Archives for posts with tag: food history

Trying to finish a syllabus is nearly impossible. To put the pen down means to admit that your course can never be comprehensive – never conclusive. And when it comes to teaching the history of food (even in the U.S.), it feels impossible to press print. But here’s to beginning complex discussions about food somewhere!

Here is a syllabus for an undergraduate American Studies course exploring transnational American food studies I designed to teach as a distance learning option at Purdue University in the spring of 2017. Having taught a distance learning course and wrestled with how to make meaningful connections with students via the Internet, I’ve tried to use technology and interactive exercises to still make food a medium for engaging with American history and culture critically.

Food Studies Syllabus Image 1

While the course is organized around weekly readings regarding 11 key ingredients, I’ve incorporated assignments that will enable students to complete independent projects using both digital technology and oral history tools. One additional extra credit option allows students to “choose their own adventure” by documenting and analyzing an independent field trip to a site of food production and consumption wherever they are located.

Food Studies Syllabus Image 2

Weeks have been organized around 11 key ingredients, with the ultimate goal of showing how there is no one American diet. Food ingredients have been arranged in a way to capture key national discussions chronologically, from rice and sugar in connection with colonialism and enslavement to coffee and wheat in regards to modern processes of fast food production and globalization.

Food Studies Syllabus Image 3

See the reading and assignments schedule here at my Academia.edu page, where you can find the complete PDF version of the syllabus.

It was a painstakingly difficult process to narrow this course to  11 ingredients. What ingredients would you include in your course on American food histories? Any must-have readings on food history that I should include for my next course?  Share them with me!

 

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Happy Women’s History Month!  Today we’re hitting the archives. Imagine a tip jar: Amelia Earhart’s Sour Cream Waffles versus Rosa Parks’s Peanut Butter Pancakes.  Who’s the winner!?   I feel a taste-test coming.

Rosa Parks’s Peanut Butter Pancakes

Rosa Parks Pancakes

Click the image to see a larger version of this recipe at the Library of Congress.

 

Amelia Earhart’s Sour Cream Waffles

Amelisa Earhart Waffles

Click the image to see a larger version of this recipe at the Purdue University Archives.

Boiled_Peanut_headerToday I decided to finally (after about 7 months of waiting) boil a bag of raw peanuts I bought while visiting family in Southern Georgia last summer.  I currently live in Muncie, Indiana and nothing really comes close to quenching my thirst for these little tasty morsels. These ever so slightly salty hot pockets, when popped with your thumbs and forefingers at the seam, reveal two or three (four if you’re lucky) perfectly aligned and tightly nestled burgundy beans. Non-Southerners halt!  You do not dive in to pluck them with your fingers from their soggy shells. Rather, lift up the bean-filled half-shell to your mouth and bite them out. If you have a straggler, use your empty shell half to scoop it out into your mouth. Most often you’ll find these on the side of the road or at a baseball game, so toss your empty shells into the gaps of the metal bleachers below or out your window.  My tactic is to toss my empty shells back into the group so that finding an uneaten one increasingly becomes more like a scavenger hunt. Lick your fingers and reach back again into the warm damp brown bag for another.

Midwesterners and New Englanders who currently surround me do not know what they are missing. I once found these on a menu at a hipster pizza joint in Louisville and ordered for the table – me, a Cape Codder, and two Californians.

“What does it taste like?”

Me: “A boiled peanut. Kind of like Southern edamame.”

“Ah, I love edamame.”

They all tried them and politely never finished excavating their sample, forcing me to intake about 100 salty peanuts by myself. I mean, when it comes to boiled peanuts, there is a “me” in team. I actually think that boiled peanuts are even tastier (and way unhealthier) than edamame. They’re the Pringles of earthen snacks.

roadside-stand

Looking for a place to buy boiled peanuts while in the South? This photo from the AdventuresseTravels Blog about sums it up (short of heading to the snack stand at your local Little League baseball game).

And, since it’s Black History Month, boiled peanuts are a way to learn more about the transnational backstories of America’s food culture. As summed up here at the National Peanut Board, boiled peanuts first came to America via enslaved Africans who also brought the practice to South America and the Caribbean. Wikipedia offers some quick insight into their continued popularity throughout Asia – especially Taiwan – as street snacks.

So last night I finally decided to boil up a batch of peanuts.  Having never done this myself, I consulted Alton Brown’s recipe. About an hour and a half into their 4-hour boil, I smelled home: It was the scent of convincing my parents to give me $4 so I could pass the time while watching my sister strike out the batters in another slow-pitch softball game. Delish.

Boiled Peanuts 2

How should a boiled peanut look?  Like this fantastic photo by Katie Taylor at Blogher. Whole boiled peanuts on the left, separated peanut pockets showing their wine/burgundy color on the right. Check out her recipe (and walk down Southern Georgia memory lane) here.

