Did flatbread originate in one place?

Did flatbread originate in one place?

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It is difficult to find a culture that does not have some form of flatbread. The Wikipedia article provides a lengthy list, listing types and locations.

Did flatbread first appear in one place and then spread to all of the others?

Flour tortilla

A flour tortilla ( / t ɔːr ˈ t iː ə / , /- j ə / ) or wheat tortilla is a type of soft, thin flatbread made from finely ground wheat flour. It was originally inspired by the corn tortilla of Mexican cuisine, a flatbread of maize which predates the arrival of Europeans to the Americas. Made with a flour and water based dough, it is pressed and cooked similar to corn tortillas. [1] The simplest recipes use only flour, water, fat, and salt, but commercially-made flour tortillas generally contain chemical leavening agents such as baking powder, and other ingredients. [2]

Two delicious eggs benedict with asparagus and garnish. Shallow dof. (iStock)

So who exactly was Benedict, anyway? There are two theories: One, a stockbroker named Lemuel Benedict claimed to have thought up the dish while nursing a hangover at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria in 1894. Two, Delmonico’s head chef Charles Ranhofer claimed that he invented it for the stockbroker LeGrand Benedict. Either way, Benedict had an awesome first name.

Johnnycake History and Recipe

Johnnycakes, johnny cakes, jonnycake, ashcake, battercake, corn cake, cornpone, hoecake, hoe cake, journey cake, mush bread, pone, Shawnee cake, jonakin, and jonikin. These are all regional names for this cornmeal flatbread.

The origin of the name johnnycakes (jonnycakes) is something of a mystery and probably has nothing to do with the name John. They were also called journey cakes because they could be carried on long trips in saddlebags and baked along the way. Some historians think that they were originally called Shawnee cakes and that the colonists slurred the words, pronouncing it as johnnycakes. Historians also think that “janiken,” an American Indian word meant “corn cake,” could possibly be the origin.

The settlers of New England learned how to make johnnycakes from the local Pawtuxet Indians, who showed the starving Pilgrims how to grind and use corn for eating. When the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620, most of their wheat brought from England had spoiled on the long voyage. It is said that Myles Standish (1584-1656), the military leader of the Plymouth Colony, discovered a cache of corn stored by the Indians.

An Indian named Tisquantum (1585-1622), also known as Squanto, was helpful in the settlers’ survival during the winter of 1621. Tisquantum was one of five Indians taken to England in 1605 by Captain John Weymouth, who was employed by Sir Ferinando Gorges of the Plymouth Company and set out to discover the Northwest Passage. In 1614, Tisquantum was brought back to American, assisting some of Gorges’ men in mapping the New England coast. Tisquantum lived out the rest of his life in the Plymouth Colony teaching the settlers how to grow corn, pound corn into meal, and how to cook with it. He also acted as interpreter and guide.

History of Focaccia Bread

This flat bread topped with olive oil, spices and other products is an early prototype of modern pizza. The basic recipe is thought by some to have originated with the Etruscans or Ancient Greeks.

Focaccia, known and loved in Italy and abroad, is yeasted flat bread which belongs essentially to the northern shores of the Mediterranean and has its origin in classical antiquity. Early versions were cooked on the hearth of a hot fire, or on a heated tile or earthenware disk, like the related flatbreads. Bakers often puncture the bread with a knife to relieve bubbling on the surface of the bread. Also common is the practice of dotting the bread. This creates multiple wells in the bread by using a finger or the handle of a utensil to poke the unbaked dough. As a way to preserve moisture in the bread, olive oil is then spread over the dough, by hand or with a brush prior to rising and baking.

Many regions of Italy have an inventive range of flavorings they add to their focaccia. For many centuries it has had an association with Christmas Eve and Epiphany. In the Italian context one thing is obvious, namely that the addition of topping to a plan focaccia would result in a kind of pizza. However, apart from this aspect, Italian focaccia has branched out in various directions. Savory versions are more familiar here in the United States, they can contain olive oil, rosemary, sage, garlic, cheeses, and onion. There are also sweet recipes of focaccia containing eggs, honey, raisins, anise, sugar, and lemon or orange peel. These enrichments make the product so different from plain bread that in at least one place in Italy though history it escaped a tax placed on bread.

Various versions of this Italian bread can also be found in other parts of the world. In Burgundy, focaccia is called foisse or fouaisse, in other areas of France it is known as fougasse. In Argentina, it is widely consumed under the name fugazza. The Spanish call it hogaza.

Today we enjoy this versatile bread alone as a snack or light meal or on the side complimenting a full bodied Italian meal.

The Early Flatbread Predecessors of the Pizza

When we think about pizza, most of us don't automatically think about flatbreads like focaccia. But you've got to draw the line somewhere, and flatbread's evolution to modern pizza means we're also overlapping with the general history of bread.

