Rabelais Books: A Cookbook Paradise

by Megan Elias, Director of Gastronomy

An hour and a half north of Boston and just south of Portland you will find cookbook paradise at Don Lindgren’s Rabelais Books. Lindgren is a collector and dealer of antique cookbooks and culinary ephemera. His collection is housed in a large, well lit room in a converted mill building in Biddeford, Maine. Rabelais’s guardian/mascot is a very small, wiry and friendly terrier named Lark. In the far reaches of the space, Don’s wife Samantha Hoyt Lindgren works magic as a textile artist.

It is the kind of place I would not mind being locked into for a week. Or two. Don’s knowledge of cookbooks is beyond encyclopedic because it encompasses not just the facts of publication and trends but also the nuances of interest and innovation. He thinks in categories and publishes catalogs that are invaluable for scholars who need to know what is out there.

To spend a few hours at Rabelais in conversation with Don about what he has, what he’s looking for, and what has passed through his hands is really to hear books speak. They tell us about the people who wrote and published them, read, collected, and bequeathed them. All around the tops of shelves, too, there are large copper pots to remind us that food written is also food cooked and eaten.

I wish I had mapped our progress around the giant room as we started at one end and then moved from case to case as one type of book led to another. It felt like we were really travelling far in time and space, looping around continents and eras—a Korean hand-inked cookbook from the 1930s, a treatise on beer from eighteenth century America—to return to the present in the form of cookbooks hot of the presses.

One of the most interesting things for me to see was a table full of cookbooks and ephemera that had been part of one person’s collection. The collector had obvious fascinations—the agricultural side of food and the instructional, but also a clear appreciation for the marginal—food related things on matchbooks. Here were not just things about food but evidence of a personality, a particular genius. It was hard to resist sitting down at the table and trying to put all the pieces together like a puzzle. Who was he? Why did he care about these things and what connections did he find between them?

Image courtesy of rabelaisbooks.com

Some of my other favorite things were menu templates from the early twentieth century. They are simple sheets of paper with illustrated borders–like invitations–that restaurants could buy for printing the menu of the day. The revelation that an industry existed to supply these templates pointed to the proliferation of restaurants at this time and that in turn pointed to changes in public space and public life. The impulse to offer decorative menus was bound up in the new presence of middle class women in public—these customers were assumed to prefer something pretty to something plain, whatever their personal preferences might have been. A little slip of paper in a big room in Maine showed me a whole world of bustling streets and gender roles in transition but also in stasis… Take a trip to Biddeford and see the world!

And when you suddenly remember that you are corporal being, with a growling stomach, you must visit the Palace Diner, a tiny place in Biddeford that does its own time traveling by keeping alive and yet also perfecting the standard style and foods of traditional American diners: it was the best tuna melt I have ever eaten.

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Dining in Divinity, A Gastronomy Master’s Thesis

By Sonia Dovedy

During my last few semesters within the Gastronomy program at Boston University, I had the incredible opportunity to research, write, and defend my thesis, Dining in Divinity: Experiencing Joy During the Indian Tradition of Prasadam.

I originally embarked upon this study because I wanted to explore the way expressions of benevolent intentions, such as gratitude, humility, and love, while cooking and consuming food could impact taste, health, and overall wellbeing. Could food prepared with love and care make one feel joyous? Alternatively, could food cooked in negative circumstances exude poor taste and unfavorable qualities? When I realized that offering and consuming prasadam, a tradition from my childhood, followed a similar trajectory of behavior, it served as a catalyst for launching my research. Using mixed method approach, which included oral interviews, observation and ethnographic analysis, and a sensory approach known as “cooking as inquiry,” I embarked upon my study, exploring how different aspects surrounding the Indian tradition of cooking and offering prasadam could influence individual perception of taste and ultimately produce joy.

What is prasadam, you must be wondering?

