December 14, 2012
It’s Christmas Eve in Japan. Little boys and girls pull on their coats, the twinkle of anticipation in their eyes. Keeping the tradition alive, they will trek with their families to feast at … the popular American fast food chain KFC.
Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan—only one percent of the Japanese population is estimated to be Christian—yet a bucket of “Christmas Chicken” (the next best thing to turkey—a meat you can’t find anywhere in Japan) is the go-to meal on the big day. And it’s all thanks to the insanely successful “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!) marketing campaign in 1974.
When a group of foreigners couldn’t find turkey on Christmas day and opted for fried chicken instead, the company saw this as a prime commercial opportunity and launched its first Christmas meal that year: Chicken and wine for
834 2,920 yen($10)—pretty pricey for the mid-seventies. Today the christmas chicken dinner (which now boasts cake and champagne) goes for about 3,336 yen ($40).
And the people come in droves. Many order their boxes of ”finger lickin’” holiday cheer months in advance to avoid the lines—some as long as two hours.
The first KFC Japan opened in Nagoya in 1970 and quickly gained popularity. (There are now over 15,000 KFC outlets in 105 countries and territories around the world.) That same year, at the World Exposition in Osaka, KFC and other American fast food chains like McDonald’s were met with great market testing results and helped jump start the westernized “fast food” movement in Japan. After the big commercial push in ’74, the catchphrase “Christmas=Kentucky” paired with plenty of commercials on TV caught on.
The “Americaness” and simplicity of the message rather than any religious associations with the holiday is what makes it appealing. The Financial Times reports:
“Japan is well known for taking foreign products and ideas and adapting them to suit domestic taste, and Christmas is no exception. A highly commercialised and non-religious affair, lots of money is spent annually on decorations, dinners and gifts. KFC is arguably the biggest contributor, thanks in part to its advertising campaign.
‘One of the reasons the campaign lasted so long is that the message is always the same: at Christmas you eat chicken,’ said Yasuyuki Katagi, executive director at Ogilvy and Mather Japan, the advertising agency.”
These days, KFC records its highest sales volume each year on Christmas eve. Back office staff, presidents and execs come out to help move the lines along. Fried chicken and Christmas have become synonymous: KFC’s advertisements feature major pop cultural figures chomping on drumsticks, the company website even has a countdown until Christmas.
And this year, the company launched a campaign that takes the holiday hype to new heights. From December 1 through February 28 passengers on select trips between Tokyo and eight U.S. and European destinations can enjoy KFC in-flight.
But Japan’s love of American fast food does not dim with the Christmas lights once December 25 has come and gone—KFC’s ability to take its traditional foods and adapt them to Japanese culture has made a bucket of chicken a meal worth having year round. This April, they opened a three-story restaurant at the south entrance of Shimokitazawa station in Tokyo which offers the company’s first-ever, fully stocked whiskey bar—what their website says gives visitors a taste of “Good ‘ol America.”
Though, if you ever find yourself in Japan and not in the mood for fried chicken, Wendy’s Japan offers a $16 foie-gras-and-truffle burger.
December 4, 2012
I love decorating my apartment for the holidays. The day after Thanksgiving, the tree goes up and it—along with windows and tables and other flat surfaces I can do without for the next four to six weeks—are festooned with whatever seasonal odds and ends I’ve amassed over the years. Not sure what it is, but when I walk into my home at night and am greeted by scads of novelty lighting, I suddenly feel at peace with the world. In recent years, I’ve indulged my love for shabby chic (or maybe just campy) decor by making beer can reindeer, which I’m currently using to decorate the living room shelf used to house bottles of my preferred adult beverages. (It’s a theme. I’ll work it for all it’s worth.) But as I began to look at the decorations in my apartment, and ponder how the halls were decked in past Christmases, it occurred to me that there are lots of ways to use goods in the pantry to make your digs a little merrier. Here are a few ideas for the foodie who has yet to trim their home:
Popcorn and/or Cranberries: When I think of garland, my mind immediately gravitates to the metallic boas used to wrap around bannisters and trees—maybe even a younger sibling. But you can also make your own—and from products that will actually biodegrade. One option is to make a garland out of popcorn: buy yourself a bag of popcorn (not the kind you microwave), prepare and, using a needle threaded with waxed dental floss, string on as many fluffy white kernels as your heart desires. When you’re through with the garland, set it outside for the birds. You can also use fresh cranberries. The fruit should dry nicely on the tree and keep for a few weeks; however, be careful about placing fruited garlands on surfaces that might stain. Alternate cranberries and popcorn, or, as Better Homes and Gardens suggests, add slices of lime for a festive splash of green. Some people spray their garlands with shellac so they can be used a little longer; however, if you do, please do not leave these outside for the animals to eat.
