Burt Wolf is the host and author of nine internationally syndicated television series that deal with cultural history, travel and gastronomy. Burt, a former James Beard Foundation Award winner, has also worked as a travel journalist and written or edited nearly 60 books.
When Money Grew On Trees: The Story of Chocolate
During the spring of 1502 the Maya of Mexico introduced Columbus to the cacao bean which was their currency as well as the source of chocolate. This program looks at the history of chocolate in Mexico; its arrival in Spain, where it was used as a medicine and an aphrodisiac; its evolution into a drink for the rich in France as opposed to a drink available to all classes in England. We follow the beans from a plantation in Mexico to a chocolate bar in the United States, explore the story of chocolate in America and discover that on more than one occasion women have killed to have chocolate.
How Sweet It Is: The Story of Sugar
Sugar started out in Asia, traveled to the Middle East and then to Europe first as a medicine and then as a rare spice. During his second voyage in 1493, Columbus brought it to the Caribbean where it changed into a common necessity, became a key element in the Caribbean slave trade and an early example of capitalist manufacturing. We'll find out why people who had a sweet tooth had a better chance of surviving than people who didn't and how sugar became the basis for England's international trade, a key element in the control of Britain's working class, and an essential part of the temperance movement.
Some Like It Hot: The Story of Chili Peppers
When Columbus set out from Spain his objective was to get King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella into the black pepper business. He believed that the islands he landed on in the Caribbean were off the coast of China. When the natives showed him chilies he decided to call them peppers and he had two good reasons. First, when it hit his tongue it felt like black pepper. Second and more importantly, he was getting paid to find "peppers" and so he did. This program looks at how the hot pepper spread around the world and changed the way we cook from China to India to Texas. We'll follow hot peppers into outer space, find out how they affect our brains, how they help to cure the common cold and how they may soon be used by pharmaceutical companies as the primary ingredient for 21st Century pain killers.
Domesticated Bliss: The Story of Livestock In America
When Christopher Columbus sailed into the Americas there were no chickens, no pigs, no horses, no cattle - no large animals to ride or help with the farming. When the domesticated animals of Europe arrived they changed the way people ate, how they lived and traveled, and even the surface of the land itself. We'll find out how the piggy became a symbol of bankable security, how Spanish ranchers, British Highlanders and West Africa slaves developed virtually every name and task we associate with western cattle ranching from cowboy and bronco to lasso and rodeo. We'll discover the origin of the barbecue, visit the site of the earliest ranches in North America, find out why we love beef, and see how the horse turned Native Americans from subsistence farmers into great buffalo hunters.
Time to Play Ketchup: The Story of the Tomato
When he marched into Mexico in 1519, Hernando Cortez became the first European to see a tomato. He sent some to the Spanish settlements in the Caribbean and from there back to Europe. In this program we find out why the tomato was readily accepted in Italy and Southern Europe but not in the north. We discover the story of the tomato pill that claimed to cure all illnesses, the true origin of ketchup and how it became our national condiment, why the Supreme Court changed the tomato from a fruit to a vegetable, the strange history of tomato juice, and why we throw tomatoes at people who get on our nerves.
This Spud's for You: How The Potato Changed The World
On two occasions the potato, which originated in South America, changed the course of world history. The first time was when it fed the great Inca Empire and the Spanish explorers who conquered it. The second was when it arrived in Europe, fed an expanding population that provided the workers for the Industrial Revolution, and allowed a small group of Northern European nations to dominate the world for over 200 years. This program looks at the details behind these stories: how the potato became a hidden food that saved people during times of war, how it changed the way people farmed, caused a population explosion in Ireland and then destroyed millions of Irish farmers. We'll discover when the French fry arrived in America and how it got turned into a chip.
The Seed of Life: The Story of Corn
On the 4th of November 1492, Columbus came ashore on what is now the island of Cuba. The natives greeted him with a gift of corn. Because it is a strong plant, grows fast and produces food for both people and animals, it has been cultivated everywhere but the North and South Poles. We'll see how corn oil, corn starch and corn syrup have become essential to every industrial society on the planet. We' ll discover the source of corn flakes, and find out how gourmet popcorn was invented.
Milk's Leap Toward Immortality: The Story of Cheese
The first cows in the Western Hemisphere were brought to the Caribbean by Columbus and were soon producing milk which the colonists turned into cheese. This program traces the history of cheese with a close look at what has happened in California - the largest dairying state in the United States. We'll find out how cheese is made, visit a few women who make some of the finest cheeses in the world and find out how cheese is used in cooking.
Taking The High Grounds: The Story of Coffee
Christopher Columbus never had an espresso, a latte or a double, skinny mochaccino grande. When he set sail from Spain in 1492, coffee was an exotic luxury available only in the Muslim world. Five hundred years later, it is the second most valuable legal export on earth and the most widely used psychoactive drug. This program looks at the discovery of coffee in Ethiopia, its ability to control the economy of major nations, and its role in both the American and French Revolutions. We'll find out how it is grown and processed, the truth about decaffeination, and how to make a perfect cup of Joe.
The Hand That Stirred The Pot: African Foods In America
Over 10 million slaves were brought from Africa to the Americas and they brought with them many of their traditional foods and the knowledge of how to grow and cook them-peanuts, bananas, watermelon, rice, yams and okra are just part of our African culinary heritage. This program takes a look at the origins of these foods and the roles they played and continue to play in western cooking and culture.
Simple Pleasures: Mediterranean Foods in the Americas
When the first Spanish explorers set sail with Columbus in 1492, they provisioned their ships with olive oil, dried peas, wine, pork and fish-the foods that made up the Mediterranean diet of the time. As the explorers returned to Spain, they brought with them tomatoes, potatoes, hot peppers, and beans. When all these foods are taken together you have today's Mediterranean diet, which has become the most popular gastronomic tradition in America. This program looks at the history of the foods of the Mediterranean and how they have affected people in Europe and the Americas.
Here's Looking at You Kid: The Story of Wine In The Americas
Soon after the Spanish colonists arrived in the Americas they tried to grow grapes so they could make wine. It was the beverage of choice and essential for communion in the Catholic Church. But wine grapes couldn't survive the dry heat of the Caribbean. The priests who had come to the Americas with the Spanish colonists became concerned that they had entered a world created by a devil that had no use for wine and its relationship to Christ. Five hundred years later the Americas have become a winemaker's heaven. This program looks at the history, folklore and culture of winemaking in America from the earliest plantings, through prohibition and up to our present vintages, which are considered to be some of the best in the world.
Connecting The Dots: An Overview of the Consuming Passions Ignited by Columbus
When Christopher Columbus left Spain he thought he would reach China or Japan. When he got to the Caribbean he had no idea of where he was and when he got home to Spain he had no idea of where he had been. And yet he has ended up as one of the most celebrated explorers in the world-a constant reminder that you can become famous and not have a clue. But Chris' lack of insight does not detract from the enormous impact his voyages had on the history of the world. This program looks at the forces that led to the voyages of Columbus and their continuing effect on our world.