Humans have enjoyed flatbread since, well, at least 22,000 years ago. But those early flatbreads require too much squinting to trace a direct line to pizza. The path to pizza really starts with focaccia – a roughly 3,000-year-old flatbread topped with some very familiar ingredients.

The Origins of Foccacia

The Etruscan civilization, which settled around 900-800 BC on the Western Coast of Italy, likely invented focaccia bread. They'd top their flatbread with herbs, spices, and olive oil and heat the flatbread on a hot tile or an earthenware disk over a fire, often under hot ashes. The Romans called this bread "panus focus," or focaccia in Italian.

They topped this bread with oil, herbs, nuts, and seeds – a familiar practice echoed by today's pizza toppings. It's closely related to today's pizza bianca, more often cooked directly on the oven floor than a pan (although pizza bianca should tend to have fewer toppings!).

Pizza Precursors in Cultures Across the World

And it wasn't just the Etruscans and the Romans dressing up their bread. Various cultures – including the Israelites, Egyptians, Greeks, and Phoenicians – made and enjoyed flatbread thousands of years ago. All these cultures made their flatbread from water and flour, flavored with various herbs, spices, and oils. Like the Etruscan flatbread, many of these breads were also cooked by placing them on hot, flat stones.

Famously (and yes, the Greeks have a claim they invented the pizza), the Greeks referred to their flatbread as "plankuntos," which they'd top with fruits, stews, or meats. Plankuntos was also used as an edible plate by the Greeks, and there are still cultures in the Middle East that use flatbreads as edible crockery today. Maneesh is an example of this—it's a thin bread sprinkled with herbs that is still used today as a plate to eat tabbouleh, hummus, or even mutabal.

Focaccia – delicious, but not quite pizza.

First Flatbread Recipes in Italy?

Marcus Porcius Cato—also known as Cato the Elder—mentioned bread in his famous manuscript De Agricultura, which is the oldest known piece of Roman literature, from 160 BC. He included a recipe for bread in the book, much like our recipes today—using flour and water, kneading the dough and baking it under an earthenware lid.

Cato also wrote about "a flat round of dough dressed with olive oil, herbs, and honey baked on stones." So, somewhere in the years between the Etruscans and Cato the Elder, the Romans baked circular bread. A hundred and fifty years later, Virgil's epic poem The Aeneid talks about soldiers eating the very 'plate' or 'table' they serve the rest of their food on – a predecessor of the variety of pizza toppings, perhaps?

The Difference Between Flatbread and Pizza

Even though the flatbreads of different cultures vary in spices, herbs, and toppings, the most common thread between them is that there was no tomato in the original recipes. And, truly, the history of pizza is the marriage of the circular Meditteranean flatbreads we've been discussing with the tomato – a fruit originating in the Americas.

Which leads to the next obvious question—how did flatbread and olive oil turn into pizza with tomato? I'm glad you asked.

The Origin of Cultivated Fruits and Vegetables

Most plants are poisonous. Humans have cultivated those few that were edible and nutritious or good tasting, and have selectively bred them over thousands of years for a variety of traits including size, flavor, and color. We have also moved them around a lot! The geographic region from which our food crops originated is not always obvious from their present day distribution. Michael Pollan's book, The Botany of Desire, or the documentary film made from it, is a good review if you're interested in learning more about the origins and selective breeding of plants to produce more favorable forms.

While today we grow most crops in many more places than from whence they originated, modern agriculture tends to favor large stands of a single variety, like Russet potatoes, or the Cavendish banana most of us know, which comes from a single clone. Such monocultures are more susceptible to disease, so it may be very useful for us to go back to the places where wild types or less common varieties grow (if they still do). We can use that genetic diversity to help make our modern crops more hardy while also possibly allowing for new and interesting types.

Source Fruits Vegetables
North America Blackberry Jerusalem Artichoke
Gooseberry *
Grape *
Strawberry *
Central America Cherimoya Corn
South America Avocado Green Bean
Pineapple Lima Bean
Strawberry * Peppers
Sweet Potato
Europe (Western) Currant Carrot
Gooseberry * Cabbage
Europe (Eastern) Apple Endive Lettuce
Pear Horseradish
Africa Date Artichoke
Watermelon Okra
Middle East Cherry Asparagus
Fig Beet
Grape * Celery
Olive Cress
Plum Lettuce
India Lemon Cucumber
Lime Eggplant
China Apricot Chinese Cabbage
Southeast Asia Banana
Micronesia Grapefruit

Would it surprise you to learn that the humble tomato, a member of the deadly nightshade family, was once believed to be poisonous, and was called the love apple? Or that throughout most of history, the Italians had no tomato sauce for their spaghetti?

Isn't it interesting that the Irish, who flocked to America in the 1850s because of potato famines in their homeland, never had potatoes before Columbus? How did they get so attached to them? What did they eat before?