Within Indian traditions, prasadam is an offering to the Divine. It is believed that during puja, or prayer, the deity first enjoys these gifts of food and water, and then returns the offering to the worshippers after consecrating it. In consuming the blessed item, worshippers receive darshan, or a glimpse of the Divine. While Hindu scriptures dictate a specific list of offerable materials, ultimately prasadam can be anything that is given selflessly, graciously, and in good faith—from a flower or a simple grain of sugar, to a full meal or elaborately prepared sweet.

Prasadam offerings to God are prepared in a very careful way. The chef must prepare the food with intentions of gratitude, love, and reverence; essentially, it is as if they are preparing the foods for a very special guest coming to dinner. Because of its sacred nature, this food is treated with respect; nothing is wasted, nothing is refused, and usually, these items are eaten mindfully, in gratitude, and with enjoyment.  One informant explains, “You always use the sweet…butter! You know…nuts, raisins, almonds…And probably, the only thing that I can think of, is that it leaves a very good feeling, a positive feeling. And it probably raises your feeling of happiness, right? It must be to do with the way you feel after you eat a combination of butter and sweet is the best, delicious things, you know?” (Sangeeta, August 14, 2017).

While conducting oral interviews, visiting temples, and cooking prasadam recipes at home, many curiosities arose…Why does this simple item eaten in the palm of my hands taste so much better than a lavish meal? What elements within this tradition are responsible for the production of joy when receiving and consuming this food? What would happen if I refused this special prasadam food?

 

What I discovered…

Consuming this blessed food is highly rewarding to a spiritually devout individual; these blessed foods produce happiness because they invigorate spiritual, mental, and physical health. However, I also recognized that beyond religious belief, many other factors, such as memory, emotion, and sensorial aspects of taste, were impacting this tradition.

For example, emotional connections between the chef and the consumer, devotee and Divine, food and a fond memory, produced feelings of comfort, happiness, and joy. Devout individuals experienced immense bliss when consuming prasadam because they felt connected to the Divine. Similarly, children enjoyed eating prasadam because their mother had carefully prepared it especially for them. Others enjoyed prasadam because it reminded them of their Indian roots or late grandfather.

In addition, my findings revealed ways in which prasadam items reinforced cultural roots and encouraged familial bonding. When food is received as a gift and eaten in commensality, it evokes moods of celebration, sharing, and happiness. Furthermore, I also found that the appetizing sensory elements of prasadam foods, sweet and rich in nature, promoted a benevolent state of mind and attracted individuals toward spirituality.

Thus, while prasadam clearly serves as an important spiritual activity, my research shows that the sensorial qualities of the offerings, as well as food sharing, memory and emotion, and the details in preparation, are also significant in the experience of prasadam and to the creation of joy. Perhaps if every meal was consumed as prasadam, the world would be filled with happy, healthy, and of course, spiritually elevated people.

Read more from Sonia at www.bakewithsonia.com and www.cookwithsonia.wordpress.com.

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Alumni Spotlight: Caroline Pierce

There is a lot of unseen work that goes into writing a good recipe. Typically, conventional recipes contain a list of ingredients and their measurements followed by instructions for how to manipulate those ingredients into a successful dish. The recipe may use precise measurements, or may only call for a pinch or a dash. A recipe may instruct the reader to fold, knead, or broil, and expect the reader to know what each word means. In addition to the ingredients and the methods for combining them, recipes often call for a wide variety of cooking tools and implements. Some recipes may call for elaborate and expensive equipment (Vita Mix, anyone?), whereas some recipes may call for no equipment at all. Recipes can be vague and recipes can be precise. How detailed a recipe is depends on the audience the recipe writer has in mind. A cookbook written for advanced culinary students may be very different from a cookbook written for novice home cooks. In my opinion, recipes should be written with as much information and instruction so as to make the recipe accessible and available to as many readers as possible.

