbian exchange! But, yes, thats the biggest cut off point.

I found it very interesting as a kid to see what my Great Aunt, born in Northern England around 1910 ish and brought up in a very traditional and unadventurous working class household, wouldn’t eat, and why.

Potatoes were completely fine and formed a large part of her diet, but she considered tomatoes (and yogurt, for some reason) to be ‘foreign’ and refused to try either, though we grew tons of tomatoes at home. Bananas were surprisingly fine, she ate half of one every morning, otherwise fruit meant apples, pears, currants and berries that could be grown in the garden only, ideally processed into jam or something rather than fresh. Garlic was pretty suspicious, probably French, and best avoided. She might grudgingly eat lettuce leaves raw maybe a little raw carrot, but other vegetables were only edible if they were cooked thoroughly dead, preferably boiled yellow.

Lasagne was the only acceptable form of pasta (I’m actually not sure she knew it was pasta, she wasn’t cooking it), otherwise pasta was novelty nonsense suitable only for little kids. Lasagne was clearly foreign, but similar enough to familiar foods to be acceptable. Carbs were bread and potatoes. I don’t remember if she ate rice, but we mainly had it with curry, which she wouldn’t eat, so she’d get something else to eat while she watched us and glowered.

Nothing savoury and strongly spiced was OK, that was, again, foreign and therefore suspect. Cinnamon and ‘festive’ spice was acceptable in sweet Christmas food, but at no other time. Chilli was right out.

Meat was all OK, whether it was home grown chicken or rabbit (she’d help pluck/skin them) or from the butcher, likewise I don’t remember her ever refusing a fish, though my uncle used to bring back some weird ones from [del]poaching[/del]fishing trips.

I think she wouldn’t recognise most of my diet as edible. It’s hard to say how much was just her, but I think the majority of her food quirks were pretty directly from what was normal for her as a kid.

Lots of stuff that’s “traditional” is anything but - the classic examples being the “Ploughman’s Lunch” and Anglo-indian curries like Chicken Tikka Masala and the normal British version of Vindaloo.

I was also surprised fish and chips only dates to the 1860s

I suspect secondary cut off points will be around food preservation technologies, e.g. canning and refrigeration. This means that you can not only eat food out of season but also eat non-local foods. That might mean far flung exotica but it can also mean fish 100 miles inland.

Transport is a related factor - once your supplier base is beyond your immediate environs, increased competition drives down costs and makes food accessible at income levels it wasn’t before. Meat was a luxury for the urban working class in the mid-19th century, for example.

Relatedly, we’re much more picky about the kind of meat we eat. I remember cuts like tongue and oxtail being available when I was a kid (early 80s) but even at that point offal wasn’t to be seen in supermarkets.

Thisis an interesting article about changes in UK diet since even 1974:

Less white bread and full fat milk
Less liver (it’s always nice when your anecdote gets backed up!)
More salmon, less white fish
More frozen veg, less canned (it’s a rare household with no freezer nowadays)
Less tea (!)
More pizza and pasta
Survey hasn’t asked about home-laid eggs since 1991

Haha, I think you’ve basically described my father (born 1928, England). Most definitely my grandparents.

Garlic was always viewed with GREAT suspicion - it’s what the stinky French ate. We had curry, but it was extremely mild and served with bowls of chopped banana, coconut and peanuts, to calm our burning mouths.

My Dad still won’t eat corn - that’s animal feed.

My Dad and his parents also wouldn’t countenance any kind of sauce - even some gravy on the roast beef was ‘messing about with food’. Which was apparently a Bad Thing.

Things have changed in the UK, A Lot. So it’s hard to see how much of what we eat is particularly traditional. Yorkshire pudding maybe?

Too true, my Mum (now 92 - she had me at a great age) regularly served us ‘heart’, which I loved (little bit chewy, that’s all). I think most of my friends even in the 80s would have a heart attack at the thought.

Thinking about it, I don’t even know what animal it came from.

Based on YouTube’s Townsends’ channel, I think it’s safe to say that American classics date from sometime after the the 18th century.

I think you can get an idea of what “traditional” food is if you can get your hands on a local cookbook, like one published by the local chapter of the Women’s Institute or similar organization. I know my mother had a couple from groups she was involved in, but these only date from the 1970s at the earliest.

I can’t find a cite because google keeps showing me recipes, but I recall reading of a Scandinavian historian who asked people to send in their traditional family recipes as handed down by grandmothers so he could trace changes in diet. It turned out that many of these grandmothers got their traditional, long-hallowed family recipes from the the same 1960s cookbook. There probably is a mechanism by which mass culture/mass media simplifies traditional cooking by giving The One True Recipe.

For my grandmother’s white rural southern family (she was born in 1920) I would assume most of the foods they ate were what is called “soul food” today. I know for a fact that she never had pizza until 1982–I’d guess that in 1918 her family had never even heard of it (or any other type of Itallian, Mecican, Chinese, etc. foods.)

Bananas were widely available in the UK in the 1920s and 1930s, and not expensive.

Refrigerated ships, with steam-powered refrigeration systems existed from the late 19th century. Large quantities of bananas were imported to the UK from the West Indies and Central America by the early 20th century. The round trip took 28 days. 460 refrigerated ships were registered in the UK in 1902.

Oranges were also imported, but tended to be more expensive. Pineapples had been imported from the 18th century on, but were only to be found on the fancy dinner tables of the wealthy.

There’s BBC TV series Back in Time for Dinner, and a few follow-up series, that looks at how food has changed in Britain in the 20th century.

Yeah, I remember finding out for the first time that the food my grandmother cooked was “soul food” and wondered if my grandmother had any idea.

In reality, it’s just what working class Southerners, black or white, ate.

I have a nice little cookbook from the 1930s with plenty of recipes you never hear about today: Chicken fricassee, Turkish eggs (scrambled eggs with honey), lots of veal dishes, etc.

I’m aware of that, I’m pretty into my edible plant history (the pineapple rental industry is one of my favourite bits of historical weirdness), it just confused me, and still does, that tomatoes, even if they were grown at home in the greenhouse, were considered foreign and untrustworthy right up to the early 1900s (300 years after being introduced to the UK). Bananas, however, were barely known in the country just 30 years before my Great Aunt was born and were all imported, but she considered them just ordinary food. She wasn’t alone in that either.

Was it an old hang up from the whole ‘nightshade family’ beliefs that tomatoes were poisonous, or something else?

I find it all pretty fascinating.

I was surprised to learn that the “traditional” Italian bread, ciabatta, was invented in the 1980s buy a patriotic Italian baker who thought his countrymen were eating too many baguettes. I’d suspect an awful lot of what we consider “traditional” food doesn’t predate the 20th Century, if it is even traditional at all.

My guess: Before truck transportation of goods was common and widespread, people didn’t even think about “what will we eat?” in the same way we do now. There was no “hundred-mile diet”, because the “ten-mile diet” was all that people could reasonably get.

In your imagination, enforce “the ten-mile diet” on yourself. See what you come up with. You’re also allowed anything that you can receive by your country’s postal service, but only in the way the postal service ran in 1910.