Did you know that papaya and pineapple, fruits associated with Hawaii, originated in Central and South America? With the possible exception of the coconut, the Polynesians carried most of their food crops with them by outrigger canoe from island to island as they settled the South Pacific.

Can you guess which vegetable is fermented to make Vodka in Russia? Hint-it isn't a grape!

Oranges grow very well in Florida and California, but they've only been growing there since the Spanish missionaries brought them. Where did they come from?

Speaking of grapes, how could grapes be native to both the Middle East and North America, but nowhere else? Why might strawberries be native to both North and South America but not Central America?

Did you know that cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, collards, and chinese cabbage are all one species, Brassica oleracea? They have been artifically bred from wild cabbage to emphasize different parts of the plant. Maybe that's why if you dislike one you tend to hate them all!

Did you know that one of the likely reasons the North American Indians never developed agriculture on a large scale was that there was just nothing edible? This only began to change when they began trading with their more agriculturally prosperous neighbors in Central and South America.

Humans came out of Africa, but the Middle East is the "Cradle of Civilization." Could it have anything to do with all the good stuff to eat that was available there?

The fruit and vegetable "Who am I" game

1. Sometimes people make a juice out of me, but don't drink me too often or you'll turn orange!

2. When Columbus landed in the new world, he thought he was in India so he called the natives "Indians." He was told to bring back spices, so guess what he called me?

3. In Germany, people who first grew me tried to eat my leaves, but they tasted terrible. They almost gave up on me till they tried my tubers!

4. When you cook me, I will weep and sigh.

5. I used to be called a love apple, and people thought I was poisonous. Now I'm on your pizza.

6. Russians ferment me to make Vodka. Hint: I'm not a grape.

7. I was taken out of the wild in Europe and turned into all of the following: kale, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, collards.

8. I grow in huge plantations in Hawaii, but I'm an immigrant from South America.

9. I came from India, and I'm very sour.

10. Native Americans ground me into a "meal" and used me for baking.

11. If you've eaten me, you've also probably eaten the tiny wasp that died inside my fruit.

12. I am a North American, and am one of the very few blue foods.

13. I am incorrectly called a berry, and my seeds sit on the outside of a pulpy cusion.

14. I have a mutant relative, the nectarine, that isn't fuzzy.

15. My kind of fruit is called a "pome", and that's my real name in French.

16. I might be used to scare people in the Autumn, but I also make a great tasting pie!

17. My family can "fix" nitrogen in my roots, so growing me actually improves your soil!

18. People eat my flowers, and they love my heart, but I am thorny so be careful.

19. When a blight destroyed my crop, thousands of Irish starved and left their homeland for the New World.

20. Wheat, rice, corn, oats, barley, millet, and bamboo are all members of this family. Without us, most humans would go hungry. What is our family called?

Answers: 1. carrot 2. hot peppers 3. potato 4. eggplant 5. tomato 6. grain or potato 7. cabbage 8. pineapple 9. lemon 10. corn 11. fig 12. blueberry 13. strawberry 14. peach 15. apple 16. pumpkin 17. beans 18. artichoke 19. potato 20. the grasses

The Gyro’s History Unfolds

SHOUTING over the hiss and screech of an assembly line, Chris Tomaras described the feat of food engineering that made him rich.

“The trick,” he yelled in a heavy Greek accent, “is to use certain forces, like temperature and pressure, to preserve the product as a solid mass, so it doesn’t deteriorate.”

A dapper man with a rich baritone voice and a gray mustache, Mr. Tomaras, 73, was narrating a tour of Kronos Foods, the world’s largest manufacturer of gyros (pronounced YEE-ros, Greek for “spin”), the don’t-ask mystery meat that has been a Greek restaurant staple in the United States since the mid 1970s. Cones of gyro meat rotate on an estimated 50,000 vertical broilers across the country, to be carved a few slices at a time and folded in pita bread along with a dollop of yogurt sauce.

Kronos is the perfect place to pose a couple of questions that seem as if they should have been answered many hurried lunches ago: What are gyros anyway, and who made them a ubiquitous feature of Greek menus across the United States?

And now is an appropriate time to delve into this enigma wrapped in a flatbread. A cheap meal looks pretty appealing lately, and more people than ever seem to be succumbing to this $5 temptation.

While almost all segments of the restaurant industry are suffering, the titans of the gyro — all of them based in Chicago — report that sales are either steady or way up.

These companies are private, so their word will have to do. But Kronos is preparing to move to a new plant that will enable it to crank out enough cones for 600,000 sandwiches a day, about twice the capacity in its current address. A few miles away, at Devanco Foods, Peter Bartzis, the president of the company, reports record sales. “I’ve been through a few recessions,” Mr. Bartzis said, “and they’re good times to be in the gyros business.”

