The Fizzy History of National Beverage Day

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iStock

Saturday, May 6 marks National Beverage Day, yet another obscure entry on the calendar that seems to be only slightly more respectable than, say, National Weatherperson’s Day (February 5).

It’s typically beverage manufacturers that make the most of these occasions, and you’re likely to come across invitations on social media from carbonated or flavored drink makers to “celebrate” by buying lots of sugar water. That was more or less the motive in 1921, when one of the earliest recorded mentions of a National Beverage Day—then called Bottled Carbonated Beverage Day—can be spotted. An unnamed contributor to The Re-Ly-On Bottler, a trade magazine dedicated to educating beverage producers, urged regional bottlers to utilize as many radio and newspaper resources as they could to promote their carbonated community.

“Give the public a new slant on the subject of drinking,” read the fizzy propaganda. “Let them know that carbonated beverages properly made and bottled are held in the highest regard by pure food authorities.”

Assuring consumers that bottled soda was free from impurities was a high priority. Inconsistent and nonexistent government oversight had plagued the food industry at the turn of the century, with inaccurate labels and suspect ingredients. The U.S. government even set up a “poison squad” in 1902 to see how adulterants like borax would be tolerated in volunteers. With consumers becoming more educated about what they were putting on their tables and into their bodies, bottlers wanted to soothe worries over contamination. In organizing a day devoted to the cause, the American Bottlers of Carbonated Beverages could marshal their ad efforts to promote carbonation as a kind of homogenization process—and even something downright healthy.

“Carbonic Gas is an enemy of the bacteria which menace us in food and drink,” read a 1925 ad in the Hartford Courant. “This is the gas which puts the bubbles in bottled carbonated beverages. It is pure of itself and it promotes purity in the beverages of which it is a part ... The thoughtful housewife will always have a case … in her home.”

Soda, the ad insisted, “contains more energy-forming material than many foods.” A graph showing that 16 ounces of soda contained 157 calories proved the point: that was far more than cabbages or turnips.

An ad in The Monroe News-Star that same year was more direct. “In days gone by, consumers … were very skeptical, for the reason they believed soda water was injurious to health, thinking it was made out of harmful ingredients and in an unsanitary plant, and right they were.”

Thanks to more restrictive state sanitary laws, the ad continued, that was no longer a concern. Soda was “pure” and “wholesome.” The notice was posted by Grapico Bottling, which assured readers they could “drink freely” and still “need no doctor.”

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when Bottled Carbonated Beverage Day permanently became the less specific National Beverage Day, as ads throughout the 1920s alternately referred to it as National Carbonated Beverage Day or simply Beverage Day, among others. But in 1925, bottlers decreed it an annual event to be held the first Wednesday of each May. As time went on, there became less of a need to reassure soda enthusiasts that bottlers had eliminated “every vestige of germs.” They also may have had increasing trouble propagating the notion of soda as “healthful.” We don’t think National Eat Your Vegetables Day ever had this problem.

The Most Popular Christmas Cookie in Each State

Jen Tepp/iStock via Getty Images
Jen Tepp/iStock via Getty Images

While opinions about peppermint bark, reindeer corn, and other Christmas candies are important enough to warrant a map of their own, we all know that the real crown jewel of any kitchen counter during the holidays is an enormous platter of homemade cookies.

In a festive endeavor to guess which type of cookie is most likely to be on your counter this Christmas, General Mills collected search data from BettyCrocker.com, Pillsbury.com, and Tablespoon.com, and created a map that shows which recipes are clicked most often in each state.

Those universally adored Hershey Kiss-topped peanut butter cookies, known on Betty Crocker’s website as Classic Peanut Butter Blossoms, took the top spot in seven states, including Florida, Pennsylvania, California, Kentucky, Nevada, South Carolina, and Wyoming. And people don’t just love peanut butter in blossom form—Easy Peanut Butter Cookie Cups, Peanut Butter-Chocolate Cookies, and 2-Ingredient PB-Chocolate Truffles also made appearances on the list.

general mills christmas cookies map
General Mills

Peanut butter treats are definitely a popular choice among holiday bakers in general, and cookie decorators are likely responsible for the prevalence of plain old sugar cookies across the nation. Sugar Cookie Cutouts, Easy Spritz Cookies, and Easy Italian Christmas Cookies all offer a deliciously blank slate for your artistic aspirations.

Apart from peanut butter- and plain sugar-based desserts, the rest of the results were pretty scattered. Iowa most often opts for the figure eight-shaped Swedish Kringla, while Michigan loves a good jam-filled Polish Kolaczki. Surprisingly, Hawaii was the only state to choose gingerbread cookies as their seasonal favorite.

If you’re thinking classic chocolate chip cookies are suspiciously absent from this map altogether, you have great dessert-related detective skills: General Mills decided to omit them from the study, since they’re Betty Crocker’s most-searched cookie recipe all year long, and they would’ve dominated in a staggering 22 states.

Whether you’re looking for a new show-stopping cookie recipe or just wondering how your long-standing family traditions compare to others’, you can read more on the study—and see all the recipes in full—here.

[h/t General Mills]

Why Do Fruitcakes Last So Long?

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iStock

Fruitcake is a shelf-stable food unlike any other. One Ohio family has kept the same fruitcake uneaten (except for periodic taste tests) since it was baked in 1878. In Antarctica, a century-old fruitcake discovered in artifacts left by explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910 expedition remains “almost edible,” according to the researchers who found it. So what is it that makes fruitcake so freakishly hardy?

It comes down to the ingredients. Fruitcake is notoriously dense. Unlike almost any other cake, it’s packed chock-full of already-preserved foods, like dried and candied nuts and fruit. All those dry ingredients don’t give microorganisms enough moisture to reproduce, as Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, explained in 2014. That keeps bacteria from developing on the cake.

Oh, and the booze helps. A good fruitcake involves plenty of alcohol to help it stay shelf-stable for years on end. Immediately after a fruitcake cools, most bakers will wrap it in a cheesecloth soaked in liquor and store it in an airtight container. This keeps mold and yeast from developing on the surface. It also keeps the cake deliciously moist.

In fact, fruitcakes aren’t just capable of surviving unspoiled for months on end; some people contend they’re better that way. Fruitcake fans swear by the aging process, letting their cakes sit for months or even years at a stretch. Like what happens to a wine with age, this allows the tannins in the fruit to mellow, according to the Wisconsin bakery Swiss Colony, which has been selling fruitcakes since the 1960s. As it ages, it becomes even more flavorful, bringing out complex notes that a young fruitcake (or wine) lacks.

If you want your fruitcake to age gracefully, you’ll have to give it a little more hooch every once in a while. If you’re keeping it on the counter in advance of a holiday feast a few weeks away, the King Arthur Flour Company recommends unwrapping it and brushing it with whatever alcohol you’ve chosen (brandy and rum are popular choices) every few days. This is called “feeding” the cake, and should happen every week or so.

The aging process is built into our traditions around fruitcakes. In Great Britain, one wedding tradition calls for the bride and groom to save the top tier of a three-tier fruitcake to eat until the christening of the couple’s first child—presumably at least a year later, if not more.

Though true fruitcake aficionados argue over exactly how long you should be marinating your fruitcake in the fridge, The Spruce says that “it's generally recommended that soaked fruitcake should be consumed within two years.” Which isn't to say that the cake couldn’t last longer, as our century-old Antarctic fruitcake proves. Honestly, it would probably taste OK if you let it sit in brandy for a few days.

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