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CHoWLine - Back Issues





October 2000

Program: "Discovering Saltwater Foodways: 19th-Century New Englanders and Their Food at Sea and Ashore"

Sandra Oliver is founder and editor of Food History News, which she publishes on the Maine island where she lives. Her book, Saltwater Foodways, a study of New England's food-acquiring, food-preserving, and food-preparing traditions, is the result of more than 20 years of far-ranging research into journals and log books, political and social histories, advertisements and local-newspaper gossip, and New England recipes, both published and in manuscript.

There are tentative plans to go out for dinner with Sandy after the meeting (at a restaurant that can accommodate a group on short notice). Please join us if you can.

Future Meetings

November 12: Psyche Williams Forson will talk about African American Foodways.

December 10: "Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash" by Susan Strasser

January 14: Program TBA

February 11: John Ferry will discuss his research on the 19th-century kitchen.

March 11: 18th-century hearth cooking at Gunston Hall with Bob Magee and Brigitte Martin.

April 12: CHoW cooperative dinner. Please give suggestions for a theme to Francine Berkowitz or Sophie Frederickson.

May 20: Warren Belasco will bring us "Food in Popular Music."

It's Time to Renew!

Our membership year runs from October 1 through September 30, and now is the time to join or renew. If you have not already done so, a membership form is enclosed. We hope you will want to be a member for the 2000-2001 year.

Report: September 10 Meeting

CHoW president Francine Berkowitz proposed that we establish an archive and asked for volunteers. She also announced that Dianne Hennessy King will be activating a CHoW website. In keeping with the theme of the meeting, we noshed on Hebrew National salami, marble rye, kosher pickles, deli mustard, pickled tomatoes, and Israeli salad, provided by Francine and Dianne.

Joan Nathan's lively and informal talk about the history of Jewish cooking in America kept the gathering of 55, including many guests, completely enthralled and there were many questions and comments afterwards. Joan has suggested that an excerpt from the Introduction to her book be used as a sort of summary of her remarks about such wide-ranging topics as the successive waves of Jewish immigrants from all parts of the world, to the mythic origins of such now mainstreamed foods as bagels, cheesecake, and Reuben sandwiches.

Report on the Herb Garden Tour

On September 16, a beautiful Saturday morning, Jim Adams, curator of the National Herb Garden, led members of CHoW and the local chapter of Slow Food on an informative stroll through the Garden, which is part of the U.S. National Arboretum. It is a USDA research and education facility and a "living museum." The Herb Garden contains ten theme gardens that feature 800 kinds of herbs and other plants used around the world for seasoning, flavoring, medicinal, and other purposes. Themes include Native American plants, medicinal plants, and plants used in Greece in the 1st century A.D.

We were introduced to a large number of unusual plants such as the one that bears the so-called "cannibal fruit" because it was used to make a tomato-like sauce to dress up a dish of humans. In addition to a pair of cacao trees in pots (taken inside during our cold winters) there were cinnamon trees like those sometimes used as investment wedding gifts in Southeast Asia: a small plot of seedlings given to a bride and groom to yield a connamon bark crop when the trees mature in 15 years.

Many of the plants were still in bloom throughout the gardens and we were reminded that the beautiful roses are also an ingredient in rosewater and perfumes, and rosehips are incorporated into medicines, teas, and jellies. The colorful groundcover, periwinkle, also aids in fighting lymphoma, leukemia, and other diseases. The walk with the curator and friends was a great way to see common and uncommon plants that are both beautiful and useful.

Anyone interested in a tour of the Domino Sugar refinery in Baltimore? Let's get organized for a Saturday morning trip.

A Deep Sense of Loss

With great sadness, we tell of the death on September 13 of Rodris Roth, one of our charter members whose interest and encouragement stimulated the founding of the Culinary Historians of Washington. Rodris was curator emeritus of domestic life collections at the National Museum of American History, and an incredible source of information which she shared generously with others. She will be much missed.

News Of Our Members

Congratulations to Warren Belasco who is this year's recipient of the Sophie Coe Memorial Prize, awarded annually at the Oxford Symposia on Food History. The subject of his prize- winning essay was food of the future, or meal-in-a-pill, about which he spoke to CHoW two years ago.

On October 28 at 3 p.m. at the Olsson's Books and Records store at Dupont Circle, there will be a book-signing party to introduce Virginia Jenkins' new book, Bananas: An American History. The event, organized by the Smithsonian Institution Press, also will include banana-related food and drink.

News From Other Organizations

Nov. 3 - 5: The Mid-Atlantic Popular Culture/American Culture Association's annual meeting will be held in Albany, NY. There will be three foodways sessions, a record number for the conference.
Panel I: Transformations in Foodways
Jennifer Berg (New York University): "The Bearable Whiteness of Foam: The New York Egg Cream."
Mimi Martin (New York University): "Turkey Tetrazzini: The Transformation of Thanksgiving's Remnants Into a Tasty Casserole and a Contemporary Tradition."
Lacey Torge (New York University): "Ordering Disorientation and Orienting Disorder: Mapping Lucky Cheng's New York 'Original Drag Queen Restaurant.'"

