There were four "whatzits." The one introduced by Willis and Carter Van Devanter puzzled everyone and was revealed to be a knee nut cracker. Julia Abrahams and Michael Foster brought two small silver pieces: one resembling a tiny shovel with an intricately formed handle that was thought to be a sugar spoon, and the other, a small, round perforated spoon, for berries or to sift sugar. A cupboard mystery unearthed by Shirley Cherkasky was identified as a piece of Chinese or Japanese knotted and dried tofu skin.
Dianne asked for members' suggestions for a theme for our January cooperative dinner, with a decision to be made by our November meeting. Gina Jenkins has proposed "Food of the Chesapeake Region."
Najmieh Batmanglij's talk on "Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey," was followed by many questions and comments, and she signed copies of her book by the same title which was available for sale. The text of her talk was not available by the deadline for this issue of CHoWLine.
May 3-4, 2003: "Brillat-Savarin Revisited: An Exploration of the Emergence of Gastronomy in 19th-Century France," a conference at Boston University in Boston, MA, is being organized by Kyri Claflin and colleagues in the history department, the International History Institute, and the Medieval Studies Institute. There will be 15 papers on five panels over the two days, interspersed with demonstrations of 19th-century French cooking. The conference banquet will feature food of Brillat-Savarin's home town of Belley. There will be more information on this conference in a later issue of CHoWLine.
Mark your calendars: The Goodwill Annual Used Book sale will be November 14-18 at the Washington Convention Center. It's a fantastic place to find culinary history and cookbooks.
Consider The Eel by Richard Schweid. University of North Carolina Press. 200 pp. $24.95. In this book Schweid does for the migratory Atlantic eel more or less what Mark Kurlansky's Cod did for that fish. Eels have been of scientific interest for centuries, being studied by (among others) Aristotle, Pliny, and Freud, and information about their biology and natural history is scattered throughout the book. But Schweid's principal interest is their status as food, past and present. Eels were consumed by the ancient Greeks, were a minor god to the Egyptians, and may have been the first fish consumed in Europe, where they figure in two of Britain's oldest cookbooks. From the mid-1700s eel and pie shops were common in London, and some remained as late as 1995. In North America eels, a staple for New England colonists, had fallen out of favor by mid-twentieth century. They are still in demand in Europe, China, and Japan, however, and there is a considerable international trade in eels and elvers, the larval form. Schweid made participant-observer visits to fisheries in North Carolina, Northern Ireland, the Basque Provinces of Spain, and elsewhere, and in reporting on these he gives much information about the enterprise and its fortunes. He also includes historical and contemporary recipes, including a 1775 "eel pye" and a U.S. southern-fried version.
Beyond The Shadow Of Camptown: Korean Military Brides In America. Ji-Yeon Yuh. New York University Press. 252 pp. $25.95. Incudes an account of how these women (numbering some 100,000 and forming a nucleus for subsequent Korean immigration) used their native cuisine as an assertion of autonomy and as a means of developing community among themselves.
Can She Bake A Cherry Pie? American Women And The Kitchen In The Twentieth Century. Mary Drake McFeely. University of Massachusetts Press. 194 pp. $24.95; paper $16.95. A historical study tracing how the "gendered responsibility" of food preparation evolved from a matter of dire necessity to one heavily influenced by science, style, and fashion -- from bread baking and fruit preservation via tuna-noodle casserole to beef bourguignon, chocolate mousse, and beyond.
French Food: On The Table, On The Page, and In French Culture. Lawrence R. Scheher and Allen S. Weiss, eds. Routledge. $85; paper, $22.95. A collection of 16 scholarly essays on the social, political, and literary ramifications of gastronomy from the post- Revolutionary era to the present day of films and television. Balzac and Bocuse, Careme and Colette, and Proust and Pepin are among the many whose work is considered.
Katherine also calls our attention to two articles:
"Restauration: The Art Of Eating Returns To Russia" by Leon Aron. Harper's Magazine, May 2002, pp. 54-61. Under the heading "Letter From Moscow," Aron reports on a "national gastronomic renaissance." Contrasting the current situation with the austerity and deprivation of the later Communist era, he describes the abundance of fresh food from many sources that is now available in Moscow, at prices that seem quite reasonable by U.S. standards. The list includes once-exotic fruits such as bananas and kiwis as well as once-scarce traditional Russian cheeses, sausages, breads, preserved fish, fresh vegetables, and many kinds of mushrooms. Caviar can be found "in almost every shop," and eateries offer prepared Mexican, Japanese, and other non-native cuisines.
Aron describes the long tradition of gastronomy in Russia, where its golden age coincided with the golden age of literature (about 1830-1890), a point he amplifies by citing colorful food passages from Gogol and Chekhov. He mentions some of the foods available in that era from street vendors, bakeries and traktiry ("tavern-like forerunners of restaurants") and notes that some of Europe's greatest chefs worked in Moscow.
As private enterprise disappeared, restaurants languished under state control, but "the Russian table" retained importance as "one place where the state receded. The kitchen was a substitute for the public square, the table talk a surrogate for free political discourse." The post-Communist emergence of a young, educated, urban middle class created a market for more stylish cuisine, and there are now over 4,000 restaurants in Moscow. Aron describes in mouth-watering detail the offerings of several he categorizes as superb in service and ambience as well as food that includes many classic Russian dishes. And now there are even a "retro" restaurant featuring (in improved form) Communist-era specialities such as kasha and fatty sausages; an establishment laying out vast feasts in the Jewish mode; and at least one cozy family restaurant such as can be found tucked away on Paris's Left Bank.
"A Delicious Read," by Laura Shapiro. House and Garden, June 2002, pp. 102-104. Shapiro gives a brief account of the Los Angeles Public Library's culinary collection, which was founded in 1872 and now includes over 20,000 volumes, plus menus and commercial recipe booklets. The collection includes some 500 rare volumes, but much of it is in open stacks. Users have included M.F.K. Fisher, who reportedly wrote her first essays there, and food editor Russ Parsons used it to trace the evolution of salad dressings, from basic vinaigrette to thick orange emulsion ("You could see it coming like a train wreck"). A speciality of the collection is California cookery, represented by 1,500 volumes, some bilingual. Fans of the library organized the Culinary Historians of Southern California in 1995, hold lectures there, and help raise funds for it.