By Sonia Dovedy

The dense odor overwhelms my nose while walking down the supermarket aisle. I’m looking for a simple bottle of water so that I can quaff my thirst in this wind-chill. Turns out, the bottled water section just so happens to share shelf space with…the bread section.

You know, ten weeks ago, I would have just described this scent as “bread,” and I would hardly have been irritated by the fumes. But today, I know that this smell is something deeper than that, something I have smelled so often these past weeks. And that pungently unpleasant, suffocatingly sharp group of molecules emanating from the packages across from me is quite plainly yeast.

I dash out of there as fast as I can.

Did you know that yeast is the catalyst in the chemical reaction that turns lovely little sweetheart grapes into alcohol and CO2? Also known as vin, VINO, wein, vinho, and oh yes, wine.

Chemistray graphic

It feels amazing to be back in school! I just finished my first summer course of my program, An Introduction to Wine Level 1. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

So, yes, I tasted a ton of wines, but this class went far beyond simply enjoying wine. (In actuality, we hardly consumed any wine, as spitting is essential to bringing out the residual tastes and textures in the mouth.) This course was about meeting the wine, sensing its personality, understanding its roots, its values, its character, and tapping into our own sense organs.

For example, I now understand a dry spicy Riesling. It likes to be chilly, thriving in regions such as Alsace, France, and prides itself on being quite sour, crispy, and refreshing. I also understand that if a red wine is harshly astringent, it is probably just too young and excited. It needs some time to grow up. Age and maturation will soften the tannins.

I could share cool things with you about wine all day, but what I really want to talk about is the evolution that took place within me during this course.

Let me back up a little.

Class One. We all arrive. I have just come from yoga class, so naturally I am in yoga attire. Behind me is a stay-at-home mom. There are two disheveled-looking boys who have just gotten off their shifts at a restaurant, a few girls my age. There is a wine-expert-in-suit and a gentleman-in-light-pink-lacoste-shirt-and-boating-shoes. Very eclectic crowd. We line up our glasses as our professor passes around our first wine, showing us how to observe, smell, swish, sip, and spit.

So the first thing I notice is that this wine is definitely red. Well that was a cinch. I put my nose in the glass, and I am getting the smell of, hmm, well…honestly it just smells like the smell of wine. This is a silly class, I think.

Meanwhile, I glance around to see wine-expert-in-suit furiously swishing his wine in the glass and making chewing noises as he spits out into the spit cup. Strange. Disheveled #1 is scribbling and scratching his disheveled hair. What is so fascinating to note? Stay-at-home-mom is in deep contemplation. Boating-shoes raises his hand and affirmatively states, “I smell cherry cola, good leather, and a hint of pepper.”

What?!? I look at him in disbelief and submerge my nose back into the wine, trying to pick up anything, anything at all. That doesn’t work, and instead makes me sneeze. I doubt whether I will ever be a decent wine taster. Oh boy.

Slowly, surely, effortlessly, the world around me has started to change for my little nose. I open my cupboard and at once, the aromas of dried figs and those dried currants hidden up in the corner jump out at me — YES, I remember these scents from my red Bordeaux wine. The dust of cocoa powder that flutters up when I open the box instantly brings clarity to that bitterness that I sensed in the Chilean Cabernet. Green bell peppers, olives, nutmeg, cumin, new tennis balls, grass, green apples, and more come to life. I’ve started to pause during my day and pay attention to different things that I perceive in the nose, making little mental notes in my olfactory’s factory.

I like to close my eyes and visualize different things that I have smelled before, when I search for what is “in the nose” of the wine. A little conversation takes place, of memory, recollection, and the present moment.

Do I sense those lemon piths that make me wrinkle my nose? Or is it oxidation from a browned apple core that was sitting out on the counter today? Cooked fruits from Thanksgiving pies? Or fresh fruits from the springtime? Yes, this one takes me back to kindergarten, to the peach syrup from those canned peaches Mom used to pack me for school. This one reminds me of mildewy sweat from the yoga room. That one of wet-wipes — yuck. I smell gushers and Robitussin cough syrup. Yuck again.

Fast-forward to Class Five, and I am really starting to get the hang of this. Together, my comrades and I enter into a deep discussion about the nuances in each glass. As my nose opens up, I become more chatty and daring, sharing what I actually do smell, even if it’s something silly, like “a forest”. Sometimes, people even agree with me, which is something I never thought would be possible in Class One! Our disagreements are what really make things interesting. We stimulate new ideas and we laugh at the crazy things that come up in our noses. For instance, Disheveled #2 always finds a way to smell “basement” and “cigars”. And sometimes he is right. It’s a subjective study indeed.