Luckily, I get the chance to write, edit, and test recipes every day. I currently have two jobs that allow me the chance to accomplish these tasks. I am a recipe developer at Just Add Cooking, a local meal kit company that provides easy, delicious, and healthy meals made with ingredients sourced from New England farms and companies. Writing a recipe for Just Add Cooking is challenging because not only must I write a recipe that is easy to read, quick to make, and delicious to eat, but the recipe must also meet the size constraints of the box we ship in and adhere to budgetary constraints. Also, we have nearly 500 recipes, so new recipes must be inventive and interesting, and we don’t like to call for equipment that many people may not have. The Gastronomy program has been incredibly useful in helping me to write good recipes. Karen Metheny’s class, Cookbooks and History, taught me that a recipe can be exclusionary in both financial and educational terms. A recipe that calls for expensive ingredients or equipment limits one group of people, whereas a recipe that excludes important details about cooking terms (how does one actually temper an egg?) excludes another.

When writing a recipe, I include as much information about the ingredients as possible and provide as many details about the instructions as I can in order not to alienate new cooks. I try not to assume anything. Furthermore, I am fully aware and continually question (thanks to the Gastronomy program) how financially accessible meal kits are to the general population.

In addition to my work at Just Add Cooking, I also work as a freelance recipe tester for Fresh Magazine produced by Hannaford Supermarket. As a tester, I am sent recipes which I follow without making any changes or alterations in order to determine whether or not there are any issues with the recipe. Usually, I am looking to make sure that the cooking times are accurate, the recipe yields the correct number of servings, and the instructions in the recipe are precise. This last part is the most complex aspect of recipe testing and could include any number of variables. The baking time might be off, a sauce needs more liquid, there’s too much oregano, etc. The purpose of the test is to ensure that the recipe can work flawlessly in any home.

People lead busy lives and if they go to the trouble of making dinner for themselves and their families, then following a recipe shouldn’t be stressful. Recipes should be straightforward, and the results should be exciting and satisfying. One of the major lessons I learned from the Gastronomy program is that of empathy. My job is to make people’s lives easier. I can accomplish this by writing and editing recipes so that they are clearly read and easily made. If I can also introduce people to new cuisines, techniques, and ingredients, then I am doubly successful.

Memories From My Table – Paintings by Laurel Greenfield

Gastronomy alumna Laurel Greenfield is hosting an opening reception for her first solo gallery show  at Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc. on February 8th from 5:30 – 7:30 PM. The gallery features some of Laurel’s favorite paintings from the past year and she will be discussing why she paints food as well as the stories behind some of her paintings. You can see more of her work at laurelgreenfieldart.com.

We hope to see you at the reception!

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Experiences from the Winter Fancy Food Show

By first year Gastronomy student Kaitlin Lee

Last week I attended the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. This Disneyland of food is orchestrated by the Specialty Food Association, the trade association for specialty foods in the United States. The Fancy Food Show brings together thousands of producers and thousands of products for buyers from local co-ops and Wal Mart alike. Trends are solidified. Deals are made. And so, so many samples are handed out.

I spent most of the show at a booth that makes handmade kimchi in Brooklyn, Mama O’s. Many morning visitors demurred trying the fermented condiment. My boothmate, a show veteran who’s attended regularly for the past ten years, thought this was a smart move. Endless samples can lead to hedonistic behavior, and she’s seen people vomiting in the bathroom, the result of overindulging or mixing foods like jamón ibérico, goat kefir, and barrel-aged sauerkraut in quick succession.

I successfully avoided the fate of past sensitive-stomached attendees, but by the third and final day, I walked around the floor in a daze. A bite of Roquefort at one booth, a spoon of chocolate mousse across the aisle. The SFA’s mission statement is to “shape the future of food,” and to taste the future, I had to try everything.

Photo courtesy of specialtyfood.com

“Plant-based” foods, which are framed as environment and technology friendly, were the breakout category at the show. I tried many a non-dairy cheese, from a mozzarella equivalent to an uncanny cashew brie.  With a mottled-rind exterior and creamy, faintly nutty paste, it was the Westworld host of vegan cheese. But big hype doesn’t always equate to big flavor. Plant-based butter mimicked the mouthfeel and look of the dairy derived-original, but it lacked the sweetness and satiating fullness of traditional butter. Plant-based shrimp perfectly looked the part. It had a sweet/umami flavor profile I associate with shrimp, but the thick breading emphasized the slightly spongy texture of the pea-based protein base.