Panel II: Connections Through Foodways
Miriam Meyers (Metropolitan State University): "A Bite Off Mama's Plate: Mothers' and Daughters' Connections Through Food."
Laurisa Schumann (Brigham Young University): "How To Keep A Kosher Kitchen: A Reading of Miriam's Kitchen."
Denise Watson (Independent Scholar, Detroit): "Codes of Survival: Vibration Cooking and the Narrative of Soul Food."
Mary Rizzo (University of Minnesota): "Revolution in a Can: Classifying the American Self Through Food."

Panel III: German Foodways
Gerd Schneider (Syracuse University): "German Regional Food and McDonaldization: Heimat vs. Culinary Globalization."
Brenda Keiser (Bloomsburg University): "Thomas Leiven and His Culiary Art of Seduction: A German James Bond."
Cecilia Novero (Penn State University): "The Representation of Italy in German Texts."

In addition, on Saturday evening, author Denise Watson will read "False Charms & Chitlins" from a new anthology, Food and Other Enemies: Stories of Consuming Desire, edited by Leslie Powell, Essex Press, 2000.

November 10: "Kitchens: Design, Technologies, and Work," a conference at the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, DE. Papers will analyze household, commercial, and industrial kitchens in post-1850 North America. For information, write to Dr. Roger Horowitz, Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society, Hagley Museum and Library, P.O. Box 630, Wilmington, DE 19807; rh@udel.edu; fax 302-655-3188.

Radcliffe Institue for Advanced Study is offering two seminars on Food in History and Culture:
February 12-16: "Mediterranean Culinary History," led by Nancy Harmon Jenkins. Application deadline: January 31. Tuition: $820. Course material fee: $20.
June 11-15: "Reading Cookbooks as Social History," led by Barbara K. Wheaton. Application deadline: May 31. Tuition: $820. Course material fee: $20.
For further information: Radcliffe Seminars, Cronkhite Graduate Center, 6 Ash St., Cambridge, MA 02138; tel: 617 495-8600.

October 2001: At the Free University Brussels (Belgium) the 7th symposium of the International Commission for Research into European Food History. Its theme will be "Eating Oout In Europe: Eating and drinking outside the home since the late 18th century." For information on the symposium, contact Prof. Peter Scholliers, Dept. of History (room 5B-421), Pleinlaan 2, B-1050 Brussels, Belgium. Tel +32 2 6292670; Fax +32 2 6292692; pscholli@vub.ac.be.

The Book Forager

November 9 - 13: The annual Goodwill Industries used book sale at the Washington Convention Center, Hall D (Enter on H St., N.W.) Use Metro Center or Gallery Place stations. Hours: Nov. 9-10: 9 am - 8 pm; Nov. 11-12: 10 am - 6 pm.

The Story of Corn by Betty Fussell has been purchased for the Eckles Library Culinary Collection so that it can be scratched from our wish list. A new list of used or remaindered books to hunt for will appear in the November CHoWLine.

Jane Adams Finn is offering to give away to a good home her well-cared for collection of 20 years (1980 - 2000) of Bon Appetit.

On The Bookshelf

We are grateful to Claudia Kousoulas and Sandy Tallent for their review of A Mediterranean Feast by Clifford A. Wright (William Morrow, 1999; $35 cloth; 815 pages) They write:

Both of us stayed up late into the night with this book propped open on our knees, to read about the origins of contemporary Greek cuisine (Slavic, not Hellenic), the recipes of the doges and sultans, and how on Simi, pie crusts are crimped with the house key.

Food illuminates history as Wright explores changes in trade and agriculture, complete with maps and sidebars, in what is definitely not a dry recitation of history. Recipes are put into the context of history and culture, giving them that much more savor. While your lamb kabobs may have come from the local big-box grocery, after reading the chapter, "Lives in the Mountains, Meadows, Plains, and Deserts," it's hard not to think of Greek shepherds on a stony hillside cooking over an open fire. And when you're considering a trndy food magazine's recipe for bread salad, you'll remember that in the ancient world, bread was revered and never wasted. From Egypt to France bread was, and is, used as the base for anything from lamb to stewed chickpeas. Trade and geography combine in Calzone Barese, filled with mackerel and reminiscent of the fish sandwiches served from boats near the Galata Bridge in Istanbul.

You'll use this book to settle arguments about the origins of pasta (forget Marco Polo), to figure out exactly what bottarga is and, best of all, to cook from. The recipes vary from intricate historical dishes to contemporary gyro shop basics. The recipes are most fascinating when Wright digs deep and comes up with an unfamiliar dish like Fiery Hot Algerian Lasagna. Or when he transforms a quintessentially local dish like Staka -- a Cretan cheese dip -- into something you can make at home with goat's milk (try the health food store), cow's milk, and heavy cream. Even Bull Stew, in the style of the Camargue (with bouquet garni and olives) or in the Andalusian style (with saffron, paprika, and white wine) becomes possible and appealing with a supermarket cut of beef shank.

