Please bring a food to share from one of the many countries along the former Silk Road, sucha s Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Turkestan, China, Pakistan, North India, or Afghanistan. Please bring serving utensils if needed; anything else will be provided. Suggestions for foods were included in the March CHoWLine.
Our special guest, Najimieh Batmanglij, whose new book, Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey will be published in September, will talk about it and bring a dish to share.
Some of the CHoW members volunteering in Julia's Kitchen reported on their experiences. There was a discussion about the Culinary Collection in the Eckles Library and how CHoW members might help to make the books available for use.
The text for Marcie Cohen Ferris's talk, "Southern Jewish Foodways," appears later in this issue of CHoWLine.
Food and culture are intimately intertwined. We are confronted daily with issues of food choice and availability. What we choose to eat, when we eat it, whom we eat it with, and how we eat are culturally determined. These choices are shaped by political and economic factors, technology, advertising, ethnicity and gender, health and fashion concerns. Examination of food production and preparation, the etiquette of serving and eating, food taboos and sanitation can tell us a lot about ourselves and others. Comfort food, holiday food, sacred food, food in art and literature, food and humor, vegetarianism, mad cow disease, food stamps, nutrition labeling, irradiation -- the possibilities are limited only by our imaginations.
Proposals for papers or performances that address food and consumption in a lively and interdisciplinary context are welcome. Deadline for proposals is June 15, 2002. Please submit a one-page proposal and brief CV to: Virginia S. Jenkins, 315 Oakley St., Cambridge, MD 21613.
Please include any a/v needs. Sessions are 90 minutes. Panels of 3 or 4 presenters, single papers, rountables, or alternative formats are encouraged. For information, consult MAPACA's web page at http://www.siue.edu/~rdonald/mapaca.html or www.sunynassau.edu/users/ ash2/gazettehome.html.
Two of the books on the list mailed with the March CHoWLine have been acquired for the Eckles Library: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' Cross Creek Cookery and Mark Winegardner's We Are What We Ate, as well as The Appledore Cook Book by Maria Parola (1871). If you wish to suggest other books, please call Shirley Cherkasky 703 684-5861.
An account of how a new book on the foods of the Icelandic community in North America came to be written was received this month and is reprinted below. It offers an interesting contrast, both in region and culture, to Marcie Ferris's research on Southern Jewish food. For a list of booksellers from which to order The Culinary Saga of New Iceland, you can visit www.coastline-publishing.com.
And so now the pressure was on. In order to properly document New Icelandic culinary traditions, I had to address a variety of questions: How did these recipes evolve and why in this particular way? What was the style of cooking like in Iceland, pre-immigration? How did local factors influence change and development or not?
When the Icelanders immigrated to North America in the late 1880s, they brought a cooking style that was reflective of that particular time period, which moreover had changed very little from the preceding centuries. The Icelandic diet was very simple with little seasoning, a typical dinner being fish, lamb, or mutton served with potatoes. Game birds, seals, whales, and reindeer also were hunted.
Because Iceland has so little arable land, vegetables other than turnips and potatoes as well as fresh fruit were scarce and had to be imported. Rhubarb and indigenous wild berries helped to add variety to the diet. A shortage of grain for feed meant that cows were kept mainly for dairy products as were hens for eggs. Milk from cows and ewes was used to make butter and skyr, a smooth curd with a creamy texture. Skyr was made from the curd separated from the whey and was a highly important dietary staple due to its high protein content. The whey was used to drink, boiled down to produce mysuostur, a caramel-colored creamy spread or "cheese" (ostur meaning cheese), and also soured or fermented for the purpose of preserving other foods including skyr. (Both skyr and mysoustur remained staples in New Iceland.)
Imported grains and flours were used predominantly for porridges and flatbreads, with moss or lichen often added to augment the flour. During the time period, flour had become more readily available and cooking stoves were being introduced. Consequently, Danish recipes for baked cakes and cookies were becoming increasingly popular. Previously, sweets or coffee-time treats were prepared on a griddle or fried in fat.
Of course, it almost goes without saying that vefore refrigeration, foods procured over the summer months had to be preserved to sustain Icelanders through the winter months. Fresh meat was therefore usually eaten only at slaughtering time in the autumn. Methods for preserving fish and meat included salting, drying, smoking, or boiling and then pickling in barrels of fermented whey. Interestingly, because Iceland has very little firewood, salt was not manufactured from seawater in quantity because it simply required too much wood.
