Pierre Laszlo is a French science writer and professor of chemistry emeritus at the University of Liege as well as the Ecole Polytechnique. He is the author of Salt: Grain of Life (2001) and Citrus, about which he spoke to CHoW in December, 2004.
December 11: Program To Be Announced
January 15: Co-op dinner. Theme to be decided
February 12: Joan Nathan - "Innovators and Innovations in the Last Forty Years: The New American Cooking"
March 12, April 9, May 7
On Saturday, November 19, at 9:30 am, there will be a special tour of Tudor Place for CHoW members. The tour will include the newly restored Servants' Dining Hall, Butler's Pantry, and Servants' Hallway. For the first time, visitors will see the service areas of the house and hear the stories of the enslaved workers and servants who worked for the Peter family over the course of almost two centuries. The current exhibit on display in these rooms reflects the story of the 1922 engagement celebration of Armistead peter III and his fiancee, Caroline Ogden- Jones. The servants' dining room and butler's pantry offer a behind-the-scenes view of the preparations for this event. For further information about Tudor Place, log onto their website: www.tudorplace.org. The house and gardens are located at 1644 31st Street, N.W. in Georgetown. The cost is $5. If you are interested in joining the tour, please let Laura Gilliam know by November 7.
Our membership year runs from October 1 through September 30. The new directory will be mailed to members right after January 1, 2006.
Zina Musgrove's 'whatzit,' a leaf-shaped metal object, was determined to be designed for removing tarnish from silver.
President Kari Barrett announced that the meeting notice on the CHoW website each month can be downloaded and posted on bulletin boards by CHoW members. She also reported that a new editor for CHoWLine will be needed by September 2006, and asked that anyone interested contact her.
Sandra Sherman, author of Fresh From The Past: Recipes aand Revelations from Moll Flanders' Kitchen, was the meeting's featured speaker.
Reprinted from Smithsonian Institution Libraries' Information, No. 93, Summer/Fall 2005, page 9:
"There is no escaping the fact that Americans are obsessed with food. How else can you explain the 24 hours a day, seven days a week Food Network? Certainly, it was no surprise the Smithsonian Institution Libraries was excited to receive from the Culinary Historians of Washington DC (CHoW) 333 volumes pertaining to the culinary arts. The National Museum of American History, Behring Center, houses an exhibit featuring Julia Child, and there is an eating utensils exhibit planned for the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. The books donated by CHoW make a sumptuous complement to the exisiting rich resources of culinary history at the Smithsonian Institution. Rayna Green, Acting Chair, Division of Cultural History at the Smithsonian Institution states, 'We are very pleased that the American History Library is now the new home for this extensive array of books that showcase one of America's favorite things: food, glorious food.'
The history of culinary arts is not only about what people are eating and recipes for particular dishes. Family traditions at mealtime, the progression of utensils and appliances used, and the process of making food during a time modern appliances didn't exist are essential to the fabric of this textured history and are the very roots of the culinary arts found in the collection. From colonial fireplace cooking, to the influence other cultures have on what and how Americans cook today, this collection provides a great source for researchers, as well as those just looking for an interesting recipe. Some of the books will be featured soon in an online exhibition on the SIL Galaxy of Knowledge website."
Katherine Livingston's research on Star-gazy Pie: Last summer's film Ladies in Lavender, set circa 1936, provided an unexpected glimpse into culinary history. A number of meals are prepared and served in the film, but surely the most rarely encountered dish presented, as well as the most striking, is the traditional Cornish specialty, star-gazy pie. This savory dish is a double-crust pie that features, interspersed with potatoes, bacon, cream, and other ingredients, small fish (traditionally pilchards) whose heads protrude from the top crust, eyes toward the sky.
According to some sources, the pie dates back to Elizabethan times. Today, through no longer common, it is served in Mousehold, Cornwall, every December 23, a date known as Tom Bawcock's Eve, in memory of a fisherman who once saved the town from hunger by getting his fishing boat out in stormy weather that had kept others at home, and bringing back "seven sorts of fish."
One source of historical information on the pie is Reader's Digest [British] Farmhouse Cookery, which tells something of relevant trends in the Cornish fishery (the debate over pilchards vs. coley fish in the film may be an anachronism) and characterizes the pie as "a remarkable piece of culinary ingenuity" because it conserves the oil from the otherwise inedible fish heads, which drains downward into the pie. The book also gives a recipe and shows a picture of the pie under construction, with the fish arranged like spokes of a wheel to form a star themselves. In The Food of England (1954), Dorothy Hartley gives a comparable account of the pie and its variants. It is also described in The Oxford [or Penguin] Companion to Food, where Alan Davidson casts doubt on the oil-conservation theory. You can find several recipes, a picture of the dish (in which, as in the film, tails also protrude), and a song about Tom Bawcock's exploit on www.kernowcottages.co.uk/mousehold/lights.phpOne might wonder about the gustatory qualities of this dish. Presumably it had its enthusiasts, but in the film, all that one of the principal characters can say of it is that it is "filling," as she shoves it about on her plate. In real life, Laurie Colwin saw fit to include it (in a version using eels) in an essay entitled "Repulsive Dinners: A Memoir," and in The Cookery of England Elizabeth Ayrton advises, "I do not suggest making this pie as it is greasy and the potatoes, cream, and pilchards are not a happy alliance." Nevertheless, whether because of its flavor or its poetic name, star-gazy (or sometimes starry-gazy) pie has taken a place in folklore and literature. In addition to the Tom Bawcock ballad, it has given its name to at least one novel, a play, and a folksong CD.