Mr. Tomaras opened Kronos in 1975 and sold it to a private equity firm in 1994. But he returned to the plant, on a dead-end industrial road in Chicago’s southwest side, to explain how gyros are made. It’s a show and tell that is not for the squeamish.

The process starts with boxes of raw beef and lamb trimmings, and ends with what looks like oversized Popsicles the shade of a Band-Aid. In between, the meat is run through a four-ton grinder, where bread crumbs, water, oregano and other seasonings are added. A clumpy paste emerges and is squeezed into a machine that checks for metal and bone. (“You can never be too careful,” Mr. Tomaras said.) Hydraulic pressure — 60 pounds per square inch — is used to fuse the meat into cylinders, which are stacked on trays and then rolled into a flash freezer, where the temperature is 20 degrees below zero.

Gyros are believed to have originated in Greece. (They’re similar to the döner kebabs of Turkey and shawarma of the Middle East, which are slices of meat, rather than a minced loaf.) But they were never mass produced in Europe, according to the gyro magnates of this city. Until the early 1970s, the cones were made one at a time, in restaurant kitchens using family recipes.

Then someone thought, why not make gyro cones the same way you make cars?

The question is: Who is the Henry Ford of the gyro? It turns out there are a handful of contenders, all of whom know one another and have been friendly competitors for decades. They include George Apostolou, who says he served the first gyros in the United States, in the Parkview Restaurant in Chicago, in 1965, and nine years later opened a 3,000-square-foot manufacturing plant, Central Gyros Wholesale.

“The response to the product was tremendous,” Mr. Apostolou said. “My two brothers and I, we became millionaires in two years’ time.”

“Chris claims that he brought the product here,” Mr. Apostolou said, rather dryly. “This is a lie.”

But an engineer named Peter Parthenis says he beat Mr. Apostolou to mass production by a year, with Gyros Inc., in 1973. Mr. Parthenis started by building rotisseries, but soon realized the money was in the meat.

“We didn’t have a distribution deal in the early days,” said Mr. Parthenis, who like Mr. Apostolou is now retired. “So the first gyros ever shipped out of Chicago we put on a Greyhound bus, headed to Atlanta. Frozen in a double corrugated box, with the luggage.”

Case closed? Well, another contender, Andre Papantoniou, a founder and the president of Olympia Food Industries, says the gyro plant was actually the brainchild of the improbably named John Garlic.

This initially sounds like a joke, but Mr. Papantoniou swears that during the rotisserie-making phase of Mr. Parthenis’s career, one John Garlic showed up in Chicago in search of a partner in a gyro plant he’d started in Milwaukee.

It’s true, Mr. Parthenis said in a second call, though he remembers little about his former partner, except that the guy looked like a hippie. Who Mr. Garlic was and why he made gyros are questions that Mr. Parthenis can’t answer: “He was like a phantom. He came out of nowhere.”

There is little about John Garlic in news archives, aside from a 1978 story in The Milwaukee Sentinel, in which a John J. Garlic discusses his plans to keep trained dolphins in a former municipal pool he’d bought in the city and wanted to turn into a restaurant with a kind of Sea World sideshow.

Unfortunately, Mr. Garlic is no longer around to discuss matters he died of kidney failure in 1994. But his wife, Margaret Garlic, can provide answers.

“He was this big guy,” she said, “like 6 foot 2 inches tall, dark curly hair, couple hundred pounds. A former Marine. A super intelligent, super entertaining man. My brother used to say, ‘When John Garlic enters a room, you know you’re going to have fun.’ ”

“No, no,” she said. “He was Jewish.”

As we digest the fact that the Father of the American Gyro was Jewish, we ask the obvious next question: Where did he get the idea?

“From me,” Ms. Garlic said. “One afternoon, I was watching ‘What’s My Line?’ and there was a Greek restaurant owner on the show, and he did this demonstration, carving meat off a gyro. I immediately called an operator and asked for the number of a Greek restaurant in New York. The owner I got on the phone said, ‘Go to Chicago, there’s a huge Greek community.’ ” At the time, Mr. Garlic was a Cadillac salesman, in his late 30s, but he quickly saw his future in gyro cones. After finding a Chicago chef willing to share a recipe, the couple rented space in a sausage plant and cranked out history’s first assembly-line gyro cones. They were a hit.

“We supplied summer festivals, universities, some restaurants,” Ms. Garlic said. “John could sell anything.”

Hoping to expand, he sought out Peter Parthenis. There were tensions from the start Mr. Parthenis says his own buttoned-down style didn’t jibe with the unbuttoned Mr. Garlic. According to Ms. Garlic, Mr. Parthenis wanted to run the company on his own. Mr. Parthenis paid the Garlics a modest buyout fee — nobody recalls how much — and the partnership dissolved.

