"So you can trace a lot of New World foods, or dishes, as combinations of indigenous foods with Old World techniques. You see that in New Orleans in Creole cooking," she says, "you see French and Spanish cooking techniques mixed with local ingredients, like seafood or like the sassafras in file," a spice blend.
Jambalaya, for instance, with its seafood, vegetables and rice, is an Americanized version of the Spanish paella, she says.
Chocolate mousse is another good example, she says. "Chocolate is from the Aztecs, and you mix with that the egg and cream tradition of the French." Cooks over the ages have shown "tremendous ingenuity" in adapting new foods with old, she says.
Columbus, ever seeking to drum up support for further explorations, did his best to promote the botanical treasures he found, sending home glowing reports of them. One such report, on sweet potatoes, Mr. Sokolov writes, "inadvertently describes the real beginning of trans-Atlantic culinary cross-fertilization: 'When eaten raw in salads, they taste like parsnips; when roasted, like chestnuts; when cooked with pork you would think you were eating squash. You will never eat anything more delicious than [sweet potatoes] soaked in the milk of almonds.'
"There it is," Mr. Sokolov writes. "New World meets Old in this typically medieval Spanish use of almond milk. The voyagers must have brought indispensable almonds with them. Soon they would return home and usher in the modern era in the Spanish kitchen. New World spices would supplant the antique Oriental mixture called salsa fina. Similarly, the tomato would join the onion in that most typical of Spanish culinary preparations, the sofrito, a prefried flavoring combination added to countless dishes in Spain and Latin America today. In fact, U.S. supermarkets with a Hispanic clientele sell bottled sofrito. If only Columbus could see what he started."
Sources for information about culinary "cross-fertilization" between Old World and New:
* "Seeds of change," edited by Herman J. Viola and Carolyn Margolis, Smithsonian Institute Press, catalog of the exhibit currently on view at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, $39.95 hardcover, $29.95 soft cover.
* "Why we Eat What We Eat," by Richard Sokolov, Summit Books, 1991, $22.
* "Blue Corn and Chocolate," by Elizabeth Rozin, Alfred A. Knopf, $23.
* "Food in History," by Reay Tannahill, revised edition, Crown Publishers, 1989, $19.95.
* And, on indigenous North American cuisine, "Spirit of the Harvest," by Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs, Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 1991, $35.