To the Europeans, the West was a great unknown. Many people believed that over the western sea there was nothing but darkness and danger. Yet throughout the past, travelers tried to find out what was on the other side of the water. There are very few traces of those first explorers. They lived in times when most people could not write, so stories of their discoveries were passed down as tales told around hearth fires. Sometimes they were believed, sometimes not. Russell Freedman’s Who Was First? Discovering the Americas looks at the evidence behind this puzzle.
Columbus Day is sometimes called Discoverers' Day. In the spirit of discovery, take some time to learn about the world as it was in the days of the European explorers. You can make a compass, learn about the stars, read about other explorers and discoverers, and find how even our way of eating has changed since the Europeans came to the Americas looking for gold, glory, and, yes, tasty cooking spices.
Pizza Without Tomato Sauce?
The explorers who came to the Americas found the food enjoyed by the native people to be very different from what they knew at home. They had never seen tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, maize (corn), pineapples, chili peppers, or even cocoa. The vegetable dishes from the Europe they knew relied on parsnips, cabbages, peas, carrots, turnips, and onions. After being at sea and living off of a diet of lentil soup, salt beef from a barrel, salted sardines, hardtack, and other delights, the fresh, new foods of the islands would have been an astonishing change.
As my cotton-gloved hands examined the woven fabric, I felt the thrill of encountering a link to the age of discovery. Over a hundred years old and probably unseen and untouched for decades, this artifact of the Cook Islands was being carefully prepared by us technicians to be moved to the Smithsonian Institution’s storage facility. Some twenty years later, Professor Nicholas Thomas’ Cook: The Extraordinary Voyages of Captain James A. Cook has given me much better perspective on these pieces of the past.