The changes to the composition of the Board are recommended to facilitate CHoW's outreach to members and to place more emphasis on CHoW's communication vehicles -- the newsletter and website -- in keeping with CHoW's purpose stated in Article II: "to promote and support interest and research in the history of foods, cuisines, and culinary customs." To this end, it is recommended that CHoW elect a Membership Secretary, and that the appointed Newsletter Editor and Web Master be voting members of the Board. Additionally, proposed amendments provide, in case of a vacancy in the office of President, a procedure to fill the vacancy and, for continuity, to permit the Treasurer, Recording Secretary, and Membership Secretary to serve up to four consecutive one-year terms. Other amendments are proposed to simplify and streamline the procedure for amending CHoW's by-laws.
Please read and consider the proposed amendments prior to our February meeting. The suggested changes are highlighted in the review copy posted on www.chowdc.org. Comments or questions regarding the proposals also can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Voting on all amendments will take place at our February 12 meeting. An absentee ballot is included at the end of this issue of CHoWLine for use by those who cannot attend the meeting.
Food Site of the Day's mission statement reads: "From hunters and gatherers to gourmet e-commerce, we are on a wonderful journey learning new foods and food combinations." Five sites are featured weekly, then retired to the site's archives, a directory of more than 1,000 searchable links.
Featured food sites include: recipes, nostalgia, tips, commercial equipment, trends, tours, humor and games, history, festivals, wine pairing, chefs' pages, and reference sources, as well as book reviews and articles by Marty and guest columnists.
Toledo Blade features editor, in an early story about Marty's site. "Sites range from Chinese breakfasts from street vendors, London restaurant listings, and how to toast your own coffee, to all about rhubarb." Many in the food trade find it a handy reference. Marty reports that some culinary instructors pass out copies of Food Site of the Day's newsletters. Others refer to the site as a "treasure trove." Visit www.FoodSiteoftheday.com.
CHoW members could participate by researching food items and how they are cooked, developing a "script" for a given market, or leading a tour. Some of our members already have expressed interest. Please think about how you might contribute. Visit: www.montgomerycountymd.gov/wheaton or contact Claudio Kousoulas (301) 320-6979; email@example.com.
March 3, 9am - 5:45pm: "Celebrating Food!", a seminar sponsored by the Washington, D.C. chapter of Les Dames d'Escoffier International and Montgomery College, with keynote speaker Lidia Matticchio Bastianich; and 16 panels with 43 speakers. Of special interest to CHoW will be "At My Mother's Table: A History of Women, Family and Food" with Laura Schenone and Laura Shapiro, moderated by CHoW member Joan Bacharach; and other participation by CHoW members Sheilah Kaufman, CiCi Williamson, and Janet Saros. Also: hands-on cooking classes, a food expo with new products, samples and cookbooks; and breakfast and lunch by L'Academie de Cuisine. Cost: $75 before Feb. 24; $85 after Feb. 24; $35/students. For flyer and registration form: firstname.lastname@example.org. Free parking at Montgomery College, and free shuttle bus from the Rockville Metro.
March 24, 2006: "Before You Can Cook: Acquiring Foodstuffs and Kitchenware in Early America," a symposium on American social history and material culture, sponsored by the Fairfax County Park Authority and the George Mason University History Department.
The symposium will explore the great variety of foods available in Early American homes and the many different methods of acquiring them. Presentations will examine kitchen utensils and cooking technology, heritage and wild plants and animals, their processing, and purchased provisions.
Presenters will be: Gary Brumfield, Frank Clark, and Carrie MacDougall, all of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation; Martha Katz-Hyman, independent consultant; Steve Miller, Landis Valley Museum; Justin Sarafin and Gaye Wilson of Monticello; and Joyce White, Anne Arundel Community College (and CHoW member). Advance registration is required by March 15. Cost: $65. E-mail: email@example.com. Phone: Historic Collections (703) 631-1429.
We thought we would busy ourselves with pounding spices, rolling dough, and chopping suet and apples, but the visitors wanted to smell the prepared mincemeat and wine jellies, touch the suet, and pound or grate the spices, and see the calf's foot and pig's foot. Most of our time was spent relating the long details of cooking the gelatin from seven calve's feet and the preparation for making the jellies with Madeira, as well as discussing the different macaroons and gingerbread and nuts. When we began to make Jefferson's ice cream, all eyes were on the sorbetier and the wooden scraper. People also wanted to know how the bread was made and how the stove worked.