Icelandic immigrants preserved this style of cooking and applied it to local fish and game of the Canadian Prairies. However, due to the greater availability of a wide variety of grains, flours, and yeast, Icelanders found themselves baking breads which they had not baked in Iceland, where yeast was not readily available. Icelandic brown bread with its rich molasses flavor became highly identifiable with the Icelandic immigrant population. This development was encouraged by the settlement newspaper Framfari which offered in an article from April 12, 1878, some "pointers on this subject, since it is well known that most of the women in New Iceland have never had the opportunity to bake bread in the manner customary to this country." It is clear that while there was a strong desire to maintain the spirit of Icelandic cooking that they had grown up with, they also were eager to take advantage of new culinary opportunities.
Of all the Icelandic foods, vinarterta has become the most emblematic of New Icelandic culture. It consists of six to eight cookie-type layers with prune filling spread between them and is usually coated with almond-flavored icing. In Iceland, rhubarb and apricots are common variants but are virtually unheard of in New Iceland. While it was certainly popular in Iceland at the time of immigration, it no longer occupies the cherished status that it has developed in New Iceland. A New Icelandic social engagement without vinarterta is rare indeed. As such, deciding which recipe to use in the cookbook was almost impossible because just about every woman had a slightly different recipe, and so I included several to illustrate the subtle variations.
The selection process also presented issues such as whether or not to include a recipe like Matrimonial Cake (or Date Bars). These were not recipes that were derived from anything Icelandic. Nevertheless, if a recipe had become extremely commonplace, a new tradition, then it needed to be included. Also, some recipes were not previously set down in a written format and had to be translated into exact amounts from such inexact measures as a scoop, a handful, or a pinch. I learned to bake my Aunty Stella's brown bread by watching her bake it; she never had need of a written recipe. This demonstrative teaching style was the preferred manner of passing on recipes.
To test and verify that these recipes were authentic, I sent out a hundred or more recipes to Icelandic descendents across North America for testing and received incredible feedback. Almost everyone responded with further tips about how to prepare the dishes, provided stories of how their Ammas used to make the dish slightly differently, and suggested other recipes to consider. The daily mail was filled with encouraging comments - which we included in the book. They demonstrated to me the importance of these culinary traditions to the individuals in the community.
Of course, further opportunities presented themselves as I began this process. Gudrun Agustsdottir presented the opportunity to examine her amma's (grandmother's) Matreidslubok (Recipe Book). This recipe journal was handwritten circa 1915 while she attended the Women's School in Reykjavik. Recipes in the journal range from very basic traditional ones to those with a definite Danish or European influence and which were likely more sophisticated than the average homemaker would have been preparing at the time (e.g. the wreath-shaped cookie kransar). I included several of these recipes (translated into English) with accompanying comparative notes as they provide insights regarding cooking in Iceland not long after the major tide of immigration to North America.
And so it was that I had compiled the recipes, written the comparative notes, written the foreword, and reviewed the photographs and illustrations and was waiting for the books to arrive from the printer. It was a glorious day when they finally arrived, just a day before the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba last year. In truth, I had compiled all of the recipes that my children and nieces wanted (and then some). Nonetheless, it had always seemed such a cruel irony that although I was constantly thinking about recipes, I never cooked less than when I was researching this book.
Newsletter, Culinary Historians of Ontario, Winter 2002, No. 31.
Meeting notice, Culinary Historians of Southern California, March 2002.
Newsletter, Culinary Historians of Boston, Vol. XXII, No. 4, March 2002.
Meeting notice, Culinary Historians of Boston, March and April 2002.
Meeting notice, Culinary History Enthusiasts of Wisconsin, April 2002.
In the 19th century, thousands of Jews, mostly from Central Europe, moved into small cities and town in the South. With food, as with politics and literature, the South is America's most self-consciously distinctive region. The newly arrived Jews encountered there a bewildering array of unfamiliar foods, from okra and yams to corn bread and black-eye peas, along with a style of cookery based on an ingredient that their religion forbids them. For the South is the land where pork is king, where, as an old saying goes, they use "everything on the pig but the squeal."
How Southern Jews managed to negotiate this seemingly inhospitable territory is the subject of a fascinating article published last year in the journal Southern Jewish History. In the article, "From The Recipe File of Luba Cohen: A Study of Southern Jewish Foodways and Cultural Identity," Marcie Cohen Ferris traces how Southern Jewish cooking came to serve a dual purpose: allowing Jews to maintain their distinct cultural identity while helping them to integrate into the wider society.