The literal and metaphorical feeding frenzy is fascinating from a food studies perspective. Debates over the ethics of production, consumer desire for transparency and healthier foods, even issues of cultural appropriation and who can commodify flavors and ingredients are embedded into the most casual interactions at Fancy Food. Most of the gatekeepers and retail buyers, are white, and the majority are male, which trickles down to what consumers find at their local grocery store. I wonder what the French trade reps and proponents of legacy foods think of plant-based brie. The future of food is clearly looking forwards and backwards, and it’s anyone’s guess where it will end up.

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2 Day Food Styling, Writing, and Photography Class

In this hands-on, multipart, one-and-half-day workshop, Sheryl Julian and Sally Vargas will guide participants through what it takes to style, shoot, and write about food in a compelling and successful way.

Former food editor for the Boston Globe, Julian is a cookbook author, food stylist, and writer with over thirty years of experience in food media. Vargas is a professional cook, writer, and photographer and the author of several books, including and the newly published The Cranberry Cookbook.

Day 1

In part one, the class discusses social media, blogs, books, and cameras, as well as what makes an effective and successful shot (with hands-on practice), a slide show of a dish photographed from start to finish, photo critique, and more. All photos are shot with available light, so you can reproduce at home what you learn in the workshop.

Day 2

In part two, focus turns to photographing and blogging, as students rotate between shooting a main course dish and undertaking a blog or writing critique. Students and instructors will sit together and dine on the photo food with a discussion during lunch. All levels are welcome, whether you use your phone to shoot for social media or have invested in a camera to produce photos for a blog.

Details

The class will meet at the BU College of Fine Arts Photography Studio from noon – 5 PM on April 20th and 10 AM – 5 PM on April 21st. The cost of the class is $650. You can register for the class here.

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The Oyster Revival: Restoring Our Waters

A short documentary by Allison Keir

From the moment I decided to apply to the Gastronomy program with a focus in Communication, my decision to do it has only been more and more reinforced. Aside from the vast amount of knowledge gained from the program, the connections with other faculty and students have provided a place of common ground for me to find inspiration and gratification in. Furthermore, the encouragement and support of the Directors has allowed me to mold my own course track and fulfill some of the core skills sets I was aiming to get out of the program.

My background and passion has for a long time been in film but my passion and concern for the health of our environment has been a lifestyle. I don’t have many memories from my childhood that don’t include being outside, in the woods or on a beach. As an adult I’ve been working in film in some form or another, since 2005 but it wasn’t until I began to develop the documentary, “The Oyster Revival” that I realized I could mesh these two passions together and perhaps make a career out of it.

The journey up to that point was by no means a short or simple one. It started thirteen years ago working out of the Boston area freelancing with other local filmmakers taking on whatever role I could. Eventually, it led me to Manhattan where I spent the first year bartending and picking up any freelance film projects I could get. Weeks turned into months that I wouldn’t have a day off or even notice the ball of sun in the sky but I did not care. I was busy and I loved it. I was hungry to work and get as much experience possible in the film industry. Ironically, it was the bartending position that in the end paid off the most when a regular customer I had become close with introduced me to a film producer, who was looking for an Executive Assistant to help run his company. Long story short, I got the gig and worked with the company for three years, until I slowly started to feel a pull back to what I been referring to as my second home since the days of college, California.

I gave my notice, packed my bags and drove back out to Los Angeles with no work, no place to live and very minimal funds to contribute to my endeavor. Luckily, I had friends that took me in, until I found a full-time job working at a documentary company in the paradise land of Malibu. The job itself wasn’t the creative outlet I was hoping for but it was a shoe-in with a small company that I felt would expose and teach me a lot about an industry that I knew I had much more to learn about. The company focused on television documentaries that at the time were rapidly turning into some form of a “Reality TV.” My motivations slowly dissipated, not in the company but rather what we were chasing after. I couldn’t have been less interested in the Kardashians, the Housewives club, the Bachelorette or American Idol. No doubt they were very big hit shows that had a wealth of people watching each season but I simply had no desire for any of it. Exhausted by the unfulfilling work, I gave my notice after two years and set off to do something else. At this point the only certainty I had was that I was not going to continue to expel all of my energy into work that I felt no fervor for.