"Aren't you cold?" was the constant question when visitors entered the open-hearth kitchen which should have been warm with a blazing fire. The kitchen is almost restored to what it looked like when Jefferson's skilled slaves presided, but a chimney to vent the smoke still needs to be installed. So Lori and I had baked the mincemeat pie before each day, using the oven of our wonderful host, Monticello guide Liz Marshall, with whom we stayed for the wole weekend. Visitors understood they couldn't sample the desserts but, nevertheless, they enjoyed looking and discussing what they saw, smelled, and touched.
We used the food we prepared not only for our presentation, but also to feed the staff and guides in order to better inform their 18th-century palates. They were most appreciative! The consensus of the tasters was that the mincemeat pie was the best they had ever eaten and brought back many memories of their grandmothers' cooking. More people preferred Hannah Glasse's macaroons because they were chewier with less egg whites compared to Mary Randolph's crispier macaroons. However, Randolph's macaroons made a fine ice cream sandwich with Jefferson's vanilla ice cream tucked between two of the crispy cookies. Most of the staff and guides preferred Eliza Leslie's Gingerbread Nuts to Mary Randolph's Ginger Bread because there was more butter in Leslie's receipt and more ginger flavor. Even though the throught and sight of the calves' feet were prominent in the tasters' minds, the "jellies from the feet" were pronounced wonderful with a spicy, winy flavor with depth. All the 18th-century food was consumed and loved.
Marcie Cohen Ferris begins her exploration of Southern Jewish foodways with one of her own childhood memories, a dish she describes as "possibly one of the most nonkosher combinations in the world," a white pig sandwich with cheese.
That sandwich sums up the dilemma faced by Jews who settled in the American South, a region renowned for pork barbecue, steeped in shellfish, and as firm about its food traditions as any Orthodox congregation. Which comes first: being Southern or being Jewish?
As Cohen Ferris tells it, this dilemma was faced by the earliest Jewish settlers who formed a congregation in Savannah in 1749, but in a community without kosher butchers, yeshivas, or other Jews. Inevitably, "a new expression of Judiasm began to evolve," and inevitable, "compromises were made to sustain Jewish life." Ella Levenson Schlosburg's peddler grandfather, loathe to insult his hosts and customers, told his son to "chew it and swallow" when they were served bacon, but kept kosher in her grandmother's kitchen.
And sometimes the temptations of flavor were just too great. As Elza Meyers Alterman jokes, in Savannah, kashrut rules are bent to classify foods as meat, milk, and shrimp.
While compromise implies giving up or taking shortcuts, Cohen Ferris traces family stories and scholarly research to illustrate that Southern Jews created new and equally rich traditions with new neighbors. Generations of Jewish women taught kosher dishes to their African-American cooks who in turn flavored them with the South, as in Creole Matzah Balls.
Cohen Ferris divides the book into chapters by region, beginning with colonial settlers and Savannah and Charleston, and traveling south to explore Jewish food traditions in Memphis, a land where barbecue rules, and the home of the "world's only Kosher Barbecue Contest."
The stories are essentially the same, of families holding on to traditions through isolation, adapting to local ways, and building their own traditions. But each family and each city is a little different and Cohen Ferris uses those differences to explore themes of race, class, and assimilation.
Connections between African Americans and Jews were based on economice, as Jews often served that community in small town stores and hired household help that would sometimes become part of the family. In other cases Jews and African Americans shared the position of outsiders in the white Christian South. Through those connections, it was natural to share and adapt food traditions. Cohen Ferris recounts the story of Lamar White who started as a janitor at Atlanta's Conservative congregation of Ahavath Achim, eventually became the catering manager and built his business training his family to cater at congregations throughout Atlanta. "When I cook it," he says, "it has that soul taste," writes Cohen Ferris.
Food traditions reflected class differences as well. Among Jewish communities, distinctions were made. German-Alsatian families turned up their noses at dishes like kreplach served by later Eastern European arrivals who established separate congregations and kept separate menus. Sephardic congregations and their Mediterranean-inspired food traditions weere even more distinctive. New Orleans's earliest Jewish settlers, writes Cohen Ferris, "arrived as individuals," assimilated quickly, and kept themselves apart from later arrivals. By the turn of the century, facing rising anti-Semitism, Jews there chose to distance themselves from new, less-assimilated immigrants through food, among other things. The menu for the Jewish Widows and Orphans Home fundraising banquet included oysters and soft-shell crabs, with no noticeably Jewish foods, all served in the most elegant French style.
