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History of Mayonnaise

January 5, 2011

The mayo was really easy to make and very rich tasting. I made more than I need for Saturday’s recipe so we are planning on having egg salad for dinner tomorrow. Of all the recipes in Damn Good Food I will be making this one the most. It is included in eight different recipes and does not last in the fridge for more than a few days so I can’t make one huge batch. It makes you wonder what they put in the store bought stuff to make it last so long. Since I’m going to have this recipe memorized before the year is out it seemed like a little research was in order. Have you ever wondered why it’s called mayonnaise? Neither had I.

There are several stories of the origin of mayonnaise. The essence of mayo has most likely been around since the time of the ancient Egyptians. They had a sauce that was a mixture of olive oil and eggs which we probably wouldn’t recognize.  No one can seem to agree entirely on the story of more modern mayonnaise. Probably the least likely version is that an unknown Londoner created it in the 15th century when she accidentally spilled oil into her bowl while mixing up some creme. There are those that favor an etymological origin and claim that it is a mixture of the French words for egg (moyen) and stiring (manier). I like the mostly official story best.  In theory it was brought back to France from the city of Mahón  in Spain after Marshal Armand de Vignerot du Plessis‘s victory over the British in 1756.  The story goes that his chef was preparing a victory feast and needed a sauce to put on the meat. He was out of creme to mix with the eggs and he substituted olive oil. He named it Mahónnaise after the city where the battle had been won.  I like this story because the Marshal is a large figure in French history and it is believed that the character Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons was based on him. The images from the movie allow me to visualize du Plessis enjoying a grand meal and sneaking off with the chambermaid between courses. [I almost titled this post Being John Mayovich, but even I have to draw the line somewhere.]

While it is a very good tale, Du Plessis’s chef did not bring us all the way to what we know as mayonnaise. He was just the first to name this fairly prevalent mixture of oil and eggs. The French chef Marie-Antoine Carême, founder of the concept of haute cuisine, improved the sauce by whipping the egg yolks and oil into an emulsion. It is this recipe that is credited with popularizing what we think of as mayonnaise. A century or so later a German-American deli owner in New York really made it popular and started selling it in jars. His name was Richard Hellmann.

Recipe #8: Homemade Mayonnaise

Damn Good Food Quote of the Day: A product of her time, [Annie Omer] was constantly clipping magazine recipes, experimenting with canned soup, scanning Julia Child, and whipping up her own condiments.

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