Gingerbread: How could you complain about edible ornaments for your tree? Martha Stewart has recipes for gingerbread that will be strong enough to be used as decoration, but not so tough that you can’t enjoy the fruits of your labors. Roll out a tray of gingerbread people, remembering to make a hole so you can string through a length of ribbon. Bake, decorate and hang. The cookies need to set up overnight, but I also wouldn’t let them stay on the tree but for so long. Stored in airtight containers, they keep for a week—so when out in the open, you have a much more limited time frame to eat them. This might be something you want to do a day or two before Christmas. What could be nicer than waking up on the 25th, gathering around the tree and having cookies to dunk in your coffee? You can also make a gingerbread house, which some people eat at the end of the season, but others spray it with a coat of shellac and use it for several years.
Dough: Another classic option is to whip up a batch of ornament dough. Nothing but flour, salt and water, I suppose this is technically edible while raw (not that I’d recommend that), but because you can make it with items you can find in your kitchen, I’m including it on this list. Roll out the dough and make festive cutouts, bake off and decorate with paints, glitter and any other craft trimmings you like. If you’re a Michelangelo in training, sculpt figures—but remember that the back side is going to be resting on a baking sheet and will be completely flat. You can back those ornaments with colored felt to pretty up the undecorated side after they’re baked and cooled. And before baking, don’t forget to make a hole where you want your ornament hanger to go.
Cinnamon: If you have an abundance of cinnamon sticks in your pantry and you’ve no idea how to use them, I strongly suggest making yourself cinnamon stick Santas. Aside from the cinnamon, you just need some acrylic paint to render the facial features and a product called Sno-Tex (also sold under the name snow paint) to create a textured white beard. Attach a ribbon and hang on your tree.
Peppermint: I love wreaths. Between the splash of color and, if you’re using live botanicals, an invitingly aromatic way to greet your holiday visitors at the door. You can also greet your guests at the door with food by crafting a wreath using star mints. For this, you need a coat hanger or metal hoop, bags of mints or other hard candy with the cellophane tails, and embroidery thread. If using a coat hanger, shape the hanger into a circle and begin tying candies onto your wreath form until you have a full wreath. Top with a bow, and you’re good to go. If you’re using candies with cellophane tails on both ends, your guests will have a tail to tug on to get at a holiday treat. If you’re using hard candies with a tail on just one end, consider attaching a small pair of scissors to your wreath with a strand of ribbon or yarn so your guests can easily snip off their candy.
As our regular readers may know, we like our “five ways” posts so I’m cutting it off here. But I’m sure there are lots more ways to work food into holiday home decor. Let us know in the comments section below how you get crafty with food to make the season a little brighter in your home.
Read more articles about the holidays with our Smithsonian Holiday Guide here
November 21, 2012
When Schwan’s Consumer Brands North America, Inc. asked the public in 2008, who makes the best pie, “mom” earned 27 percent in favor with store-bought brands following close behind at 26 percent. Poor “grandma” only got 17 percent of the vote. But the correct answer, according to the American Pie Council’s 2012 Championships, is Jennifer Nystrom. At least, in the category of amateur sweet potato pies.
Nystrom’s original recipe for her maple pecan sweet potato pie took home first place in April. Though she’s been competing at the event for almost a decade, it was the baking enthusiast’s first entry in the sweet potato category.
“Every year I do some kind of apple,” says Nystrom, who also usually enters four or five different categories each year. “I like doing apple, I like doing the berry pies.” In truth, she says, fruit pies are her favorite but she remembered trying a sweet potato casserole with a pecan topping and thought, “I like all of those flavors and I like them together so it would be good in a pie.”
The championships, which accept only original recipes, are held each spring in Orlando, Florida and coincide with the Great American Pie Festival in the nearby town of Celebration, in case competitors haven’t had their fill of pie for the weekend. “We have all our pie friends,” says Nystrom. “It’s like going to summer camp every year.”
After learning about the weekend on the Food Network, Nystrom and her sister decided to give it a try. No novice to the competitive baking scene, Nystrom entered her first contest around age 30. “I entered a cookie recipe contest and I won the grand prize of $10,000 and so I was hooked.”
