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[Samia`s food facts and recipes]Croutons for Horace Underwood, a new year gift

[Samia`s food facts and recipes]Croutons for Horace Underwood, a new year gift

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Published : 2010-04-04 00:32
Updated : 2010-04-04 00:32

I was at a reception a few weeks ago, and I saw a man that looked so familiar to me. I asked the host who he was, and she said, "His name is Peter Underwood." Bells dinging in my head, I walked up to him and said, "Excuse me, are you by any chance related to Horace Underwood?" He looked at me, smiling, and said, "He is my father."
Of course, I was beside myself, because Horace Underwood is extremely well-known in Korea as a missionary, professor, writer and for his work with the USO. I told Peter about the time I was lucky enough to be sitting next to Horace at a dinner many years ago. The speeches went on and on and both of us were incredibly bored. Horace looked at the program, which included a few paragraphs about the speakers, and started to circle all the A`s in the text, then all the B`s, and so on. I started to help him and finally, we both started to count the number of A`s, B`s, and so on. Peter laughed and said, "I have witnessed my father`s practice of circling (or crossing out) letters when bored, but not since I was a kid."

Peter went on to talk about his father`s idea of gifts during the holidays, and that he`d always thought food was a good choice. Peter said, "My dad absolutely loved croutons, and that is the best gift anyone can give him." Well, here`s to you, Dr. Horace Underwood, a man after my own heart.
The Latin word for crouton is crusta, which means shell, like the crust of a loaf of bread. The French words for crouton are croute and croustade. The word crouton has been used since the 19th century. A crouton is a piece of bread that is baked, fried, toasted or sauteed, and seasoned with olive oil, butter, bacon fat and/or many other ingredients.
Croutons are not considered a stand-alone food, but are rather an addition or filler for other foods, such as soup or salad. But what many people and restaurants do not understand is this: the crouton can be just as delicious as the soup or salad.
The days of treating the crouton as a humble food are gone. Today, we treat the crouton with a great deal of sophistication. As with other foods of yesteryear, it is a symbol of money and wealth. The crouton was inspired by the famous biscotti and other early twice-baked foods. The crouton made its way into France in the 17th century, and was then defined as a piece of bread crust served with a drink, as biscotti are today. Only in recent years did we begin to use croutons as complements for larger dishes

The history of the crouton goes as far back as the history of bread, since in its most basic form, it is really nothing more than stale bread. The Neolithic era brought with it the idea of bread-making, and with time, the use of leavening agents came into use. Early bread-making was done without leavening agents with the use of different grains, which varied from country to country. The idea of croutons somewhat as we know them now dates back to Medieval times, when soup was served with stale pieces of bread. The Middle Ages brought with it the slice of bread soaked in wine, milk, or soup. According to, the modern crouton was invented by William Forrester in 1511. Forrester was a British doctor, writer and recluse. He tried to convince the British public to use the crouton, but he failed. Unfortunately, the idea of the crouton came before its time, as have many ideas and inventions. By 1599, the crouton became publicly accepted and was used for soups and salads.
The nutritive value of croutons depends on the bread used and the type of fat used. If olive oil is used, there will be no saturated fats, which are considered unhealthy. I recommend olive oil, as it is the best choice for optimal health. A cup of plain croutons is about 122 calories with 22 grams of carbohydrates, 3.6 grams protein, and 2.5 grams fat. If seasoning is used, and it depends on the type, the caloric value can increase. Some people use cheese, others use sesame seeds, and many others use ingredients like garlic, onions, sour cream, and so on.

Croutons, based on a recipe by Peter Underwood

1 loaf French bread (baguette), a few days old
1 cup olive oil (infused with garlic and other herbs such as hot pepper)
1 Tablespoon black sesame seeds (optional)
1 Tablespoon white sesame seeds (optional)

Cut the bread into 1cm-thick pieces, brush both sides with oil mixture (use a pastry brush or a small brush of any kind). You may want to sprinkle black or white sesame seeds on some of the croutons to add variety). Place the bread on a cookie sheet and place in a 190°C oven for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and cool. Place in a jar and wrap as a gift. Use for salads, soups, or eat them as a snack. The croutons make for a great Christmas offering, as Peter said.
Note: Peter cuts the break into cubes, which makes it easier to eat as a snack. It is somewhat messy since it is more difficult to cut and brush with the oil. Peter said, "Dad liked the croutons and used to eat them plain out of the jar!!! I used to have to hide them whenever he came over."
The following are the directions that Peter Underwood sent me. I thought one would find it interesting as to the different ways a recipe can be stated.
Slice the bread about 1 cm thick. Brush the seasoned oil onto the bread, turn the slices over, and do it again. Then cut the bread into cubes. I use a knife but Diana uses scissors. That is the messy part. (Diana cuts them into cubes first and then brushes oil on them -- she says that it is easier but I find that it is harder to spread the oil evenly that way.) Put the cubes in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake for 10 min or so in a moderate oven (around 300 F). Be sure to take them out before they brown too much as they will get darker as they cool.
I pour them onto old newspaper and then funnel them into large jars while still warm (mayonnaise jars work well). As they cool, they will seal the jars nicely. Sprinkle on salad or in soup and enjoy.
Happy New Year to All, and I hope 2009 will be a great year for all of us.

Samia Mounts is a long-time nutritionist and gourmet aficionado. She works as the Assistant Principal at Seoul American Elementary School.
By Samia Mounts


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