What I realize is that in order to taste wine properly, you have to pay attention to the fragrances that surround you. It requires a keen sense of imagination. And it is much more enjoyable with a friend to bounce ideas off of.

What’s more, I find the practice of wine tasting to be much like yoga.

Let me try to explain.

Yoga postures, or asanas, exercise each cell in the body to sharpen and sensitize your physical awareness. Wine tasting exercises my nose and my brain’s power to remember and recall smells. In just nine short weeks, my nose has become sharper and pointier, like Pinocchio minus the telling lies part. I’ve realized that I rely so much on my sense of sight, and that perhaps sight is overrated. Smelling and tasting sense organs on their own are far more incredible in the details of information that they can provide.

Learning wine has strengthened something within and is starting to teach me a bit more about myself. Just like yoga, this study is refining my insides like a pencil sharpener. My goodness. This world is too exciting. I think it calls for a celebration, don’t you?

Cheers to wellness, spontaneity, and refreshing imaginations.

You can find this post and others on Sonia Dovedy’s food, yoga, travel blog at Bake with Sonia.

A Dish through Time & History: Cauliflower Soup 1901-2015

By Louise Beck Brønnum

Have you ever wondered why your grandmother’s stew tastes ten times better than the one you try to make yourself? It’s all bound to tradition, the context of time and place. By making a very simple recipe from two different time periods, a reflection of these influences becomes clear, and even enables us to not only understand how people once ate, but also why and where. As part of the Culinary Laboratory Arts class, we were challenged to find a recipe from two different time periods and cook them. This is my experience of cooking a dish through time and history.

Cauliflower Soup
I am an exchange student from Denmark, and the whole new Nordic cuisine movement inspired me to cook something from a Danish cookbook. Many traditional recipes in Danish cuisine require specific ingredients. I wanted to relate an older recipe for cauliflower soup to one found in the new Nordic Cuisine to give a time perspective. From participating in the Culinary Arts Lab course and by looking at different recipes over time, I’ve found that soups have gone through the most remarkable changes, both in cooking techniques and methods.

Finding the Recipe
It all started on a rainy Friday afternoon. My classmate Erica and I decided to visit the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study at Harvard. With help from the librarian, we found cookbooks from the 17th and 18th century. I found cookbooks based on French cuisine that were written by Americans, on Southern food, Chinese food and even Danish food. I could have chosen an American recipe, but I found it harder to understand them from a food-making and cultural perspective, so, I decided on one from a Danish cookbook.

Frøken Jensens Cookbook (1901)
Jensen cookbookThe classic Danish cookbook I found is almost an institution in itself, written by Kristine Marie Jensen. She was a housekeeper and cookbook writer who lived from 1858 to 1923. When she died, her cookbook, “Frøken Jensens kogebog”, had been edited 27 times and sold 15,000 copies during the first year of publication it! It is still one of the most acknowledged cookbooks in Danish food culture and within Danish bourgeois cuisine. Jensen stated that the Danish housewife had forgotten the responsibility of providing a home with tasteful and caring food. She explained and included all the classical and traditional techniques and methods of Danish cooking in the cookbook. Any housewife would be able to use it to cook her husband dinner, says Jensen, “without feeling like it is a huge burden, but a great mission to keep the home with hygge.” Under the white thickened (lier) soups in the second part on supper dishes, I found a cauliflower soup recipe. To complete it, I had to make a standard “savings stock.”

Ny Nordisk Hverdagsmad Cookbook (2011)
An obvious choice for finding a modern recipe was a cookbook based on the manifest of the New Nordic Diet. A huge research project named OPUS was conducted in cooperation between Copenhagen University and Claus Meyer. Meyer is a food entrepreneur who started catering companies, delis, food schools, and food-related projects promoting seasonality, sustainability, and health. He was one of the people behind NOMA, rated the top restaurant in the world, and will soon be opening a huge Nordic store at Grand Central Station in New York City. The New Nordic Diet cookbook is a small cookbook that includes 60 recipes of simple and easy-to-make dishes that follow the principles of the New Nordic diet. The cookbook is divided into parts depending on ingredients, including soups, vegetables, fish, meats, bread and sweets. I found a cauliflower soup under the chapter for soups.