For what has now become a sort of sisters’ weekend, Nystrom and her sister rent a place with a kitchen so they can cook the pies when they arrive (some people choose to bring the pies already made, but Nystrom says the journey from Morrow, Ohio, is a bit too far for that). Nystrom remembers her first year at the contest; “We went not knowing what we were doing at all. We just were going for the fun of it.” But the judges were impressed. Her first year out, she won third place in the amateur apple pie category. “I thought I had won the lottery or something,” says Nystrom. “It was great.”
Nystrom has been a bit of a baking queen since she got her first Easy Bake Oven as a kid. “I like to experiment,” she says of her constant forays into new flavor combinations. She jokes, “My husband, he just is so upset that he always has to taste these pies.”
Aside from the spring championship that she prepares for all year, holiday season is her favorite time of the year. With three grown kids, a son and daughter who live nearby and another son currently serving in Afghanistan, her house is the place to be for Thanksgiving. “My oldest son, he’s so funny. He was inviting one of his friends,” says Nystrom, “and he said, ‘You know this is my mom’s Super Bowl.’ And that’s kind of the way I look at it.”
Having spent years perfecting her pies, Nystrom says her best advice is to just not worry too much. She says, “The pie crust can be funky but I’ve learned, if it turns out looking kind of icky just call it rustic and you’re good to go.” There are a couple tricks that help, though. Nystrom stresses that ingredients for the pie crust should all be -just-out-of-the-fridge cold. She even uses ice water when recipes call for the liquid. And she adds a bit of vinegar (a couple teaspoons) to her ice water to help keep the crust flaky. “Then after I roll out the pie crust, if I have time, I prefer to put the rolled out crust in the pie tin back in the fridge for a few minutes before I fill it,” she says.
As for the filling, Nystrom says it’s all about your personal taste. For her first-place pie, she preferred canned sweet potatoes over roasting them herself. “It was a lot easier,” she says, “but you could also measure what you have more easily.”
Nystrom says they’ll be sticking with the traditional apple, pumpkin and pecan–her husband’s favorite–pies for her Thanksgiving table this year. Every now and then, she’ll throw in a new recipe, but, she says, “We’re pretty traditional. We just like the traditional stuff.”
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
3/4 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup butter (not margarine)
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/3 cup cold water
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour and the salt. With a pastry blender, cut in shortening until flour resembles cornmeal. Cut in butter until it resembles small peas.
In a small bowl, beat egg with a fork. Beat in water and vinegar. Quickly mix egg mixture in with the flour until flour just begins to hold together. Depending on the humidity, you may have to add up to an extra 1/4 cup flour. Separate dough into halves and form each half into a disk. Wrap each disk tightly with plastic wrap and let rest in refrigerate for at least an hour and up to two days.
Take one disk of prepared and refrigerated dough and roll it out and place in a 9 inch deep dish pie plate that has been sprayed with cooking spray.
40 oz can sweet potatoes, drained
14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup cream
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 large eggs
In a food processor, place drained sweet potatoes and process until smooth, about 20 seconds. Add maple syrup, sweetened condensed milk, cream, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, and eggs. Process until well incorporated and smooth, about 10 more seconds. Pour mixture into prepared pie pan. Cover edge with foil or pie shield. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. While pie is baking, prepare topping.
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup quick oats
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup butter, melted
To prepare topping, in a medium sized bowl, mix the brown sugar, oats, flour, and pecans until combined. Stir in melted butter until very well incorporated. Set aside until ready to use.
When pie has baked for 15 minutes, take out of the oven and remove pie shield. Turn the oven down to 375 degrees. Sprinkle topping over the top of the pie, spreading evenly. Replace pie shield and cover top very loosely with a piece of foil so topping does not burn. Put the pie back in the oven and bake an additional 45 – 60 minutes at 375 degrees. Check pie after 45 minutes. If a knife inserted in the center comes out clean (or almost clean), the pie is done. If not, return to the oven for another 10 – 15 minutes and check again.
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Scant 1/2 teaspoon maple extract
1 cup powdered sugar
While pie is baking, make the drizzle by mixing the maple extract with the cream then adding to the powdered sugar. With a fork, mix thoroughly until drizzle is smooth. Set aside.
When pie is done, remove to a wire rack and let cool completely. After pie is completely cooled, put the drizzle in a small zip top plastic bag. Snip off a very small corner of the bag. Squeeze drizzle over the pie.
Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.
