History of Hash

Hash is a reminder of simpler times. Before ‘local’ supermarkets appeared on every street corner and fridge/ freezers donned a spot in every kitchen the necessity to eat up what was in the house was far more pronounced. Whether that materialised into a broth, pie, soup or hash, households were forced to be inventive with what they had, or in the words of Thomas J Murrey, utilise “culinary odds and ends”.

For a history of hash, Murrey’s book Luncheon, published in 1888, is a good reference point. Dedicated to Hon. Amos J. Cummings, a man who “though attending all rich banquets, prefers the un-assuming well-made dish ‘which smells of home’ to the most expensive Fantaisies Culinaires ever invented”, Murrey is furious that “the midday meal of the household is too often an indifferent affair”.

“This should not be,” he says. “Should a servant be allowed to shirk their duties at one time, it is not human to expect them to be careless whenever they feel so disposed.”

Parallels could, and should be made to idle culinary habits today. If food is not well made and served, it will not be eaten, “and much good food and seasoning will therefore be spoiled”. The utilisation of culinary odds and ends that accumulate in the “ice box and pantry” deserves the highest consideration, Murrey says, for men who live on a diet of fresh meats “which were but once cooked would become unbearable”.

Hashing’ leftovers is not a new concept by several centuries at least. One of the first references to hash appeared in the diary of Samuel Pepys from a luncheon on Tuesday 13 January 1662. His wife, tasked with catering for Dr. Clerke and his lady and Mr. Pierce and his wife, rose by five o’clock the day before to buy fowls and many other things from the market. After oysters, the first course was “a hash of rabbits, a lamb, and a rare chine of beef”, which was “noble and enough”.

The ‘status’ of hash as a dish is important in historical context. Once viewed as a dish for the lower classes its subservient reputation has been challenged in modern day kitchens. After two World Wars where rationing once again necessitated meals such as Corned Beef Hash to be a household staple, the modern way is to repurpose the traditional leftover luncheon in to all day affairs with panache.

William Porter reported in The Denver Post on the trend of high-end restaurants “thinking outside the can with this cross-cultural dining staple”, and the first cookbook – Hashcapades – dedicated exclusively to a wide variety of hashes was self-published in 2012 by Katherine Miller.

As the food waste crisis threatens to spiral out of control, it could be a welcomed return.

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