Unsure of where to go from there, I figured I’d go back to the basics and just try to connect with other young filmmakers. On a whim, I went to volunteer at the San Diego Arts and Media Center, where I met an instructor who thought I might be a good fit to help out with some of the Outreach Programs they had going on there – and man was she right, I absolutely loved it. I spent the next year working with students from 7-18 years old, making short journalistic style videos and it all brought me back to the reason I fell in love with film in the first place, the journey of exploration.

Within that same year, I slowly circled back to the Boston area with the incentive of being closer to my family. At the point, I knew I wanted to look into working in academia and maybe even go back to graduate school. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity for a position at Boston University’s College of Communication, where I eventually began to explore other graduate programs. But it wasn’t until my development with “The Oyster Revival” documentary that I became more certain about what I wanted to do with my passion for film.

I wanted to take part in helping to reconnect and educate the public more about the health of our environment. All of the news and media we are constantly bombarded by doesn’t always provide us with solutions. It all just seems unhopeful and overwhelming. I had enough hearing about the problems, I wanted to hear solutions. Then one day I came across an article about the Massachusetts Oyster Project and the oyster reef restoration projects that they were establishing around the Boston area. I reached out immediately wanting to get involved and as I continued to learn more about all the other oyster projects going on around the country’s shorelines, I found a story that I wanted to help bring to a forum.

These oyster restoration projects are living proof that we can symbiotically work with nature to help balance it again and that each of us can take part in it. Oyster shells are being recycled from local restaurants and donated to these various oyster projects that are helping to repopulate oysters and create sustainable reefs that function very similarly to coral reefs. Not only do oyster reefs support and help initiate more marine life, oysters are powerhouses when it comes to filtering water. A single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day. Multiply that by a few million oysters, than you have millions of gallons of water getting filtered on a daily basis. Seems like a no brainer, right? Well, what we found was that these various projects were still lacking overall support from local regulators. Who did not want to put shellfish in unhealthy waters with the fear that local residents would eat the oysters. However there is already sea life living in those unhealthy waterways that people could also very easily eat from and so why not let the oysters thrive so they could assist in cleaning the water. Putting a “No Shellfishing or Fishing” sign up is also another idea but for some regulators that just wasn’t enough. Regardless, the incentives behind these oyster projects have continued to spread and gain more acceptance and support among local communities all across the country. But we can’t just stop with oysters.

A main motivating factor behind my developing “The Oyster Revival” and applying to the Gastronomy program was that I wanted to continue to inspire the thinking, “If oysters can do that, then what else can nature do and how can I be a part of it?”

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Announcing the Spring 2018 Gastronomy Colloquium

We are delighted to share with you the schedule for our Spring Gastronomy Colloquium.  We are featuring exciting Food Studies works in progress  by scholars from diverse disciplines. The colloquium is intended to be a forum for food studies scholars in the Greater Boston Area to meet each other and as such is open to all who are interested. In other words, come and bring a friend!

Spring 2018 ColloquiumSpring 2018 Gastronomy Colloquium

 

All presentations are on Thursday afternoons at 4 PM, and will be held in Fuller 123, 808 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston MA.

 

Course Spotlight: Food and Public History, Spring 2018

food museumIn this 4-credit course, we will examine interpretive foodways programs from museums, living history museums, folklore/folklife programs, as well as culinary tourism offerings, “historical” food festivals, and food tours. Our goal is to compare different way to teach the public about history or cultural heritage using food, and teach the public about the history of food. How do we engage the public? How do we demonstrate the relevance of food as both a historical subject and as a topic of interest today? Through different approaches to public history, can we connect our audience to issues that are so critical today—the future of food movements, for example, or the preservation and understanding of cultural difference? How can we successfully engage the public, whether through displays, tours, or interactive/sensorial experience?