American food is a long and complex story, one of mingled plot lines and myrid characters. It is often hard to follow and certainly hard to summarize. In telling part of this story, historian James McWilliams starts at the beginning, with America's colonial settlers. By exploring why they came, what they found, and what they did with it, McWilliams neatly parses local economies and foodways and discovers the events that brought Americans to view themselves as such.
It won't be giving away the ending to tell that settlers moved from survival to self- sufficiency using the land's abundance and their own ability to create a place described even by British official Thomas Whatley that "flourished beyond all example in Europe." When that success, based on the fruits of land and labor, was threatened by British taxation, revolution was not such a radical idea.
McWilliams points out that the Sugar Act of 1764, the Molasses Act of 1733, the Quartering Act (requiring colonists to feed British soldiers) of 1765, and the Townsend Duties on tea of 1767 that eventually led to the Boston Tea Party, were "an infringement on the naterial conditions of life that they had worked so hard to achieve."
McWilliams begins by exploring the colonies as distinct economies, using the British West Indies as a standard for comparision. British settlers were interested only in a money crop, not in creating a community, and so devoted little time to creating or recreating their own culture. Accordingly, they relied heavily on native foodways. The West Indies were a big sugar factory and the local foods, based in West African traditions, were simply the employee cafeteria.
While the origins of American cooking were rough, they were offset by incredible abundance, another shaping feature. In his writings, John Winthrop recalls taking in 67 cod in two hours of fishing. Later, Thomas Jefferson would compare American and European livestock in response to French naturalist Georges-Louis LeClerc's belittling estimation of American produce, and find that New World sheep, goats, and hogs grew larger and reproduced more fruitfully with less work from the farmer.
The transition from Old to New World that McWilliams describes involved more than adapting English pies to Amerivcan apples. There were fundamental views of food and life that needed translation. For example, McWilliams points out that British settlers viewed hunting as an aristocratic leisure activity and could not reconcile that the men of local Indian tribes left their women to farm while they hunted. For the British, farming was man's work and hunting was a lord's work. There were also what McWilliams calls "radical regional distinctions" forged by climate and land, but also by the attitudes and goals of the settlers. In New England, a pious group strove for commercial independence from Britian before there was any notion of political independence. Self-sufficiency was the goal, and they eventually set up communities that could turn quickly to industry and trade.
By contrast, settlers in the Middle Atlantic colonies wanted to make money and live the lives of the lords they had left behind. Accordingly, says McWilliams, they spent less time on food production, relying on the Indians for much longer than the New Englanders, and spent their time "looking for gold ...." The gold turned out to be tobacco, and Chesapeake kitchen gardens and orchards were small. Land and labor were monopolized by this temperamental crop that left little time for tending even a small garden. In fact, planter William Byrd wrote of importing fruit from England.
In the South, a similar attitude prevailed, as settlers looked for a money crop, finally settling on rice, for example, in South Carolina. With farm industry turned to a single crop, food production was flexible, leaving white settlers to adopt and adapt the food traditions of Indians and African slaves, from barbecue to okra.
As colonial buying power grew, foodways became more homogenized among the colonies, spurred by English ingredients, utensils, and cookbooks. McWilliams traces this return to British ways and the further shift in foodways as colonists redefined themselves as Americans. McWilliams notes that Americans defined themselves by the land and what it produced, both of which became conflated with the notion of freedom.
The revolution that McWilliams charts was not one of culinary style or ingredients, but the perception that these ingredients were the fruits of their own labor, and thus were rightfully theirs. The style of food would reflect the young nation's political principles: "honest, virtuous, simple, free from artifice, and, in a way, robust."
Throughout the book, McWilliams vividly illustrates the intimate knowledge and relationship colonial Americans had with their food, most of which was homegrown, home raised, and home manufactured. Food production was a constant part of life, in a way "that Americans today would find gruesome, excruciating, and impossibly time consuming." Even contemporary Americans who take the time to seek out farm markets and local products would be hard pressed to find appeal in the "primitive place" that was colonial America.
And yet, even in an era of burgeoning immigrant foodways, when the most exotic foods can be dropped on our doorsteps, American food retains a simple, forthright character that was established at the nation's very beginning.
Zina Pisarko has provided a list of books with a food theme suggested by the Denver Public Library.