Most self-professed foodies will be aware that it was Ruth Wakefield, and not the imaginary Betty Crocker, who invented the chocolate chip cookie (originally the ‘Toll House’ cookie after her popular Inn) back in 1930. But how many of us have ever thought about the origins of some of our beloved, must-have, go-to eats? Or what our lives would be like without them? Here is a list of the top 5 goodies of all time (and a couple more thrown in for good measure) that strangely, have not been around for that long a time. In no particular order:

Peanut Butter and Jelly: It is hard to find on restaurant menus but few of us have not experienced a PB&J in our early youth. The iconic sammie features a commercial product straight from the jar, and may be smooth or various degrees of crunchy, with strawberry or grape jelly on white bread, with or without crusts. Variations abound and today other nut butters substitute for those with peanut allergies. Where did this paragon come from? Dr. Kellogg of Battle Creek Michigan opened a sanitorium in the 1880s for wealthy folks suffering from a wide assortment of ailments. With money came notoriously poor diets, that were too rich in fats and animal proteins. At his wellness resort, Kellogg introduced the elite to the benefits of exercise, fresh air and healthy foods. For one of his kitchen experiments (he also invented cereal), Kellogg added vegetable oil to mashed peanuts, for reasons unknown named it “Skippy”, and a lunchbox staple was born!

Fortune Cookie: Although its origins are murky, the Fortune Cookie most likely was conceived on the West Coast, possibly in San Francisco, where there was and is a large Asian population. Traditional Chinese meals do not end with dessert, whereas, by the early 1900s, emerging middle-class Americans liked to show off their newly acquired fortunes by closing a repast with coffee and something sweet. In warmer climates the thin dough did not require leavening and was crisp, light and the perfect accompaniment to strong coffee. The cookie’s enclosed fortune made the meal and the occasion more memorable. And today, as a sign of the times, many fortunes are supplemented with Lotto numbers! Like Chow Mein, do not expect to find Fortune Cookies on any menu on the Chinese mainland. Asians apparently disdain any bastardisation of their beloved cuisines. Perfect. As. Is.

Potato Chips: Back in the 19th century, wealthy Manhattanites summered in lakeside resort towns, such as Saratoga Springs in upstate New York. The story goes that at the upscale Moon Lake Lodge, the nation’s leading captain of industry, Cornelius Vanderbilt, kept returning his side dish of fried potatoes complaining that they were too thick. By the third time Vanderbilt rejected his efforts, Native American chef George Crum had had it with American royalty’s pompous attitude. For his fourth effort Crum sent out a plate of potatoes sliced to the point of transparency, fried to a crisp, then heavily salted. Surprise! They were a big hit and the chef was lauded in the press around the world. So why aren’t they called ‘Potato Crumbs’? (Grace note: by the time this author attended college in Saratoga, the Lodge was long gone, but Crum’s memory was being kept alive. Nearly every menu in town honored his ‘invention’, and none served commercially-made chips from a bag!)

Mac and Cheese: Before chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese was one food item known to appease little ones and their finicky palates, even if it meant creating a carb addict for life. If you have raised a toddler, you know mac and cheese is a godsend. This creamy, salty, hot, and comforting meal in a bowl still makes toddlers of us all. It’s origins are unknown, but it appears on menus from Monticello, and it is known to have been Thomas Jefferson’s favorite repast. Ten years ago, mac and cheese went upscale and began appearing at many a fine dining establishment. Handmade veggie pasta or with the addition of squid ink, toppings that included caviar and lobster, and mascarpone, butter,, and wine substituted for humble American or cheddar cheese and milk sauces. Guess we all never outgrew our beloved Mac and Cheese! We don’t have to!

Buffalo Wings: Today there is a national chain that just produces this product in many variations, but allegedly, Buffalo Wings were invented in the 1960s. Late one night, to appease a group of hungry frat boys, one of which was her own son, Teressa Bellissimo, who owned the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY, set about crafting a midnight snack for the horde. She used whatever she could find in the walk-in: food scrap chicken wings intended for use in soup stock. That night the lads dined on deep fried wings anointed with hot sauce, accompanied by celery sticks and a ranch dressing chaser. (Following this author’s education trail- by grad school I was a vegetarian so while my friends raved about the wings at Teressa’s, across the table I had to make do with a pallid salad. True. Story.) Three things about Buffalo Wings: purists will never eat wings that have been pre-frozen, order your fresh wings from your butcher a week before Super Bowl Sunday or miss out, and no one in Buffalo, NY refers to them as “Buffalo Wings”. Don’t. Ask.

Turducken: What can you say about a food whose first syllable evokes something you’d find in a barnyard? Which came first, the chicken, the duck, or the turkey? Essentially three nested carcasses of mixed poultry slow roasted to doneness in an oven, the Turducken came into being in the South in the 1980s. This author experienced the delicacy at that time and at the place of its origin and was underwhelmed. Suffice it to say it is an acquired taste and, due to its expense, not wildly populating menus anywhere. But it does have its rabid loyalists. BTW: If you make this at home remember to use a meat thermometer!

So the next time you reach for one of your mandatory diet staples, remember where they came from and what each does to make your day and life a little bit brighter! Nutrition be damned!
Joy rules!

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