Feeling somewhat burned but eager to move on, the couple eventually opened that restaurant with the dolphins, and two others, none of which sold gyros.

The Garlics moved to Orlando, Fla., in the early 1980s, where John sold subdivisions for a developer. He did well, but when he became sick, the family’s savings were drained to pay for treatments not covered by insurance. After her husband died, Ms. Garlic waited tables to support her children.

As gyros went nationwide and earned millions for a handful of entrepreneurs, the sight of rotisseries broke Ms. Garlic’s heart a little. “That was our idea,” she would think. She’s rarely discussed her and her husband’s role in Greek-American food history, but only because the subject rarely comes up. When it does, people think she’s kidding.

“What’s done is done,” she said. “We did other things with our lives, and we’ve got a lot of great memories.”

Popular in Human Interest

In the Old Testament story of Exodus, once the pharaoh finally agreed to let the Israelites go—after the plagues of frogs, boils, lice, and more—the Israelites justifiably feared he would change his mind. And so they fled. They left in such haste, according to the Old Testament, that they didn’t even have time to let their dough rise.

I have always thought a bread making detail like the timing of a dough’s fermentation seemed like an odd way of illustrating the Israelite rush. But as I’m now discovering, there’s a link between long hours in one’s dwelling and the comfort of guiding a dough’s slow rise. Over this past month, as a plague has kept me home, I’ve found myself in somewhat of the reverse bind of the Israelites. And my response has been to do what they could not: reach into the back of my fridge and refresh my old sourdough starter.

Of course, I’m not alone in making fresh bread. By some estimates, yeast sales have increased as much as 600 percent over the past month. From a strictly practical perspective, this doesn’t actually make much sense. Fermentation adds almost no nutritional value to bread, so if this were simply about calories in a time of crisis, there are far more efficient options. But of course, it’s not just about calories. Leavened bread is a culture, a comfort, and a celebration. It’s an art as much as it is a food. And it turns out it began that way.

For my book Who Ate the First Oyster? I learned about all kinds of ancient inventors and their discoveries—from who rode the first horse to who wore the first pants—but America’s quarantine-inspired embrace of baking made me wonder: Who discovered the magic of yeast and dough, started the first sourdough starter, and baked the first leavened loaf?

As the bioarcheologist Andreas Heiss notes, baked bread is one of the most elaborate, time-consuming, and difficult cereal foods you can make. So when the first bread makers—a group of hunter-gatherers living in the Middle East 14,000 years ago now called the Natufians—baked the first flatbreads, they made them as celebratory foods, not as staples. Bread began as the Natufian version of our wedding cake. It was the decorative food of ceremony, not a rational expenditure of effort for calories.

Yet there’s no evidence the Natufians leavened their bread, the archaeobotanist Amaia Arranz Otaegui wrote to me in an email. When she examined the world’s oldest crumbs she found no hint of yeast, and besides, she adds, the Natufians did not have the domed ovens needed to properly bake a leavened loaf.

Domed ovens, and not coincidentally leavened bread, did not arise for another 5,000 years. Yet ovens did not invent leavened bread—they simply made it possible.

Risen bread required an inventor. A culinary champion. Someone with an adventuresome palate to combine their artistry with their courage in a moment of carelessness.

Who was this ancient hero, and how did she invent the leavened loaf?

Let’s call her Mary, after Mary Berry, the baker and co-host of The Great British Baking Show whose work this extended quarantine has provided me the time to enjoy. And I’ll call Mary a “her” because there’s at least some evidence from Neolithic skeletons that women processed the bulk of the cereals. Though gender roles in ancient times remain somewhat of a mystery, one study by the researcher Theya Molleson of London’s Natural History Museum found that Neolithic women more frequently suffered from the kinds of osteoarthritis in their toes and lower backs that indicate grinding seeds using the awkward and physically demanding querns and hand stones of the time.

Mary would have spent considerable time grinding those wheat and barley seeds because she was one of the first farmers in human history. She lived approximately 9,000 years ago in the Neolithic era, a time when archeologists believe a few people living in a few small villages became the first to transition from hunting and gathering their food to farming it. These small communities near the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in the Middle East’s fertile crescent are where archeologists have found some of the oldest evidence of farms, domesticated animals, and domed ovens.

As a farmer, Mary probably spent her days gathering and planting seeds, caring for her fields, and—for special occasions—baking flatbread and brewing beer. (Archeologists suspect that because beer is merely liquid bread left out to rot, the Natufians discovered flatbread’s far more exciting counterpart shortly after their first bake.) With beer, bread, and her oven, Mary had all the necessary ingredients to ferment dough. She just needed a moment of convergence and daring.