Alton Brown’s recipe is really easy and adaptable:

  1. Rinse and soak the peanut shells in water for 30 minutes (they float so try and weigh them down so you can get the most amount of dirt off them)
  2. Rinse again after soaking and toss into a pot
  3. Generously cover with water (think 1 part peanuts, 1.5 parts water? Or enough water that you’ll be able to boil them for 4 hours and they won’t burn to the bottom)
  4. Add salt (I’d begin with at least 1/3 cup of salt and about 2-3 hours in, pop one open and taste to see if you need more salt. Feel free to keep tasting every 45 minutes to determine your preferred texture.)
  5. Boil for 1-5 hours depending on their freshness. Don’t run out of water and burn your nuts.

This food is very forgiving. I can’t honestly recall having had peanuts boiled too long, or peanuts that were too salty. [The worst boiled peanuts I can recall tasted as if they had been cooked the day prior and reboiled. And I probably still ate those. I wouldn’t suggest buying them at the store in cans or from the frozen aisle.]

You can add other flavors to the pot too, like bouillon, Worcestershire sauce, crab boil seasoning, Maggie’s, spice it up Sichuan style, or keep it simple with sea salt. On a low-salt diet?  Try it without – the salt doesn’t impact the texture.

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In the words of one 90’s hit band, spice up your life – and your boiled peanuts. Try this blend of Chinese-Style boiled peanuts at the Umami Holiday blog (their photo).

Three cultural fusion boiled peanut recipes I’m looking forward to trying are Boiled Peanut Hummus by Slim Pickin’s Kitchen,  Chinese-Style Boiled Peanuts by Umami Holiday, or Pat’s Spicy Garlic Hawaiian Boiled Peanuts. Share your boiled peanut memories and recipes with me!

walla walla

Skip to the bottom for 6 global food recipes from 1950s housewives in Walla Walla.

Meatballs.  I grew up eating small, thumb-sized beef meatballs microwaved from their frozen plastic bag and then dumped into a pot of 2 cans of 99 cent Hunts spaghetti sauce.  After swirling my fork around a lump of store-brand boxed noodles, I stabbed each juicy meat pocket before adding a final dollop of sauce for a perfect bite.  Because a whole bag of frozen meatballs was allotted for a family of five, I had a shot of getting 5-6 meatballs to start me off before grabbing a few more for seconds after the first round. If you were really lucky, there were some leftover store-brand hot dog buns on which we lather Country Crock margarine with our butter knives before sprinkling yellow-dyed garlic salt.  It was heaven.

It's like you're photographing my memories! Hot dog bun garlic bread, straight from my margarine covered fingers.

It’s like you’re photographing my memories! Hot dog bun garlic bread, straight from my margarine covered fingers.  Check out Near to Nothing’s recipe here.

Frozen meatballs!?  Spaghetti sauce from a can!?  Store-brand noodles from a box!?  No actual garlic!?  I hear your criticisms through space and time.  No, I did not cut open real garlic until college.  Although I didn’t really know it then (and didn’t really know what I was missing since my siblings and I mostly just befriended each other), it was the best my mom could do.  Teaching fourth graders from 7-4 PM or later, with three kids plus one adult male child for a husband who worked all day, it was all she could do to make sure we were fed quickly and cheaply so she could get some sleep.  And I don’t regret it.  This version of preserved, hydrogenated, frozen Italian American food has always been my most favorite meal.  Spaghetti and meatballs is the perfect combination of salty and sweet, carb, vegetable, and protein, main course and dessert.  It’s good cold or hot.  It’s quick and wholesome — comfort food fast.

Sam's Club meatballs! With a family of five, you gotta buy them in bulk. Check out this recipe for Swedish Meatballs from Laura's Latest here.

Sam’s Club meatballs! With a family of five, you gotta buy them in bulk. Check out this recipe for Swedish Meatballs from Laura’s Latest here.

Yet meatballs haven’t always been joyous spaghetti speckles of opulence.  At Global Food: Local Perspectives on October 22 at Purdue University, Dr. Simone Cinotto gave an interesting lecture about the myths and realities of Italian American food culture which can be reduced to the transformation of the lowly meatball. Presenting material from his book The Italian American Table, Simone argued that Italian food culture has been mis-remembered as always being rich and plentiful, but that it was instead a post-immigration shift for the majority of Italy’s working-class citizens.  Italians who ventured to the US did so out of economic necessity, often shaking out bread crumbs and clinging pots and pans to create a symphony of cooking for neighbors for meals that never existed.  Working-class Italian families in the US were able to finally afford rich meats, breads, and cheeses in ways they never could in Italy – ultimately producing a dense and diverse Italian American food culture in New York City and beyond.

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Check out these gorgeous photos by Vicky Wasik who breaks down a recipe from Serious Eats for the juiciest, tastiest meatballs.

