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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

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Dear world,

You are invited to attend an important symposium exploring international influences on local food culture.  Global Food: Local Perspectives will be Thursday October 22, 3:30-5:30 in NLSN 1215 at Purdue University.

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The symposium will feature a keynote lecture by Dr. Simone Cinotto, Professor of Italian American history and food studies at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy.  He will present material from his most recently published book, Making Italian America: Consumer Culture and the Production of Ethnic Identities (2014).  Following his lecture, Dr. Lisa Banu (local food/design studies blogger at HungryPhil.com) will lead a roundtable discussion with three local restaurant owners from Thai Essence, La Scala, and Shaukin about their food memories and philosophies.  A complimentary food tasting for the first 50 people will accompany their discussion.  Visitor parking at PGG (Grant St., West Lafayette).

Purdue Map_Event in NLSN

This event has been curated by Kera Lovell as part of her 2015 Global Synergy Grant.  The event has been sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts’ Global Synergy Grant, the School of Interdisciplinary Studies, the American Studies Program, the Italian Studies Program, the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, and the American Studies Graduate Student Organization all at Purdue University.  Thanks to Kirsten Serrano (La Scala), Miinal Bhatt (Shaukin), and Ake Waratap (Thai Essence) for donating their time for this event.

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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The view of a vineyard and the epic Basilica Superga in Torino from PanPerdu B&B

One of my first stops (after regaining consciousness after a debilitating 2 days of jet lag) was Sciolze – a small, beautiful city outside of Torino/Turin where I would meet my faculty advisor, Dr. Simone Cinotto.  I stayed with a family of three – a French-speaking mother who restores 16th century paintings, an Italian-speaking father who runs an enoteca (wine store) in Torino, and a teenage daughter who is learning Spanish in school.  Completely exhausted from traveling in Milan’s heavy traffic and toll roads, I asked Antonieta if she could recommend a wine store nearby or had some wine I could purchase in order to stay in for the evening.  Her husband, Bartolome,  returned to give me a lesson on wine, explaining in such beautiful Ital-ish how his wines were locally sourced.

One startling difference between living in Muncie and venturing in Italy is everything is local.  Your wine is all local, your cured meats are all local, your fine cheeses are all local (no need for fancy Brie) – and most likely, if you ask the server, slicer, or any plain ol’ Italian about its background, they’ll probably give you some delightful details on its origin.

Antonieta and Bartolome - my wonderful hosts at PanPerdu Bed and Breakfast

Antonieta and Bartolome – my wonderful hosts at PanPerdu Bed and Breakfast in Sciolze, Italy.  In the words of their website, “The ‘panperdu’ is the name given to an ancient recipe of Piedmont where the old bread, to be thrown away, becomes a delicious, nutritious and healthy breakfast: precisely that feeling for tradition and the old, together with the creativity that characterizes our life. ” Check out their B&B here: http://www.panperdu.com/

That night, I not only received a small lecture on local wine culture, but enjoyed a lovely bottle of wine, a sampling of meats and cheeses sliced fresh by Antonieta, AND my first bowl of homemade pasta that they shared straight from their kitchen.  It was undoubtedly one of the best experiences I had in Italy because it enabled me to see how kind, giving, and selfless Italians are when it comes to food.  Having a drink of wine?  You must have some food on your plate.  Not very hungry?  How about just a snack of an entire plate of food?  Interested in a bottle of wine?  How about we give you a bottle of our own delicious homemade wine as a gift in addition to a locally-sourced bottle of wine you can drink tonight?  Hungry for breakfast?  We normally just drink a cappuccino for breakfast, but how about a homemade tart, warm just-baked croissants, delicious amber jam, and sugar cookies along with your cappuccini?  I’ll take it!  Ultimately, my stay at Antonieta’s and Bartolome’s taught me that food culture more than just consumption – it’s the people, their homes, their gardens, their families, their communities, their cultures, their histories, and so much more.