Dough needs a large dose of yeast to rise. The microscopic amounts that ride on dust and in the bellies of insects wouldn’t have been sufficient to leaven her flatbread before she baked it. So scholars have searched for other, larger sources of yeast to explain her discovery of leaven—and a few have turned their gaze to beer. Nicholas Money, a botanist and the author of The Rise of Yeast, believes Mary may have stumbled onto leavened bread by accidentally splashing a beer’s yeast-laden froth onto her dough. If she did, the result would have been a fungus explosion within her flour and water.

As yeast feeds, it multiplies. Its cells grow bulges called “schmoos,” and these schmoos then smooch other schmoos, fuse, fertilize, and bud new cells. Those first few hours after Mary’s accident would have been an orgy of smooching schmoos. In the proper conditions, two days can turn 100 yeast cells into 400 billion.

The amount of fermentation these microorganisms can perform in a short time is astounding. As Louis Pasteur later described it to a skeptical audience in 1854, a yeast’s work rate on glucose is the equivalent of a 200-pound person chopping 2 million pounds of wood in two days.

Within an hour or less, depending on the size of the initial splash, the yeast’s carbon dioxide would have noticeably ballooned Mary’s dough. Up until this point, Mary deserves little credit for what took place. What had happened probably wasn’t even unique. But whereas most bakers would have thrown out the puffy aftermath of their mistake, Mary had the nerve and the stroke of genius to place hers in the oven.

The result would have been magical.

Unlike the Natufian hearths, Mary’s domed oven would have achieved the high heat necessary to quickly turn water to steam and expand the yeast’s small carbon dioxide bubbles into giant holes. The bread would have doubled in size before her eyes. And when Mary had the courage to try it, instead of crunching a flat, dense bread, she would have torn into a delicious, airy loaf. Clearly, she would have tried her recipe again, probably spilling yet more froth onto her dough and enjoying even greater results.

Her technique may have even endured. In one of the oldest descriptions of leavened bread, the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder describes how the Gauls used foam from their beer to bake what he called “a lighter kind of bread than other peoples.”

Eventually Mary or another baker learned you could hold back a portion of yeasty dough and add it to the next day’s bake, enabling a more consistent rise. And perhaps another bacterium floated into the starter, one like Lactobacillus, which instead of alcohol produces lactic acid to ward off competitors—and the first sourdough starter was born.

So as you’re baking in quarantine, thank Mary and the other Neolithic bakers who learned how to leaven bread. If you’re not in a rush, it tastes as good today as it did 9,000 years ago.

3. Milkshake

Milkshakes are a lovely treat for the young, but you definitely would not want to give the original recipe to a child.

The first time the world saw the word ‘milkshake’ was in 1885, in a British newspaper. The article did not go on to talk about if people preferred strawberry or banana flavour in fact, what the article did say was that milkshake was a “sturdy, healthful eggnog type of drink, with eggs, whiskey, etc., served as a tonic as well as a treat.” Yes, that’s right the original milkshake contained alcohol.

The actual milkshake we know and love came a little later in the 1900s. In 1922, a man called Ivan “Pop” Coulson wanted to make a remix on the recipe. Ever an experimenter, he added the one ingredient that made a huge impact on the recipe of milkshake forever ice cream. Since then, the version with whiskey in it has fallen out of public knowledge unfortunately, alcoholic milkshakes are not an item on the ‘hidden menu’ in fast food places.

How one Massachusetts downtown bounced back from the crippling shadow of a mall and Walmart

Downtown Hudson was quiet when Michael Kasseris stepped out into the late night air in 2012.

Behind him was a Main Street space that had once housed a printing shop, a bagel shop and a gifting shop.

His uncle owned the building. Kasseris and his two business partners had just opened Rail Trail Flatbread Co. -- a trendy new restaurant featuring wood-fired pizza and craft beer.

He looked around. The downtown stores, tucked inside historic brick buildings, were empty. The parking spaces were empty. There was no foot traffic.

He and his friends were investing everything they had into this place.

In a moment of panic, Kasseris thought, "What are we doing building a restaurant?"

A sign marking the town line sits atop the Shops at Highland Commons about a mile and a half from downtown Hudson. (Photo | Noah R. Bombard)

In the shadows of malls, Walmarts and big box stores, small New England towns like Hudson and their main streets have struggled. This is the story of how Hudson bounced back.

Located on the western edge of Middlesex County and off Interstate 495, Hudson is surrounded by Stow, Bolton, Berlin, Clinton, Marlborough and Sudbury. The late Gov. Paul Cellucci is among its most famous sons.

The town of nearly 20,000 people, according to the latest US Census data, was once home to a small farming community that would serve as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Sited next to the Assabet River, shoe factories would draw Irish and French Canadian immigrants, as well as Lithuanians and the Portuguese.

It's a town that is familiar with bounce-backs: In 1894, a fire caused by kids playing with firecrackers ripped through the downtown area, taking out 40 buildings and causing roughly $400,000 in damages, according to the Hudson Historical Society.

