Canapes, that wonderfully delicious finger food that borrows artistic sculptural elements, that scrumptious foundation of bread layer by layer of contrasting textures and tastes that add up into handheld yum bites. Canapes are the pentacle of the bread culture, a completion of gastronomic evolution and a wonderment of humankinds love and fascination with the complex.
I have a braingasm when I think of canapes. Unashamedly so. These things are sexy! The best are beautifully eye candies with the contrast of colours and shapes; a sliver of ruby tomato resting on a soft cloud of milky white cream cheese resting on rye bread with a bare dollop of herbed olive oil. It’s a delight, contrasting flavours of savoury, soothing, strong and silky paired with those textures, oh my, it’s it’s umami.
So, there is that aspect, a very carnal, very sensual, inhaling of the senses and there is another, the amount of mindsteps its taken to reach this point in its evolution. The culinary bread history, countless tens of thousands of years old, untold generation of ancestors its taken to give bread available at the current level. I look back in wonderment to how it’s got to us.
Some brave soul out there figured out some grass seeds were edible. Someone else saved it to replant. And later, step by step humankind figured out how to pound into dust, bake it with fire ( which alone is just as impressive..somebody had to figure out fire, cooking methods, all the various baking styles..each culture develops its own unique method, philosophy around the staff of life, the grains, one of the first major crops that turned humanity from a hunter-gather culture to an agricultural one. And that’s just to get bread, the foundation piece that upon all the other elements rest on. The bread itself is almost a metaphor for the roots of human society and our creative dependence of each other. It is upon bread and the work of our past and present that unites in this concrete symbol that is so human.
Each of the sequential layers of ingredients has their own independent story of discovery, use, development and cultural significance. You can interpret a myriad of stories just based on what’s in the layers like assembling a bouquet of flowers using the Victorian-based Language of Flowers. And if you take those little interpretations and pair it with the way eating makes you feel; you can be eating love inside and out just depending on all the associations of each flavour. You could eat a story while reading that story.
Wait, wait but that’s not all. Canapes are sensually voyeuristic. They are meant to be consumed in front of others. It is a most social of foods from the most utilitarian to the delicate fragility of crisp layers. Large gatherings of people come together to devour with gastronomic pleasure these morsels. And they celebrate this!
No, Superbowl isn’t about football. It’s about the food during football. Win or lose, good canapes makes the difference between a good night and the dark pit of darkness stalking every fan of the losing team that suffered the most for their team rallying on without good beer, good seats and good canapes. Canapes takes and makes the underdog a winner.
In the United States, canapes came into their own during the Probation and Great Depression. From the hands of labour and the fields, the bits of resourceful ingenuity and kitchen wizardry found new life alongside cocktails and speakeasies. Belly treats to soak up the liqueur and hide away the imbibers from the morality police and of course the law. This rebelliousness wrapped its self around the nature of is colourful form, that pleasurable contrast of colours, eye candy that looking makes things just a bit better.
The Great Depression contributed an eternal nature, of recycling bits and pieces and maximized flavour. Stale bread fried, toasted and topped, cut into bite sizes just lifts down beaten heart. It is a moment where the love of creation, of taking the time, all the time every taken to create that very moment, and it fits in the mouth and nourishes not just the body but the soul that connects with all of humanity.
Just having canapes rejoined with the history humanity has with liqueur and alcohol, the first two gifts to humanity brought back in a divine ritual of joy! its amazing!
In the modern age, you have the complexity of systems that it takes to create that canape, from the farmer, to packing, to the store and from the chef to the lips of humanity. That’s a whole ton of life’s supporting each other in a very basic, unassuming way, inner-woven to almost invisibility, if you are sitting on the top eating canapes and sipping champagne.
They are amazing. They often are devoured without an appreciation of the complexity and history of it, relying on their value in tantalising taste buds to retain its place in our food devotions.