Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why you shouldn't put red velvet cake anywhere near your mouth

The New York Times recently did an article on red velvet cake. I saw it this morning. Over dinner, James brought it up as he was reading the Dining section. "Where did it come from?" he asked. The article just confirmed all the negative feelings I have toward red velvet cake.

Because while Kim Severson describes the cake as "a classic, not a gimmick," I see it the other way around. No, it's a gimmick. Not at all for the strange pervasive mutations that she mentions, like
red velvet scented candle, red velvet protein powder, red velvet air fresheners and red velvet vodka
No, not at all. Ms. Severson gives the history of the cake as coming out of a tradition of velvet cakes, fine-textured cakes in which the wheat proteins were softened and regulations for food dyes. She writes that John A. Adams of the Adams Extract Company
figured he could sell a lot more extracts and dyes, and a red cake would be just the way to do it. Sometime in the 1940s, the company tricked out a mahogany cake recipe with food coloring, printed it on cards and began plans to merchandise it alongside bottles of vanilla, red dye and artificial butter flavoring, which was popular when butter was rationed during World War II.
Yum. So there's your food history. It was cooked up by a company so they could sell more food coloring. When I'm looking for authenticity in my cooking, I rarely look to the financial concerns of the industrial sector. Okay, I never look there. If your criteria for making a cake includes "it uses food coloring," your making a mistake, even if you're cooking for a four-year-old.

Which brings me to another bit of corporate food with vaguely Southern connections that no one should ever make, serve, or eat. Happily, we are in the wrong time of year for anyone to be thinking about green bean casserole, but maybe someone will read this and be dissuaded from fobbing this unappetizing glop off on someone.

I ate some once at a work Thanksgiving function. I was egged into it by someone who knew my disdain for the dish. I figured that by eating a forkful I could mitigate bad feelings in the office. It wasn't worth it. You know, it tastes worse than it looks. It's probably the worst part of a New England holiday becoming nationalized in the post-Civil War era.

It was invented to sell canned mushroom soup. I actually like mushroom soup. The real kind, not the glop in cans. Green bean casserole takes it one step further by taking vile canned cream of mushroom soup (which I would bet no one who eats green bean casserole would eat under any other circumstances) and pouring it on top of canned green beans, which are themselves vile.

When I'm cooking for Thanksgiving, I'm not opening cans. You don't really think they had canned mushroom soup in 17th century Plymouth, do? No. That weren't that bad off.

The take home lesson is:
  • Don't make red velvet cake
  • Don't make green bean casserole.

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