Several world wars and economic cycles later, Hudson is back on top. On weeknights -- not just weekends -- shoppers stroll down Main Street sidewalks. A hopping brewery, trendy restaurants, coffee shops and boutiques nestle comfortably between barber shops (there are three in one block), offices and a dry cleaner.

It is the picture-perfect downtown so many Massachusetts communities would like to replicate.

Hudson Appliance Center has done business in downtown Hudson since 1972. (Photo | Noah R. Bombard)

'The town looks after itself'

When Arthur Redding, the owner of Hudson Appliance, opened his store in October 1972, there were clothing, sporting goods and furniture stores, dress shops, and a rival appliance store.

The Targets and Walmarts of the world took the clothing, sporting goods, furniture, dresses and appliances, and put them under one roof. Foot traffic died down. "They did a number on us," Redding said.

Redding stayed. He has lived in Hudson since the second grade.

"It was sort of like ɼheers,'" said Redding, who turns 64 this week. "Everybody knew each other."

It's still a close-knit place, he said. The town looks after itself.

Nine years ago, the economy was at a low point and there were almost 40 empty storefronts lining Main Street. A group of locals, including Redding, banded together and seeded the Hudson Business Association, which now has more than 60 members.

Town officials were eager to help, since a thriving Main Street helps a town's tax base.

The Assabet River Rail Trail crosses a street in Hudson. (Photo |Gintautas Dumcius)

Gintautas Dumcius | [email protected]

Laying the groundwork

Robert Burgess moved into a Hudson condo with his wife Laura in 2007. He was working at a newspaper in Concord and she was an administrator at Clark University.

Burgess, who now works at Tower Hill Botanic Garden, recalls the construction of the Assabet River Rail Trail going right up to their front door. The recreational walk and bikeway goes through downtown Hudson, and will run 12.5 miles from Marlborough to South Acton when completed.

He noticed improvements to the downtown facades were underway, and the sidewalks and lamp posts were getting an update.

He also noticed that the people of Hudson get excited when a new shop opened downtown, recalling the swarm that hit the Main Street Bagel Factory when it recently opened.

"It's a risk to set up any business, so I think the people of Hudson like to show their support of local businesses," he said.

When Jack Hunter arrived in 2015 and took a job as Hudson's planning director, the economy had picked back up. People were walking through downtown again.

"The downtown was just starting to see a resurgence and a renaissance of restaurants, shops and pedestrians," Hunter told MassLive.

One of the first things he did was tweak the downtown area's zoning to include new residential uses, which until then hadn't been allowed aside from places that were already grandfathered in.

Hunter, who left a similar job in Carver for Hudson and lives in Springfield, credits something new and something old for Hudson's revival starting before he got there: The creation of the Assabet River Rail Trail and the area's historic buildings being in good shape and ready for occupancy.

"It just established that the town was interested and committed to doing something in its downtown," he said of the rail trail.

The proximity of Interstate 495 and the dense but walkable scale of the downtown also made the area ripe for development.

Medusa Brewing Company is located at 111 Main St. in Hudson. (Photo | Ellanje Ferguson)

Medusa Brewing Company arrives

Medusa Brewing Company opened in March 2015, and Hunter calls it "one of the major, major" reasons for the Hudson downtown revival. "Don't underestimate how a brewery or a tap room or a brew pub can energize a town. They are a phenomenon we're seeing all over the place," he said.

Rail Trail Flatbread and Medusa Brewing now serve as bookends for downtown Hudson, according to Hunter. "On a Saturday night you can't get to either one of them without standing in line or a long wait," he said.

Jason Kleinerman (right) and his business partner Michael Kasseris hold a meeting in a planning room off Rail Trail Flatbread Co. (Photo | Noah R. Bombard)

Michael Kasseris, 32, was raised in Belmont. His father Theodore owned Theo's Pizza restaurants in and around the Boston area, as well as a breakfast shop in Topsfield and a doughnut shop in Newburyport.

Michael had worked for JP Morgan and Fidelity, but found he was dissatisfied. While getting his MBA at Babson College in Wellesley, he met one of his future business partners, Karim El-Gamal.

With Jason Kleinerman, they took a gamble and opened up Rail Trail Flatbread Co. At the time, two-thirds of downtown Hudson was empty.

Kasseris' uncle Nick was a retired contractor and carpenter who wanted to lease one of the empty storefronts.

"We didn't have a lot of money so we couldn't afford traditional, big industrial commercial ovens, so we wanted to build the oven ourselves. Plus, we liked the idea wood-fired pizza," Kasseris said as he sat at one of the tables across from the oven on a recent Wednesday.

A waitress came by and put down a plate of buffalo cauliflower and a flatbread pizza with shrimp scampi tortellini.

