From the first cheese to a new type of 'blond' chocolate, an awful lot of what we put on our tables was created by accident rather than design.
I recently invented a cocoa citrus tea. It was the surprisingly pleasant result of an airborne Jaffa cake, launched by my daughter, landing in my teacup. Terrible table manners, I know, but the result was a zingy chocolatey orange flavoured brew. I have yet to patent it or even entice anyone else to try it, yet I cling to the belief that I may be on to something.
After all, some of the greatest dishes came about by accident. The latest serendipitous food to reach us is blond chocolate, as distinct from white, milk or dark. Produced by French chocolate maker Valrhona, the creation of this accidental chocolate has the flavour of a Joanne Harris novel."Early one spring morning 8 years ago," it goes, "at Valrhona's Ecole du Grand Chocolat, Frédéric Bau put some white chocolate in a bain marie, for a pastry demonstration. But he forgot about it until 10 hours later when the chocolate had turned a honey/butterscotchy shade of blond, smelled of toasted shortbread and had a unique creamy, sugary, slightly salty taste."
Eight years on chocolate "engineers" have finally found a way to reproduce the chocolate on a bigger scale and it's now available to buy in bar and bean shapes from Fortnum and Mason, Harvey Nichols as well as some places online.
If its appeal is universal and the new product stands the test of time it will enter the annals alongside other accidental foodstuffs, which range from staples such as cheese to more exotic and unusual concoctions like Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce.
Mankind first tasted the former when an Arab nomad decided to transport milk in a container made from an animal's stomach, complete with the curdling enzyme rennet. When lunchtime arrived he was surprised to find the liquid was now a solid, but ate it anyway and liked what he ate.
Worcestershire sauce arose after a failed attempt by John Lea and William Perrins to recreate a much-loved Indian sauce for Lord Marcus Sandy, a former governor of Bengal, who on returning to England went to them with a description of the flavour he was pining for. What they came up with was too powerful, but rather than throwing the sauce away they stashed it in their basement for two years. It aged and changed, improving radically in the process and proving a hit with their customers.
A fit of pique led chef George Crum to the invention of potato crisps. A customer at his Saratoga Springs restaurant complained this French fries were too thick. Crum sliced potatoes as thin as he could and deep-fried them until they were hard, then sent them out to the complainer, who loved them.
It was being overworked that led Stéphanie Tatin to leave apples, intended for a pie, cooking for so long that they caramelized, leading to the signature dish of the eponymous hotel she ran with her sister. The list of accidental foodstuffs goes on. It includes choc-chip cookies, tofu, beer, cornflakes, iceberg lettuce, and ice cream cones. Once you start asking questions an awful lot of what we put on our tables was created by accident rather than design.
Many a chef will tell you the greater part of cooking is trial and error or absent-mindedness. All signature dishes require a bit of experimentation with ingredients and flavours, and every family seems to have its own peculiar culinary treats, concocted as a result of mistakes or improvisations.
My grandmother used to served mashed potatoes with a fried egg on top. On one occasion she picked up a Marmite-smeared fork to mash the spuds. The resulting blend of Marmity mashed potatoes which we dubbed "Marmotegg" became a family favourite and is something I still crave on a cold winter evening. What are yours?
Potato crisps (or chips) were invented by accident.