In her research, Ms. Ferris surveyed some 120 Southern Jews, asking them about the food practices of their families. Many of her respondents talked about adapting traditional Jewish recipes to local ingredients, as Jews have done wherever they have settled, be it Memphis or Marrakesh. The Wieners of Shreveport, La., for example, long have made their Passover charoset with pecans, while in Baton Rouge, Harvey Hoffman and his daughter Julie use sea trout in gefilte fish because pike and whitefish are not available locally. (Several Mississippi families use catfish, which is not kosher.) Not surprisingly, the culinary adaptation also has gone in the other direction, as in a New Orleans jambalaya made by Ann Zerlin Steiffer in which kosher chicken and sausage replace the customary ham and shrimp. Fellow Louisianan Shirley Ettinger Orlansky always makes her Thanksgiving corn bread-oyster stuffing, incongruously enough, with shmaltz (a cultural festival in a single dish). In Texas, one Jewish family even barbecues matzo balls on the grill.
Sometimes meals blended the two cuisines, as when fried herring was served with grits, a Friday-night brisket was accompanied by butter beans, rice and gravy, or, on Passover, matzo-meal pancakes were topped with mayhaw jelly. More commonly, however, families ate Southern and Jewish food separately -- serving fried chicken and biscuits on one night and baked chicken and challah on another. As time passed and Southern Jews became ever more assimilated (this was a largely self-directed process - as Ms. Ferris notes, many synagogues were designed to resemble churches), Southern cooking became the daily fare, while traditional Jewish dishes were reserved for special occasions.
Recalls Suzanne Ginsberg Kantziper of Savannah, Ga., "My parents' home was kosher, so we had traditional foods for the holidays. We also ate okra and tomatoes, grits and fried chicken, black-eyed peas, zipper peas, squash, collard greens, turmips, but that was for everyday fare."
Much of the time, it should be said, this everyday fare was prepared not by family members but by hired cooks. One of the most interesting parts of Mrs. Ferris's article concerns the profound influence of African-American cooks on the eating habits of Southern Jews. (According to Ms. Ferris, Southern Jewish families who did not hire black domestics were in the minority.) Here, too, the influence went both ways, as food traditions passed back and forth between black cooks and their Jewish employers. "Black women brought sweet potato pies and biscuits to their Jewish 'families,'" writes Ms. Ferris, "and went home at the end of the day with chopped liver and corned beef."
Dale Grundfest Ronnel of Mississippi reminisces about her grandmother's cook, Georgella Green, who learned how to cook from her employer and "cooked Jewish-style even in her own home." while Vicki Reikes Fox describes her family's cook, Willie Mae Boucher, as "a wonderful Southern cook" who "became a real Jewish cook. She called herself 'the only black Jew'!" Sometimes everyday cooking was the province of the African-American domestic worker while the Jewish housewife (or her mother) prepared the Sabbath or holiday food, but in many households the black cooks were trained to prepare this food as well. Kathryn Loeb Wiener's German grandparents even took their black housekeeper with them on a visit to their parents in Germany, so that she might learn German cooking at the source.
Thus tables were set with cold Southern fried chicken for Sabbath lunches and matzo Charlotte for Passover. Cuisine is, in a real sense, a map of the past, showing where its adherents have been. Each location adds something else: a new dish is taken from here, an ingredient from there, a style of preparation from somewhere else. A bit of history is consumed with each meal, but the whole of it is never diminished.
Luba Cohen's Brer Rabbit Molasses Cookies
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. unsulphured molasses
3/4 c. vegetable oil
2 tsp. baking soda
2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 375F. Put l cup of sugar, molasses, egg, and oil in a large bowl and mix well. In a separate bown, sift together remaining ingredients. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix until well combined, by hand or electric mixer. Grease 2 large cookie sheets. Put remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a small bowl. Shape cookies into 1/2-inch to 1-inch balls and roll in sugar. Place on sheets 2 inches apart, then flatten cookies gently with the bottom of a glass. Bake for 8 - 10 minutes, until tops of cookies crack and are no longer soft to the touch. (Remove them sooner if you like chewier cookies.) Let cookies rest on pan for 1 minute, then transfer to cooling racks. Makes about 35 cookies.