Their executive chef had worked at Atlantic Fish in Boston and Craigie on the Main in Cambridge. At least a third of the employees – including Kasseris -- live within walking distance of the restaurant, and the owners jokingly call the residential space across the street the "Rail Trail Dorms."

"We definitely moved away from being just a pizza place and became a place the whole town could congregate around and use as their dining place," Kasseris said.

Rail Trail Flatbread first opened on December 2012. They also own New City Microcreamery, which is across the street.

New City Microcreamy in downtown Hudson (Photo | Noah R. Bombard)

The microcreamery opened in May 2015, followed by a speakeasy next door. There's no sign, just a door in the back of the microcreamery with a peephole in it. Word of the "secret" bar quickly spread.

The company has about 75 to 80 full-time people on the payroll, with local high schoolers working as bussers and hosts at the restaurants.

The menu at Rail Trail Flatbread changes every three months, and draws customers from two or three towns away who come at least twice a month. That radius expands on the weekends and Rail Trail attracts customers from Connecticut who will come just to try the beers.

But the three partners didn't go it all alone. The town, looking for a place to get a good burger and chicken wings, rooted for them to succeed, according to Kasseris.

"We knew if we opened and did just the basics, thereɽ be people. People would be coming," he said. "We knew there was enough of a population nearby that they would try us out. So our job was to just to get it right, get the basics right."

Chef Tom Kepler at Rail Trail Flatbread Co. (Photo | Noah R. Bombard)

A few weeks before the doors to Rail Trail Flatbread formally opened, Kasseris remembers Hudson having a holiday stroll. Around 2,000 people streamed through the downtown area, and the small Rail Trail crew had made flatbread samples for them to try.

The panic that Kasseris initially felt seemed to subside as the people came in.

"That's when we had an awakening moment," Kasseris recalled. "We looked at each other and said, 'Wow, this is a vibrant community. If you just build something for them they'll come.'"

Amy Lynn Chase, owner of the Crompton Collective in Worcester, recently opened The Habberdash in downtown Hudson. (Photo | Noah R. Bombard)

Retail makes a comeback

Amy Chase, the owner of the Worcester antique shop Crompton Collective, opened the Haberdash on Aug. 3.

Born and raised in Worcester, she would come to Hudson for thrifting and wait in line for Rail Trail Flatbread. Back then, the downtown didn't have much of a retail sector.

But Chase was drawn to the historic old buildings and the quaint storefronts.

"That charm is what I'm into," she said.

The traditional Main Street look in downtown Hudson is "perfect for retail," she said.

Her new store, a smaller version of Worcester's Crompton Collective, focuses on handmade gifts and stationery from independent crafters from around the country.

"When good food comes to town, it's a starting point for other businesses," she added, noting that she's seen that play out in Worcester, too.

J&K Tire Co. sits on Main Street. (Photo | Noah R. Bombard)

A willingness to accept change

When you talk to the people of Hudson and ask them how this happened, what caused the resurgence to unfold, they'll say it was the pizza place serving up flatbread and craft beers.

It was the brewery drawing large crowds and giving downtown another jolt.

It was the proximity to Interstate 495 and the flowing water of an old river.

It was the business leaders coming together and working to create a more walkable area.

It was the town officials who knew enough to open their ears and listen to what people want.

It was the historic buildings and their curb appeal, the rail trail, the economy in an upswing, the streetscaping and a dozen little things that became big things.

Ask the people of Hudson what caused the revival, and the answer may well be all of the above. A willingness to accept change -- whether the change came in the form of a brewery, a pizza place or something else -- and go with the flow, right down Main Street.

Inside, Less Than Greater Than, a speakeasy, manager Alan Ercolani mixes a drink. (Photo | Melissa Hanson)

What's next for Hudson?

The population is slowly growing and the real estate market is hot, according to residents. A 1,642 square foot home on Cottage Street, a 16-minute walk from downtown and featuring three bedrooms, was recently listed for $389,000.

"People want to move to Hudson," Redding, the owner of Hudson Appliance, said.

In 2013, Robert Burgess, his wife and their two children moved out of their condo next to the rail trail and decided to double down on Hudson, buying a ranch in the northwest corner of town.

He told MassLive he hopes the town remains an economically diverse community, allowing people of different financial backgrounds to take part in the downtown's revival.

Robert Burgess and his sons Levi and Will stop in at New City Microcreamery. (Photo | Noah R. Bombard)

For cities and towns, "it's a roller-coaster over decades and sometimes centuries," Burgess said. "Downtowns will be moving, and businesses move out of town, and the community comes together to see what can be done to revitalize the downtown. It takes energy, it takes monetary investment to do that. You need the community on board to do that."

More investment appears to be on the way. The town has submitted an application for a $2.5 million state grant to do some more street-scaping, lighting and planting, all aimed at making the experience of walking around the downtown area more pleasant, Hunter said.


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