Does Blotting Pizza With a Napkin Really Do Anything?

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Benign and universally beloved as it seems, pizza is a food that’s rife with controversy. The New York/Chicago rivalry over whose pizza is “best” will never be resolved, and politicians have been mocked for taking fork and knife to a slice. Perhaps even more contentious than these is the question of pizza-blotting—is it a culinary crime to dab at the grease atop a pizza with a napkin? Either way, there's some good news for blotters: blotting the oil off the top of pizza does make it measurably healthier.

Shockingly, federal funding for research into pizza nutrition has been limited, so there’s no strict scientific consensus on how many calories make the jump from pizza to paper towel when a slice is blotted. The closest approximation comes from the Food Network’s series Food Detectives. Host Ted Allen and a team of researchers from Popular Science came up with the figure of “35 calories per slice on average (3.5 grams of oil).” CNN’s Dr. Roshini Raj gives a similar appraisal: “You are probably cutting 20 to 50 calories a piece – not a whole lot, but […] if you have a couple of slices, it adds up.”

With an average slice of cheese pizza weighing in at 272 calories, blotting off 35 calories per piece equals a 13% reduction. Nutrition-savvy readers might recognize that 35 calories also equates to 1/100th of 3,500 calories: the number doctors generally agree equals one pound of human fat.

An infographic by Labdoor Magazine gets a little bit more realistic with its calculations, using a slice of Domino’s pepperoni pizza as its standard and calculating total calorie reduction over a year based on the national average for pizza consumption: 23 pounds of pizza for every American. According to those calculations, blotting off the pizza grease can soak up 6611.2 calories in a year, or nearly two pounds’ worth of fat. 

Of course, there are caveats to the pizza blotting strategy. Along with fatty orange oil slicks, an injudiciously applied napkin might remove a pizza’s seasonings or take a bit of cheese and sauce with it, so it’s a choice that shouldn’t be made lightly. Blot if you will, but maybe just once in a while, leave the napkin on the side and live a little.

[h/t Mic]

Why Do We Eat Cranberry Sauce on Thanksgiving?

MSPhotographic/iStock via Getty Images
MSPhotographic/iStock via Getty Images

While plenty of people eat turkey, mashed potatoes, and pie year-round, it seems like cranberry sauce almost exclusively exists in the Thanksgiving universe. Although we don’t know for sure whether it was eaten at the very first Thanksgiving, the jiggly, gelatinous side dish does have deep roots in the history of America’s fruited plains.

According to Insider, cranberries are one of only three commercially grown fruits native to the United States, and the Wampanoag tribe had been using them for food, dye, and medicine long before feasting with the Pilgrims in 1621. If there were cranberries at the party, they probably didn’t taste much like the sweetened sauce we’re (circumstantially) fond of today; at that point, the settlers hadn’t yet succeeded in growing sugar cane in the New World.

But a little more than 50 years later, according to a 1672 account cited by The Washington Post, the new Americans and Native Americans had both started to enjoy cranberries much like we do at Thanksgiving dinner: “Indians and English use it much, boyling them with Sugar for a Sauce to eat with their Meat.”

In 1796, Amelia Simmons—author of American Cookery, the first-ever American cookbook—took it one step further by recommending that roast turkey be served with cranberry sauce. Considering that the Library of Congress included the book on its list of “Books That Shaped America,” it’s possible that Simmons’s suggestion reverberated through kitchens across the nation, and the tradition gained momentum from there. She does mention pickled mangoes as an alternate side dish for turkey, but the then-Indian import was likely less common than the locally-grown cranberry.

Then, in the early 1800s, Ocean Spray revolutionized the labor-intensive process of hand-picking cranberries from vines with what’s called a wet harvest. Basically, farmers flood the bogs where cranberries grow, and then they wade into the water to collect the floating berries en masse.

farmer wet-harvesting cranberries
A farmer gathering cranberries during a wet harvest.
kongxinzhu/iStock via Getty Images

This was a more efficient technique, but a mass harvest meant that more cranberries got damaged. So in 1912, Ocean Spray began crushing them into canned, jellied cranberry sauce—maximizing the yield and making it easier than ever for every home in America to slice up a cylinder of solid, sugary, berry goodness.

Explore the stories behind your other favorite (or least favorite) Thanksgiving foods here.

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Why Do We Eat Pumpkin Pie at Thanksgiving?

gjohnstonphoto/iStock via Getty Images
gjohnstonphoto/iStock via Getty Images

While it’s possible—even probable—that pumpkins were served at the 1621 harvest festival that’s now considered the predecessor to Thanksgiving, attendees definitely didn’t dine on pumpkin pie (there was no butter or wheat flour to make crust).

The earliest known recipes for pumpkin pie actually come from 17th-century Europe. Pumpkins, like potatoes and tomatoes, were first introduced to Europe in the Columbian Exchange, but Europeans were more comfortable cooking with pumpkins because they were similar to their native gourds.

By the 18th century, however, Europeans on the whole lost interest in pumpkin pie. According to HowStuffWorks, Europeans began to prefer apple, pear, and quince pies, which they perceived as more sophisticated. But at the same time pumpkin pie was losing favor in Europe, it was gaining true staple status in America.

In 1796, Amelia Simmons published American Cookery, the first cookbook written and published in the New World colonies. Simmons included two recipes for “pompkin pudding” cooked in pastry crust. Simmons’s recipes call for “stewed and strained” pumpkin, combined with a mixture of nutmeg, allspice, and ginger (yes, it seems our pumpkin spice obsession dates back to at least the 1500s).

But how did pumpkin pie become so irrevocably tied with the Thanksgiving holiday? That has everything to do with Sarah Josepha Hale, a New Hampshire-born writer and editor who is often called the “Godmother of Thanksgiving.” In her 1827 abolitionist novel Northwood, Hale described a Thanksgiving meal complete with “fried chicken floating in gravy,” broiled ham, wheat bread, cranberry sauce, and—of course—pumpkin pie. For more than 30 years, Hale advocated for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday, writing regular editorials and sending letters to five American presidents. Thanksgiving was a symbol for unity in an increasingly divided country, she argued [PDF].

Abraham Lincoln eventually declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 (to near-immediate outcry from Southerners, who viewed the holiday as an attempt to enforce Yankee values). Southern governors reluctantly complied with the presidential proclamation, but cooks in the South developed their own unique regional traditions. In the South, sweet potato pie quickly became more popular than New England’s pumpkin pie (mostly because sweet potatoes were easier to come by than pumpkins). Now, pumpkin pie reigns supreme as the most popular holiday pie across most of the United States, although the Northeast prefers apple and the South is split between apple and pecan, another Southern staple.

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