Read more articles about the holidays with our Smithsonian Holiday Guide here
November 20, 2012
No, the answer is not the grocery store (though technically, that is correct). While that may be the last place your Thanksgiving fowl hung out before you brought it home, chances are the turkey was born and raised on one of the farms on this map created by ESRI and compiled from data from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture (2007). The map also has data on three of the traditional side dishes: sweet potatoes, cranberries and green beans.
See a larger version of this map.
Some cliff notes before you say grace:
Turkey production in the U.S. is a nearly 5 billion dollar industry—254 million turkeys were produced this year alone in preparation for the big day. But where are all of these gobblers grown? Based on the clustering of farms in this map, you might think states like Missouri, North Carolina and West Virginia might come out on top in terms of turkey production numbers. But historically Minnesota is the highest producer of turkeys in the U.S.—raising 46.2 million turkeys in 2011.
What does this tell us about the relationship between number of turkey farms in the U.S. and the highest producers of turkey meat? Mark Jekanowski, chief of the crops branch in the Economic Research Center of USDA, says it has to do with the size of the farm. Minnesota, for example, may have fewer farms, but the ones they’ve got are more likely factory-sized—pumping out more turkeys than, say, a local farm in North Carolina.
“Most livestock you can produce almost anywhere, but in the U.S., turkey production is concentrated in upper midwest,” Jekanowski says. “The driving factor for the midwest is the abundant feed supplies in that region which is the biggest input cost for farmers.”
In other words: Turkey farmers want to be near the corn and soybeans. It only makes sense that turkey producers set up shop close to the processing plants and the cheap foods that will feed their livestock (Which explains the dots few and far between in regions like Utah and Texas.)
But not every farm is factory-sized. The map also indicates that there is a large industry of small scale production, too. In fact, it’s not unusual to have turkey farms with a relatively small number of hogs and small-scale beef production too, Jekanowski says.
A quick glance at this map and you’ll notice that the cranberry farms are heavily clustered in northern regions of the U.S. —Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Washington and Oregon—specifically. The reason? Cranberries are picky when it comes to growing conditions. Because they are traditionally grown in natural wetlands, they need a lot of water. During the long, cold winter months, they also require a period of dormancy which rules out any southern region of the U.S. as an option for cranberry farming.
“They need a wetland-type soil that you’re not going to find in more arid parts of the country like Arizona or Texas,” Jekanowski says. “The production is heavily driven by the geographic requirements of the berry.”
In this case, the number and location of farms accurately reflect the states with the highest production. The 2007 crop projections from National Agricultural Statistics Service list Wisconsin as the largest producer of the berries with an estimated 3,900,000 barrels; Massachusetts is a not-so-close second with a projected 1,800,000 barrels. Reports from cranberry growers this year show that production is down. An early spring in Massachusetts, for example, caused growth to occur ahead of schedule, leaving crops vulnerable to frost damage—just another example of just how particular cranberries can be before they end up on top of your turkey in sauce form.
Traditionally, the sweet potato is a holiday root—a staple at the Thanksgiving dinner table in particular. In fact, in recent years, sweet potato love has spiked in the U.S. due to the health benefits of the orange-fleshed storage root (e.g., high amounts of potassium, fiber and vitamin A) often replacing white potatoes as a side dish.
But, like cranberries, sweet potatoes require specific conditions to yield the best crops. They need a long growing season, the heat of the summer and a lot of water—making the South the best home for sweet potato yields.
“Over many decades the conditions in the South have been identified as an area where sweet potatoes get the best yields,” Jekanowski says. “You might also find areas they grow well in other parts of the country—Arizona even—but in many other parts of the country, other crops grow better in those areas, and farmers will farm what’s most profitable for them.”
A glance at the map will tell you that these orange spuds grow just fine as far north as Wisconsin or Michigan, but statistically, sweet potatoes are most profitable and popular in the South, where per capita use was estimated to 5.7 pounds in 2001—more than twice that of the West (2.6 pounds), which consumes the fewest sweet potatoes.
Though they are more commonly known as green beans, the USDA uses the lesser-known moniker of “snap beans,” the term which refers to the crackling sound made when fresh beans are broken in two.
Snap beans are produced for three markets in the U.S.: Fresh, canned and frozen. Fifty percent of all domestically produced snap beans are destined for canning according to the USDA’s Economic Research Center. Though there is still a market for fresh beans, the larger producers are located nearer to canneries and other processors. In 2007, 303,997 acres of green beans were harvested from a total of 17,300 farms. Sixty-five percent of that total acreage harvested was for processing.
