In keeping with the 1950s period of the Poppy Cannon - Alice B. Toklas relationship which was the subject of the meeting's program, refreshments included Rice Krispies Treats from Sally Epskamp, corn muffins and gooseberry jam brought by Ann Derhammer, and a pimiento cheese dip and another dip that was a trip down Memory Lane for anyone who was cooking in the '50s: a pale green combination of sour cream, pineapple, sugar, miniature marshmallows, whipped topping, almonds, pistachios, and food coloring, contributed by Julia Abrahams.
The three "whatzits" didn't puzzle members for long: Kay Shaw Nelson's oven rack 'grabber,' and a device to remove corn kernels from the cob were guessed immediately, and Laura Gilliam's corn scorer also was identified with dispatch.
A summary of Laura Shapiro's talk, "At The Heart of the Fifties: Poppy Cannon and Alice B. Toklas," appears at the end of this issue.
Papers read by Helen Tangires, Molly Schuchat and Shirley Cherkasky at the 13th Conference of the International Commission for Ethnological Food Research in Slovenia in June 2000 have been published in Food and Celebration: From Fasting To Feasting, edited by Patricia Lysaght of the Department of Irish Folklore, University College Dublin (hardcover, 428 pp., Ljubljana: ZRC Publishing, 2002).
Mary Randolph (who should be made a CHoW honorary member posthumously) was mentioned in the October 3 story that the Washington Post carried in its Alexandria/Arlington section on Tom Sherlock, the historian of Arlington National Cemetery. The sidebar listed historical, literary, and famous figures buried at Arlington and stated that "Randolph wrote 'The Virginia Housewife,' a bestseller in the 1700s." (It was published in 1824, and was the first American regional cookbook but at least they got the title right.)
The Bay is rich in seafood, and salt marshes provide food and winter quarters for migrating waterfowl. Native Americans grew corn, sweet potatoes, melons, and a variety of squash and beans. They harvested strawberries, blackberries, persimmons, acorns, hickory nuts, and black walnuts, and hunted deer, turkeys, and small game. They ate large quantities of oysters, crabs, and fish. European settlers added domesticated animals such as cattle, sheep, pigs, and chickens, and European grains, fruits and vegetables. African slave cooks combined the foods of America, Europe, and Africa to crate a regional cuisine that became famous throughout the United States.
Virginia and Maryland fried chicken (served with cream gravy) may have had its origins in Africa. Peanuts, black-eye peas, okra, and watermelon also came from Africa. Sweet potato biscuits are in the Indian tradition. Corn pudding, spoon bread (batter bread in Virginia), unsweetened white corn bread, hominy, grits, sweet potato and pumpkin pies, are all adaptations using native ingredients. (White potato pie is found on the Eastern Shore.) Brunswick stew originiated in Brunswick County, Virginia. Pork is a common ingredient in Chesapeake region cooking, including dry-cured Smithfield ham (served with beaten biscuits), stuffed hams (a traditional Easter dish), and scrapple. In 1880 Baltimore packed more oysters than any other city in the world. Fried oysters, oyster stew, scalloped oysters, oyster fritters, and ham and oyster pie are popular in the region. A good cook knows at least twenty ways to prepare crabs, including crab cakes, crab soups, deviled crabs, Crab Imperial, Crab Norfolk, and crab salads. Rockfish are also very popular.
Maryland was the leading tomato canning state until the 1940s when farmers shifted their efforts to raising poultry. Stewed tomatoes are ubiquitous on regional menus. Watermen relished salt fish for breakfast cooked with potatoes, onions, and salt pork. Bean soup with hot biscuits or fry bread, and molasses was a staple midday meal. Many people still enjoy stewed chicken or dried lima bean soup with slick dumplings (also known as slippery squares), or cornmeal dumplings known as dodgers. Muskrat appears on menus in January and February, and venison, duck, and goose are popular.
In Baltimore, sauerkraut is a necessary complement to Thanksgiving turkey (with oyster stuffing) and sauerkraut salad and coleslaw are popular side dishes. Sauerbraten, or sour beef, is another regional favorite. German settlers also brought with them a taste for beer, and it is used by local cooks for steaming shellfish and fish, and as a braising agent for meats, cabbage, sausages, and sauerkraut.
Desserts have changed very little since the eighteenth century. Puddings made from rice, bread, and crackers are still favorites, as are custard pies (baked puddings in a pie shell). Elegant dessert jellies have been replaced by Jell-O. Chess pies are a Virginia specialty, and peach cobbler and strawberry-rhubarb pie are favorites on Maryland tables. Regional cakes include Kossuth Cake, Lady Baltimore Cake, Lord Baltimore Cake, and Smith Island seven-layer chocolate-frosted cakes.
Carson, Jane, Colonial Virginia Cookery: Procedures, Equipment and Ingredients in Colonial Cooking, Williamsburg, VA, 1985.
Dutton, Joan Parry, The WIlliamsburg Cookbook, Williamsburg, VA, 1975.
From A Lighthouse Window: Recipes and Recollections From The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD, 1989.
Howard, Mrs. B. C., Fifty Years In A Maryland Kitchen. (First published in 1873. Available in reprints and libraries.)
Randolph, Mrs. Mary, The Virginia Housewife. (First published in 1824. Available in reprints and libraries.)
Shields, John, Chesapeake Bay Cooking With John Shields, New York, 1998.
Stieff, Frederick Philip, Eat, Drink & Be Merry in Maryland: An Anthology From A Great Tradition, New York, 1932.
Tawes, Avalynne, My Favorite Maryland Recipes, New York: Random House, 1964.
If you enjoyed Katherine Livingston's review of Consider The Eel in our October issue, I hope you also spotted two reviews of other books on denizens of the sea in the October 27 Washington Post's "Book World" (www.washingtonpost.com/books); Caviar: The Strange History and Uncertain Future of the World's Most Coveted Delicacy by Inga Saffron, and The Founding Fish [shad] by John McPhee. For further reading, there's always Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky (1997).
In the course of my research for a book on women and cooking in the '50s, I was amazed to discover that Alice B. Toklas -- legendary companion of Gertrude Stein and a famously excellent cook -- had co-authored a cookbook with Poppy Cannon, legendary author of The Can Opener Cookbook and famously not a cook at all. What I found when I investigated was that their book, Aromas and Flavors of Past and Present, was the product of a friendship very much in character for both of them, despite their obvious differences, and that together they represented the female culinary '50s writ small. Over time their views on cooking actually meshed in some important ways. What really separated them was the way they lived: of the two, Poppy was the feminist and Alice the happy housewife.