“When in the evening I descended from the mountain, a man, whom I had pleased with a trifling gift, met me, bringing with him hot roasted bananas, a pine-apple, and cocoa-nuts. After walking under a burning sun, I do not know anything more delicious than the milk of a young cocoa-nut. Pine-apples are here so abundant that the people eat them in the same wasteful manner as we might turnips.”
- Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle (published in 1839 as Journal and Remarks)
Charles Robert Darwin (1809 – 1882): influential evolutionary biologist and… ardent foodie? While studying at Cambridge, Darwin formed and presided over the Glutton Club (occasionally referred to as “The Gourmet Club”), a group that met weekly to dine on all sorts of rare delicacies: one member, whose account appears in Darwin’s son’s Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, describes meals of “birds and beasts which were before unknown to human palate.” The group feasted on hawk, bittern, and an old brown owl; meetings generally ended with wild games of Blackjack and too much Port wine.
At Cambridge, Darwin also met and befriended a professor of botany named John Stevens Henslow; when Captain Robert Fitzroy sought Henslow’s recommendation for a naturalist to accompany him on the second voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle, the professor suggested his young protégé. For five years, Darwin explored and collected artifacts along the coast of South America, the Galapagos islands, and the Pacific coral reefs. He never abandoned his gustatory curiosity, however, and while aboard the Beagle, he dined on rarities like armadillo and an unidentified rodent (declared the greatest meat he’d ever tasted). Darwin read voraciously during this period, including the geologist Charles Lyell’s book, Principles of Geology, which suggested that gradual changes over long periods of time shaped the world rather than great catastrophes. This notion greatly influenced Darwin: a few years after the Beagle voyage, he began to put forth his theory that species evolve over time.
By the end of the nineteenth century, Darwin’s theory of evolution provided one of the most plausible alternatives to the biblical account of creation. Darwin’s concept of natural selection was inherently random: well-adapted specimens do tend to survive in their local environment, but chance ultimately dictates the development of a species, with no particular “goal” or purpose guiding nature or civilization. Unfortunately, his theories were adopted and bastardized by “social Darwinists” who suggested that the competition between race, class or nationality was somehow “natural” and thus justified the extermination of populations deemed less “fit” (the phrase “survival of the fittest” was not even coined by Darwin).
It has been a crazy couple of weeks. I’m teaching a couple of writing courses and continuing work on my dissertation. On top of that, my husband and I decided to launch blindly into a full-scale kitchen renovation. Two weeks later, we have newly painted walls and cabinets, and plans for new countertops are in the works. This, of course, means that our kitchen is a disaster zone: yesterday, it took me a full hour to scrub little flecks of paint off of my marble pastry board.
Brownies last week, and this week, blondies: banana walnut blondies topped with a layer of dark chocolate, to be exact. I used Deb of Smitten Kitchen’s infinitely adaptable blondie recipe (adapted from a recipe found here) with an added half cup of banana and a handful of black walnut halves for the blondie portion, and boy are they tasty (no doubt due in part to the full stick of butter that goes into a fairly small batch of blondie mix). A challenging rosy apple tart, this is not: as you can see, the ingredients are all tossed into and mixed up in one bowl. Easy to make, easy to eat.
Next week: Brown Owl Baklava?