Although spaghetti and meatballs is considered a classic Italian dish (perhaps made most pop culturally famous with Lady and the Tramp), large baseball-sized meatballs of pork, veal, beef, and spices haven’t always been a sign of opulence.  Meatballs were a working-class tool for spreading meat out farther, stretching the cheapest cuts of ground mystery meat by mixing in nearly equal amounts of bread crumbs to make golf-ball sized polpettes.

Oh dear, have I eaten some Ikea meatballs in my lifetime.

Oh dear, have I eaten some Ikea meatballs in my lifetime.

According to John Surico at Serious Eats:

While more wealthy northern Italians tended to move out to central and western states, southern Italians made landfall in downtown Manhattan within proximity of Kleindeutschland, or Little Germany—an enclave of German transplants settled in the Lower East Side, who ran many butcher shops that sold beef and pork. In Italy, those meats were hard to come by in the south, and usually were accompanied by high prices, so a ready supply of more affordable red meat became a gold mine for the growing Italian population…The meatball-as-convenience-food concept grew steadily through the turn of the century, as more and more of New York and the country settled into a standardized eight-hour workday. With a greater percentage of the workforce—male and female—conforming to a 9 to 5 schedule, pre-made dishes like meatballs functioned as a kind of fast food, especially when loaded into a crusty hero loaf. Reliable, recognizable, and reasonably priced, they made for an easy meal with few strings attached. And along the way they solidified the American understanding of what “Italian food” meant.

So, in practice of Global Foods: Local Perspectives, in celebration of the World Series, and in remembrance of all my delicious microwaved food of my youth, here are TWO recipes for meatballs from Walla Walla, Washington in 1950, along with several other delicious globally-inspired fusion recipes from Cold War-era housewives.  Dig in and read Lisa Banu’s coverage of Global Food: Local Perspectives here!  More reflections to come.

World Recipes from pg 17, Walla Walla Union Bulletin October 1, 1950

World Recipes from pg 17, Walla Walla Union Bulletin October 1, 1950

Traveling to Italy resulted in one dramatic realization – the names of Italian foods and wines are geographically significant.  The caprese salad, for example, (a simply delicious layering of fresh mozzarella, large tomato slices, fresh basil leaves, salt and pepper, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar) is named caprese because it’s from Capri.  Like the classic Margherita Pizza, the salad’s freshness embodies the island’s warm Mediterranean climate, while its colors mimic the tri-color configuration of Italy’s flag.

The salad is usually served as an antipasto (or starter) and therefore is not really considered a salad but an appetizer in Italy, since they usually eat leafy salads after the main meat entree.

This is a photo of blogger Whitney’s version of her caprese salad (click for a link to her blog).

As food writer Nigel Slater explains, salad is as simple as reading from left to right.  The key is collecting the best-tasting ingredients in their prime:

Shopping rather than technique is paramount. This is not the moment for parsimony – only the most expensive buffalo mozzarella will hit the spot (it should be soft, quivering inside with a texture that is almost jelly-like. It should smell of cool, fresh milk). The tomatoes are more difficult to get right, but in a summer like this there are many good ones to be had. Keep them until they are so ripe they feel heavy with juice and have a deep herbal scent. Although cool tomatoes are most refreshing, they won’t be at their best straight from the fridge. And while good olive oil is important, it is the ripeness and flavour of the tomatoes and the quality of the mozzarella that matter most. Use the largest basil leaves you can find. The larger they grow, the more peppery and aromatic they will be. They should, legend has it, be torn gently into pieces by hand, not shredded with a knife, as this will breed scorpions.

Most American versions of Italian classics result in terrible train wrecks when TV chefs are at the wheel trying to make a quick buck on an updated variation.  A quick Google search turned up more than 800,000 hits for “caprese salad recipe,” Perhaps the simplicity of this culinary classic has helped preserve its roots.

Now back from the Italian coast with my souvenir balsamic vinegar from Modena – the birthplace of balsamic vinegar, with some aged varieties so expensive, tastes cost hundreds of dollars – I decided to try a little farm to table version.  I currently live in Muncie, Indiana, famously known for the Middletown sociological study conducted in the 1920s and now home to about 140 meth labs and thousands of acres of soy beans and corn.  My house, however, is a haven for homegrown veggies and herbs.

The mozzarella was freshly made in Cincinnati, the tomatoes from my aunt’s garden in Hahira, GA, the basil grown fresh on my back porch (where this photo was taken), the cucumbers harvested fresh from a coworkers’ garden two blocks away, and the drizzled balsamic vinegar transported all the way from Modena.  Here’s a map I made using Google maps, which you should definitely check out to see behind-the-scenes details and photos: https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zJOHE5yzytcA.kRbVXmGH1-lU&usp=sharing

Mapping my Middletown Caprese Salad

Mapping my Middletown Caprese Salad, from ancient Rome to Muncie, Indiana, using Google Maps

And here’s the final product!  It was definitely a transatlantic culinary success (although I still prefer the classic).

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