Omelets are awesome.
They’re ancient. No one is sure who invented them – maybe a French chef, a Roman, or a Persian?
Most will guess it was the French chef. That makes sense – after all the word comes from the French. The recipe appeared in a 1769 cookbook by Edward James Rimmel, who, according to Michelle Stanley in Food, described it as “a pancake made of three or four eggs well beat and put into a frying pan with butter.”
Go back to ancient Rome. They served Ova Spongia Ex Lacte – sweet omelet. Team Breakfast reported that the recipe called for beating “four eggs, half a pint of milk, and an ounce of oil.” Cook, fold, pour on honey, and sprinkle with pepper.
Now head to ancient Persia, about 559 BCE. Coeur D’Alene suggests that “like pyramids, it occurred to the ancients to whip up some eggs and dairy then fold it for breakfast.”
How about Stone Age diners? They loved eggs. Perhaps they made omelets too?
We don’t know. What we do know is that omelets have evolved over thousands of years. Two of the most popular omelets are the America western and the French onion. Then there’s the Thai khai chiao, the Israeli version of the Middle East schakschuka, Greek foustoron, Italy frittata and well, there’s an omelet version almost anywhere in the world.
With so many great stories!
Consider the American western omelet. It was a cover-up. In the 1800s an omelet was the filling in a Denver Sandwich, eaten between two slices of bread. Many food historians believe that it was created by cattle drivers or Chinese railroad cooks – easy to make and transport – a fast food egg foo young. The story says that one day a wagon arrived with bad-tasting eggs. Instead of tossing them, cooks covered up the flavor with onions, cheese, diced ham, green pepper, and mushrooms – the way we eat it today.
The hangtown fry, a cousin of the western omelet, became famous during the California Gold Rush in the 1850s. Legend says it was invented when a gold rush prospector hit it rich. He went to the Cary House Hotel in Placerville, California (aka Hangtown) and ordered the most expensive dish that the kitchen could make. The costliest ingredients were eggs, bacon, and oysters.
Another story claims that the hangtown fry was the last meal ordered by a condemned man in the local jail. He knew that it would take a long time to gather the ingredients, conveniently delaying his execution.
People still eat hangtown fry or oyster omelets.
Hangtown (Placerville, Ca) compliments of Wikimedia Commons
Head to Spain where Culture Trip reported that in 1817 an anonymous letter was sent to the Court of Navarre, describing the poor farmers. They were forced to stretch their food by cooking eggs like a tortilla and adding “simple ingredients” such as potatoes and breadcrumbs.
Today it’s called the Spanish omelet or Spanish tortilla.
Then there’s France. One of their most famous tourist attractions (second only to Paris) is the stunning island of Mont-Saint-Michel, said to have inspired Joan of Arc. Today it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, known for its medieval abbey and more recently, Mother Poulard. Mother Poulard was an innkeeper. She created a delicious omelet in the late 1800s, beating the yolks and whites separately, folding them together, and cooking over a wood-fired flame.
Some say it’s the world’s best omelet.
In 1919 a superstition grew around Mother Poulard’s omelet. The saying goes, “Omelette you will eat, president you will be.” Charles de Gaulle, George Pompidou, and Francois Mitterrand ate Mother’s omelet before their victories. George Clemenceau and Edouard Balladur did not and they lost. Nicholas Sarkozy wouldn’t take a chance; he launched his campaign from Mont-Saint-Michel and ate the omelet. He won.
Maybe our presidential candidates should take the hint?
One of the most famous legends began with Napoleon Bonaparte. The Emperor and his army were moving through Southern France and camped near the town of Bessieres. A local innkeeper prepared an omelet for Napoleon. He loved it so much that he ordered the villagers to gather all the eggs in town and create a giant omelet for his army.
The Easter tradition of feeding an omelet to the poor was born. Other towns followed. It grew into giant omelette festivals that spread to countries like Belgium, Argentina, Canada, and the U.S. (Louisiana). The Knights of the Giant Omelette was created “to prepare and serve, free of charge and full of joy, a giant omelette.”
They’re really giant. They include thousands of eggs mixed by many chefs and assistants. The Guinness World Record for the largest omelet was 145,000 eggs, 880 pounds of oil, and 220 pounds of butter. A Portuguese chef led the crew.
That would impress Napoleon.
The next time you chow down on an omelet, think of the stories. It will taste even better.