Within Jewish communities, degrees of assimilation changed over time. Cohen Ferris records Robert Rosen's father, Morris, complaining that "the Jews have taken over the temple," as his Savannah congregation turned toward traditional Judiasm.
While some communities kept themselves apart, others made opportunities to socialize and worship, both of which involved food. Even as the Civil War came to an end, lines of loyalty and patriotism were crossed and recrossed when New York and Philadelphia shipped 5,000 pounds of matzoh to Savannah in 1865.
Each chapter is punctuated by recipes gathered from the families whose stories she tells, and range from cornbread to schnecken. Each recipe is preceded by a headnote tracing its source. The recipe for molasses cookies came from the label on the Brer Rabbit brand bottle, but Luba Cohen made it her own by never failing to have some on hand for grandchildren.
It's delightful to be able to experience these flavors in your own kitchen and equally enlightening to reflect on the simple acts of daily meals that can combine to create a history.
Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor by Herve This (Columbia University Press, 2006; $29.95, cloth, 320 pg.) Reviewed by Claudia Kousoulas (c) 2006.
There comes a time, after you've made a few pie crusts, when you begin to wonder what is going on among the flour, fat, and water. You may be wondering particularly if your crust never comes out as tender as your mother's. Herve This has a similar curious turn of mind, along with scientific training, and a laboratory where he can find answers.
He begins by questioning and testing the rules of cooking, the old wives' tales that we follow because. He explores how and when to season a steak, the best way to cook quenelles, and how to bake the puffiest quiche possible, among others. Sometimes he proves the old wives wrong; other times he confirms the value of close observation in the kitchen and goes to a molecular level to explain exactly what is being observed.
From there, This moves on to question the physiological -- what happens in the brain when we taste something, how the tongue sorts and perceives flavors, how aromas can be measured, and why children seem to like only the blandest foods. Apparently this is a lightly studied but heavily theorized area, though children will choose spinach over other vegetables -- "as long as it is napped with a white sauce."
This uses the book's third chapter to delve into culinary operations, the physical transformations wrought by cooking. We all know that gluten -- protein strands -- stretch with yeast to create raised bread, but breaking down gluten into its component chemicals reveals dityrosine bonds that are present in plant proteins, as well as in insects and vertebrates. Thus, writes This, "In forming dityrosine bonds by kneading dough, the baker reproduces the living world." A little bit god-like. Think about that next time you open the plastic around a loaf of Wonder Bread.
In the fourth chapter, This leaps into what he calls "intelligent knowledge." Now that we know what is really happening in our ovens and frying pans, we can make chocolate puff pastry dough, filter stock using vacuums, or prepare a modernized holiday meal with foie gras transformed into foam. This last is already a bit of a cliche, with Ferran Adria inspiring avant-garde chefs to foam and gelatinize foods that are not normally foamy or gelatin. Nonetheless, even home cooking is always a bit of a science project, so why not be adventurous?
Throughout the book, each question is neatly posed and answered in chapters of two or three pages, announced by a headline, with an explanatory subhead. Each piece begins by posing the question in everyday terms, perhaps quoting rules from familiar cookbooks, or through a literary or historical allusion. The text then quickly plunges into scientific explanations with a quick finish that clarifies the findings.
In Chapter 19, "Coffee, Tea, and Milk," the question to be answered is how to most efficiently cool a hot beverage, the kind of everyday mystery we leave to old wives, doing whatever our mothers did -- an ice cube, a silver spoon, or blowing. After describing various experiments and some physical laws of cooling, it is determined: blowing is much more efficient than stirring.
Much of the pleasure of this book is in its design, as elegant as the experiments and their explanations. Keep this book handy and while you're stirring or waiting for a watched pot to boil, flip through and discover what might be happening as you're stirring. If the science gets too thick, the book's glossary will sort out the difference between glucose and glucide.
With attention to quenelles, puff pastries, wine, and foie gras, the book has a natural French bias. But the physical properties of science know no national boundaries and this is valuable information for anyone who takes up a whisk.
This has written an interesting and timely combination of our everyday experience with sophisticated science, taking as his inspiration Brillat-Savarin, the self-styled professor of gastronomy, who applied theory and chemistry to the pleasures of the table. Along these lines, This proposes "a new article of faith; Whoever understands the reasons for the results obtained in the kitchen can improve on them." Next time the mayonnaise breaks, don't throw it out; consult with This.