Picnic foods are from…where?

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)


Here’re some dishes you’re likely to find at a cookout or picnic:

  • Fried or grilled chicken
  • Carrot and celery sticks
  • Green beans
  • Baked beans
  • Squash casserole
  • Potato salad
  • Cornbread
  • Bread roll
  • Banana cream pie

We’d call them typical of or commonly found at such an event here in Georgia. Indeed, you may have eaten at least one in the past week or two.

Their universality suggests they may be “from” here. Are they actually native foods? Consider:

  • Chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus) are native to Asia, and may have been domesticated in Vietnam. They are domesticated descendents of junglefowl (Gallus species).
  • Carrots (Daucus spp.) are native to Europe and Southwest Asia. The oldest carrots were yellow and red. Orange carrots date to the seventeenth century. Celery (Apium graveolens) was used in the eastern Mediterranean by ancient Greeks and Romans. Because of the bitterness of the stalks, early use focused on the seeds, roots, or leaves. Some people are allergic to a chemical in celery, and in Europe, foods containing celery must be marked, as we do with nuts here.
  • picnic_tomatoes_150.jpgGreen beans (Phaseolus spp.) are native to the New World. The earliest archaeological specimens are from Peru.
  • Baked beans are beans like green beans, but different varieties are selected. Most people make baked beans with navy beans. Baked beans are sometimes made with tomato sauce, and sometimes with molasses; some cooks use both. Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) are native to South America, and were cultivated in Mexico by 500 BC. Molasses is most commonly made from sugar cane (Saccharum spp.), which is native to tropical Asia.
  • picnic_yellow_squash.jpgSquash (Cucurbita spp.) were first cultivated in Mesoamerica.
  • Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are native to the Andes of Peru, in South America.
  • Cornbread has two main ingredients. Corn is maize, of course, and maize (Zea mays) is native to southern Mexico. The second ingredient is wheat flour.
  • Bread rolls are mostly wheat flour, with a few other minor ingredients. Wheat (Triticum spp.) is native to the geographic arc that extends from northern Egypt to southern Turkey.
  • Banana creme pie. Bananas are from the genus Musa, and they’re native to Southeast Asia. Cream is skimmed from milk produced by female cattle. All the varieties of cattle are of the genus Bos. Their ancestor is the auroch (Bos primigenius), which lived in Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Genetics suggest the aurochs were native to India.

What’s most interesting here? The assortment of foods native to Asia? Or the Mediterranean? Is it that the famous Mesoamerican trilogy of corn, beans, and squash (often called the Three Sisters) are represented?

OR that none of the principle ingredients is native to North America? AND that Europe is underrepresented as a native zone?

What other dishes do you usually eat at a picnic? What part of the world are the major ingredients of those dishes from?

BONUS: what kind of plant is shown in the big picture at the top of this story?