Max Miller takes foodies on a tasty trip with Tasting History

Max Miller of Tasting History, photo provided by Max Miller
Max Miller of Tasting History, photo provided by Max Miller /

For Max Miller, he encourages food exploration on Tasting History.

History can be full of flavor. Max Miller and his YouTube channel, Tasting History, invites foodies to crack open the history books and cookbooks to get a taste of the past. This concept isn’t about daring to open a highly aged tin can of food. This series is about finding connections between the food of the past and the dishes of the present.

For many people, food TV is there escape. Whether it is the extravagant celebrity chefs who make elaborate meals to cooking demos to inspire the next family dinner, food TV has as many viewers as the most popular long running shows.

Over time, YouTube has become a way for many people to share their food stories. From the genius food hacks to innovative recipes, the video platform is both entertaining and educational.

Earlier this year, a new channel and personality entered the YouTube space. Max Miller created Tasting History. While he might describe the programming as touch of Alton Brown meets Great British Bake Off, the show is more than that description. For Miller’s YouTube channel, it is as entertaining as it is educational.

Ahead of his new Tasting History episode, Scappi’s Herbe Torte, Miller shared this exclusive clip with FoodSided.

While many people will have never heard of or made this recipe before, the Scappi’s Herbe Torte does have ties to other popular recipes. Take a minute to re-watch the video and see what similarities that you can find.

Recently, I had an opportunity to chat with Max Miller about his show, Tasting History. If you haven’t discovered this food gem, it time to watch. It might help to push some culinary boundaries of your own.

Cristine Struble: While many people are obsessed with food videos, some people get bored with history. Why does the combination of food and history hold such appeal?

Max Miller: think that food is an easy and immediate way to latch on to history; after all, everybody eats. But even food history can be boring if it’s told in the wrong way, and I think that’s the case with all history. So often, it’s delivered as a series of names and dates completely detached from anything relevant to the listener, instead of being told as a story. While names and dates are important for context, it’s the stories around those people that draw us in. Telling the tales surrounding the scheming court of King Richard II and his love of elaborate feasts can be just as thrilling as any chapter from the Game of Thrones books.

CS: So far in your series, you have covered a wide variety of regions and time periods, what are some of the criteria for choosing the recipes that you feature?

MM: Honestly, I’m still learning my own criteria. I have tried to stick to dishes at least 100 years old and for the most part, I need an old recipe. But even that is a guideline rather than a rule. While I prefer to use period recipes and primary sources, many cultures didn’t write recipes down until fairly recently. But I’m not about to disregard entire swaths of history or of the world, so in those cases, I rely on modern interpretations and allow the history of the dish to do the heavy lifting. For example, there is no Aztec recipe for tamales, but if I make modern tamales, I can still tell the stories of the Aztec people and how important the dish has been throughout history.

CS: Since many of these recipes are quite old, can it be hard sourcing ingredients for the recipes? Do you ever have to do recipe swaps?

MM: All the time! Though I rarely get very far down the rabbit hole of a particular recipe before realizing it’s time to abandon ship. Especially with Ancient Roman recipes, finding appropriate ingredients can be hard. Some ingredients, like silphium, are extinct (or thought to be), and some are just too difficult to source, like flamingo tongue. That said, even if you could get a pack of flamingo tongues at Trader Joe’s, I’m not sure I’d partake. I have literally thousands of recipes to choose from, so I can afford to be choosy. While it’s fun to experiment with interesting ingredients, I don’t really want to go down the path of picking dishes purely for their “ick” factor.

CS: Do many of these historic recipes have connections to modern dishes that people love?

MM: Absolutely! Sometimes, it’s obvious, like a 200 year old recipe for quesadillas or a 16th century pretzel. In those cases, there are usually just a few key changes from the modern version. They’re different enough to make you pause, but similar enough that you recognize it. Then there are the more distant relatives of modern dishes like Loseyns. That’s a 14th century English recipe for Lasagna! But it’s almost unrecognizable. It has cinnamon and nutmeg and it isn’t baked. Also, it has no tomato sauce as tomatoes wouldn’t appear in Europe for centuries. I think people really enjoy seeing these recipes because they’re so relatable to something they might be eating for dinner that night.

CS: In the Scappi Herb Torte episode, the dish was served to some very blessed men. Are there special well wishes or a blessing that comes with this recipe?

MM: Since the dish was made for the Pope, I have no doubt there were many words said before serving it up, but I don’t know of anything specific. In his cookbook of Papal foods, Scappi made very little mention to the religious atmosphere he was in, partly because since it was omnipresent, he likely didn’t feel the need to mention it. After spending most of his career in Vatican City, I have no doubt he had opinions on those eating his fantastic creations, but other than a few fawning words for his patron in the introduction, he keeps everything on the topic of the food itself.

CS: Given today’s current climate, many people are drawn to both comfort foods and foods from their heritage. Do you think that these historical recipes fit that craving?

MM: Honestly, I don’t, unless the dish hasn’t changed over the years, like tamales. For something to be comfort food or for someone to link it to their heritage, it has to have that personal tie either from one’s childhood or another time they felt safe and happy. Comfort food is so personal for that reason. My comfort food is a Japanese style fried chicken that my father used to make on special occasions; surely nobody else will have that on their list. That said, sometimes there are recipes which have been passed down generation after generation and those might be both comfort food and historical. The problem with those dishes is that the recipes are often passed down orally so we have no actual “historical” recipe.

CS: Are there any limits to the recipes that you could cover on this show?

MM: Could or would? I think most often, it’s a case of would I make this? And it typically comes down to certain animals I’m unwilling to eat. Whale, rat, that sort of thing. There are also ingredients that are illegal here in the US; sheep lung, an ingredient in haggis, for example. But the nice thing about my show is that, even if I’m unwilling or unable to make the dish, that doesn’t mean I can’t discuss it. I often talk about dishes in the history portion of the show that are only linked to what I’m actually making. So in that way, nothing is off limits and the possibilities are truly endless.

If you are ready for a little Tasting History check out Max Miller on his YouTube channel. More importantly, consider making one of these recipes for yourself. It could be a lesson of a lifetime.

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