Though the map indicates that green bean farms are evenly scattered throughout a large part of the country, in the regions with the highest production—the South and the Midwest for example—most of the production is driven by the location of the processing industries.
“Much of the production of green beans is frozen or canned— the need then is to get the beans to the processor within hours of harvesting it,” Jekanowski says.”Over decades within a fairly small area, processors have sprung up in parts of the country that tend to be good at growing green beans. It’s also contracted by the processing plant—the processor enters lines of supply in advance. Processors are not going to contract with people that are hundreds of miles away.”
Whether you’re doing the cooking or the eating (or both) this Thanksgiving, perhaps knowing where your meal came from may help you be all the more thankful…that you’re not these guys. And some other great Thanksgiving reads from Smithsonian.com:
- Emily Spivack on what to wear to the Thanksgiving table to leave room for all that food
- Megan Gambino on the science of making the perfect holiday dinner
- Joseph Stromberg on what makes overeating possible. There’s a scientific excuse!
- What was on the table for the first Thanksgiving meal?
October 31, 2012
Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t. And sometimes you feel like a regionally-specific, hometown-proud confection that you just can’t find anywhere else (or if you can, everyone knows they won’t be as good). This Halloween, we’re saluting those finds that marry place and taste for a lasting bond.
Given our country’s proclivity for sweets, it’s no surprise that the Census Bureau has collected data on the confectionery industry since 1926. All so the government can tell us that in 2010, the average American consumed almost 25 pounds of candy.
And if that average American was living in Ohio, you can bet that included Buckeyes. Or maybe he was living in Texas and snacking on Chick-o-Sticks. Thanks in part to the dedicated foodies over at NPR, Serious Eats and CNN, we’ve created a roundup of the seven best regional finds:
1. Goo Goo, Tennessee: A hunk of marshmallow, peanuts and caramel covered in chocolate, the Nashville-born, century-old treat even has its own app: the Goo Goo Finder. The candy was a regular sponsor of another Nashville icon: the Grand Ole Opry, according to NPR, delighting listeners with its slogan: “Go get a Goo Goo … it’s gooooooood!”
2. Buckeyes, Ohio: Other than being the mascots for the best college football team in the entire country, the buckeye is a time-honored candy tradition enjoyed year-round. Peanut butter mixed with confectioners sugar and dipped into melted chocolate to resemble the actual (and not so tasty) nut, buckeyes are almost always better when made at home.
3. Velatis caramels, Washington, D.C.: Masters of all things caramel, Velatis (whose new location in Silver Spring, Maryland comes after a sad hiatus from its original location in downtown D.C.) brings crowds for its marshmallow-stuffed vanilla caramels. The company’s roots stretch back to 1866, according to the City Paper, and it remains a staple for stocking stuffers.
4. It’s-It, San Francisco: Stretching the definition of candy a bit, It’s-It is an ice cream treat worth the category-bending. First made in 1928, the individually packaged creations sandwich ice cream between two oatmeal cookies before dipping the whole thing in dark chocolate. The sandwich was named “the official food of San Francisco.” Take that, Ghirardelli.
5. Saltwater Taffy, Atlantic City: No one knows how long it will take for the Jersey shore to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, or whether or not the taffy shops on the city’s boardwalk will ever return. Ironically, the local delicacy allegedly has its roots in a 19th-century flood which soaked a candy-maker’s taffy with saltwater. Though no one has proved who first invented it, Joseph Fralinger certainly popularized it in the 1880s, from his boardwalk stand to his empire of stores. Chewy, sweet and, of course, salty, it may be the most difficult thing to eat on this list.
6. Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts, Hawaii: Though we’d be happy to receive a box of Hawaiian Host in the mail, it’d be a little sad to miss the Hawaii part. “Oh yes, Hawaiian Host has been imitated by many over the years but the unique quality of our secret milk chocolate has never been equaled,” claims the site. But what about when the French Laundry serves guests chocolate covered caramelized macadamia nuts dusted with sugar? Seems like that’s a safe bet to sample.
7. Bizcochito, New Mexico: Taking the honor of being the first official cookie of any state, the Bizcochito made history in 1989. A shortbread cookie with cinnamon and anise flavoring, it dates back centuries and combines many of the flavors from New Mexico’s past. Another seasonal favorite, the cookies also pop up at major community events.
Other popular items from the lists: New England’s Sky Bar, the Idaho Spud, Kansas’ Valomilk, Chukar Cherries from Washington state and more.