The book is a masterwork, well laid out with easy-to-read recipes, ingredients in boldface type, illustrative maps, a glossary of Mediterranean foods, an Islamic language glossary, a pronunciation guide, bibliography, general and recipe indices, and food sources. And despite Wright's misgivings in the introduction about inevitable mistakes in a work of this size, the book is a fully-rounded history, beginning with "The Historical Foundation of Mediterranean Gastronoy," and continuing with explorations of the cuisines of feasts and famines, royalty and peasants, the influence of geography, and the use of spices and grains.

Wright notes that "Luxury is always a more attractive setting for popular food history than poverty." But the simple dishes of survival can be immensely appealing. Cacik (Tsatsiki in Greece), a cucumber and yogurt dip flavored with garlic, mint, and dill is "a relish for virtually any prepared food." Wright's version is excellent - his recommendation to use whole milk yogurt makes a smooth dip with tang but no bitterness. Simple and delicious, you'll find yourself scooping it onto grilled meats, vegetables, salads and bread.

Wright also shares a simple spinach dish, that he discovered in the Turkish mountains, called simply Ispanak - spinach - cooked with rice, onion, celery, and coriander. The dish is warm and fragrant, and similar to a Greek preparation. But we won't enter into an argument about who invented the dish. As Wright's research shows, trade, wars, and the tides of history push and pull dishes all around the Mediterranean's rim.

Olive oil is a central element of Mediterranean cuisine, and Wright records that Ottoman court cuisine used it generously, establishing a whole class of dishes - zeytinyaglilar

A recipe for Omlette aux Pignons is included to illustrate that although environment and climate can make a certain food abundant, people still may not prefer it. "Butter was available in the Languedoc region of France, but cooks still cooked their eggs in olive oil." Further emphasizing the region's unity, Wright found this same omlet in Lebanon at the Mediterranean's opposite end. The toasted pine nuts complement the egg's custard-like texture for a rich falvor in a simple recipe that becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

Apero-Chic Super is a contemporary recipe, but "has an intimate connection to the historical foods of the Languedoc." This mix of olives, lupine beans, almonds, and roasted red peppers is dressed with olive oil, vinegar, thyme, and basil, and is a surprising mix of flavors, colors, and textures that works equally well as a first-course salad or with drinks. The mild but rich beans are spiked with herbs and garlic.

Grilled Lamb in the Style of Corleone (yes, as in The Godfather, a mountain town in Sicily) is a tasty dish, marinated in lemon, oil, salt, and pepper, and grilled over a slow fire. But its savor is given a poignant tang by Wright's explanation of why meat eating in the Mediterranean increased between 1350 and 1500: the Black Death claimed "nearly half the population" of Europe. Without farm workers, cultivated lands reverted to meadows and those who remained became shepherds.

For Americans the Mediterranean will always retain its romance - vineyards and picturesque harbors, fresh lemons and bitter coffee - but this book will give you more than a postcard view of this ancient area. Understanding its complex history enhances the flavor of its foods.

Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, a scholarly journal from the University of California Press, will begin publication in February 2001. It will "provide a forum for sharing ideas, provoking discussion, and encouraging thoughtful reflections on the history, literature, representation, and cultural impact of food." Charter subscribers can save up to 15% on their subscriptions. Send a check for $34 for an individual subscription ($23.50 for a student or retiree) to University of California Press Journals, 2000 Center St., Suite 303, Berkeley, CA 94704.

If Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly has intrigues you, you might also want to read some other accounts of restaurant experiences: Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell; La Bonne Table by Ludwig Bemelmans; Kitchens: The Culture of Restaurant Work by Gary FIne; "The Standing and the Waiting" from Serve It Forth by M.F.K. Fisher; and "Song of Dinner in a Dish" from The Measure of Her Powers: An M.F.K. Fisher Reader, Dominique Gioia (ed.).

On The Reading Table

Newsletter, Culinary Historians of Boston, Vol. XXI, No. 1, September 2000.

"What's Cooking?" a copy of a review of Rebecca Spang's The Invention of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture and Amy Trubek's Haute Cuisine: How the French Invented the Culinary Profession, from The New Yorker, 9/4/00.

"Gone Bananas," a copy of a review of Virginia Jenkins' Bananas: An American History from a recent issue of the Washington Times.

Announcement of the reprint edition by Beacon Press of The Historical Cookbook of the American Negro, first published in 1958 by the National Council of Negro Women. The announcement was sent to us by Anne L. Bower, Ohio Sate University - Marion.

In Search of Fresh Asian Vegetables?

A garden specializing in Asian vegetables is located at 3251 Annandale Road (between Rose Lane and Slade Run Drive) in Falls Church, Virginia. Going west on Route 50, turn left on Annandale Road, and after the second traffic light, look for ther fern fence.