Students will have the opportunity to hear from several experts in historical interpretation, public history, and food history programs, including Dr. Cathy Stanton (Anthropology, Tufts University), whose expertise is in the intersection of food movements and public history; Millie Rahn (Heritage Studies, Plymouth State University), a specialist in folklore studies and folk festivals; Alyssa Shoenfeld, founder of Bites of Boston Food and History Tours; Kathleen Wall, Plimoth Plantation Culinarian; and Ryan Beckman, manager of Historic Foodways Old Sturbridge Village.

This is a project-based course involving experiential learning and hands-on activities. We will be taking field trips to area museums (Plimoth Plantation and Old Sturbridge Village). I hope to schedule two walking tours in Boston as well. In addition, our visits will serve as case studies, allowing students will examine the process of creating mission statements, interpretive goals, and entrepreneurial offerings, as well as different methods of communicating with the public. Projects that build off of these case studies will include developing and creating an exhibit of cookbooks from our cookbook library for display to the university community, and hopefully an exhibit proposal for an area folk festival. The course culminates in a final project in which students develop a proposal for an interpretive foodways program for an area museum, tour program, or other public history forum.

Hope you will join us!

A live classroom option for distance students is available for this course. For more information, contact kmetheny@bu.edu.

MET ML 623, Food and Public History, meets on Tuesday evenings from 6 to 8:45 PM, beginning January 23. Registration information can be found on this page.

More New Students for Spring 2018!

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Sarah Critchely

Sarah CritchleyI’m from a small town on the Connecticut shoreline where I fostered a love for fried seafood and New Haven style apizza. At first, I started my adult life on a very literary path. After studying English at Skidmore College, I went to Brown University to get my MAT degree in Secondary English Education. I finished my first year of teaching and then decided to completely change directions. Figuring that my early twenties were as good a time as any to explore my options, I attended the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts to study pastry. I did a stint at a bakery before moving into the restaurant world, working as a savory cook at the now-defunct TW Food and then as a pastry cook at Harvest Restaurant. I have been working as a confectioner/chocolatier at Spindler Confections in Somerville for the past year where I love learning more about all the intricacies of sugar and cocoa crystals.  My favorite thing to cook (and eat) is soup and my favorite baking activity is making layered cakes. I love traveling, the beach during the off-season, Talking Heads, and knitting. Currently, I live in Cambridge with my husband, my cat, and too many cookbooks.

I’m looking forward to continue to make food the central part of my career while stepping out of the professional kitchen world a bit. I have been eyeing the Gastronomy program at BU for years and am so excited to finally be a part of the program! I’m hoping to learn more about food history and food policy and to forge a path onwards from there.


Caitlyn Wright

Caitlyn WrightI am passionate about the role food has in our communities and more specifically how we feed our communities. Through travel and research I have been able to spend time in several communities where food production is a conscious part of identity. I obtained my undergraduate degrees in Sociology and Studio Art at Hartwick College in the Catskills of New York. Living and doing field work in an agricultural community that was also experiencing deep poverty and serious public health challenges led me to focus my energy on exploring the intersection of food policy, food access, and sustainability in rural agriculture. I interned with the Center for Agricultural Development and Entrepreneurship and collected data to support their grant programs for sustainable hops production. I was a 2015 Farm and Fire Fellow at Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts in mid-coast Maine where I split my time between making ceramic work and working on Dandelion Springs an organic farm.  I ended this fellowship with an understanding of what it means to produce organic food sustainably to feed a local community but also left with questions about how to supply food affordably to a population in a setting without access to large amounts of land.

From here I participated in a class focused on food culture and challenges to food access in central New York, The Harvest Dinner Project. I was an artist and student creating dinnerware in collaboration with a farm to table restaurant which culminated in a benefit dinner supporting a local soup kitchen. Most recently, I was a teaching Fellow at a residency center for agriculture, culinary arts, and fine art in upstate New York, Craigardan. Here I witnessed and collaborated in projects highlighting the pivotal place we are in surrounding agricultural policy and food culture. I am passionate about creating physical spaces that connect people to food and want to understand the framework for building a non-profit that supports food, nutrition, and culture, especially in marginalized populations.