The Shopping and Preparing Process
The biggest difference between the two recipes is the way they are presented. In Frøken Jensen’s cookbook (FJ) the only ingredients listed are two cauliflower heads and five pots (liters) of stock. In the Ny Nordisk Hverdagsmad cookbook (NNH), the ingredient list is very precisely stated — including the salt and pepper used for seasoning. Furthermore, the FJ recipe serves 12 and the NNH serves two, which reflects family size and the norms of eating in different time periods.

The FJ recipe calls for a homemade stock, cauliflower, butter, flour, egg yolks and suggested using grated parmesan cheese. In NNH, the ingredients include cauliflower, onions, garlic, semi-fat milk, salt and pepper, and a blender was needed to puree the soup in the end. I realized that the recipes exemplify two different techniques, one a white, thickened soup and the other a pureed soup. FJ does have pureed soups, but she used a chinoa to mash them. This is a clear indication of the evolution of cooking technology over time; blenders did not exist in the 19th century.

When shopping for ingredients, the garnish for the NNH recipe (a wild herb from the Danish forest and whole hazelnuts) where the most difficult to find. Though they suggested tarragon instead of the wild herb if it was not available, it seemed contradictory to the concept of easy-to-make. This also shows how cooking a dish from a different cuisine in another country can include constraints, especially in terms of finding the exact ingredients.

The Cooking Process
I started off with preparing the stock for the FJ recipe, which is described as “savings stock.” You basically make it out of leftover meat and vegetables, adding a “visk” (mire poix) and herbs. After boiling you put it in an “høkasse,” an old method of Danish slow cooking which is similar to a low simmer. While making the stock, I boiled the whole cauliflower head in salted water until just tender. Afterwards, I separated the small florets and preserved some of the cooking water for later.

I found a terrine-style pot, which was required for the recipe. This is where I got confused in the cooking process. I needed to bake off butter and flour and then add stock and the preserved cooking liquid, but I wasn’t sure whether I should do it in the terrine with the cauliflower or in a separate pot. Perhaps it’s an indication of culinary wisdom lost in time. I decided to bake the flour and butter first and then add stock, water and the small cauliflower florets all at once to the terrine. Again I was confused about the process. When should I add the egg yolks to thicken the soup? I decided after 15 minutes of slow simmer to lower the heat and add the egg yolks. Stirring it all together, it turned out to be a wonderful and very rustic soup, with a clear taste of cauliflower and texture from the small cauliflower florets. The soup was liquidy, but had structure from the egg yolks and roux. This balanced the mouth feel so it became almost like silk contrasting with the small bites of cauliflower .

The pureed soup from NNH was easy to prepare and took me almost only 10 minutes to mise en place. Following the instructions, I sweated the onions and garlic in oil until tender, then added the cauliflower florets. After that I added milk and set the pot to simmer until the cauliflower was tender. I used an immersion blender to puree the soup and seasoned it with salt and pepper. An additional garnish was made with tarragon, peanuts, scallion and apple cider vinegar, some of which substituted for ingredients I couldn’t find at the supermarket. The texture of the soup was creamy, and the fresh and sour flavor of the tarragon was a great accompaniment. Crunchiness from the nuts was delicious, but a clear flavor of the actually cauliflower was not as pronounced in this soup as in the FJ soup.

The Overall Comparison
Taking into account how I searched for, prepared and the two soups, the most significant difference between them was the expected cooking knowledge of the people preparing them. The cooking methods and equipment were also different, which shows the evolution of technology over the past 110 years. I served both soups to people with gastronomic and non-gastronomic backgrounds, and their preferences were split. Personally, I loved the freshness of the NNH, but on the other hand, I also loved the clear flavor of cauliflower from the FJ recipe. It seemed like one’s general palate and mood at that moment made the greatest influence on taste preferences. Timewise the NNH seemed like it was the easier one in the sense of following the recipe, but for me both were easy and applicable to my level of cooking.

Alumna Emily Contois Explores Icons of Australian Food Culture

By Amanda Balagur

Despite the wet and windy weather last Thursday evening, a lively crowd attended the third Pépin Lecture of the semester to learn about “Icons of Australian Food Culture: Vegemite, Kangaroo & the Flat White”. Emily Contois, who graduated from the MLA in Gastronomy program at BU in 2013 and is in her third year as a PhD student in American Studies at Brown University, greeted the audience warmly and dove into her topic with enthusiasm.

Emily standing title slideWhile she grew up in Montana, Emily’s father is Australian, and she and her sister were born Down Under. So it should come as no surprise that she feels a connection to the food and culture of her homeland. There are quite a few iconic dishes from Australia, including meat pies and desserts like pavlova and lamingtons. However, Emily chose to focus on three slightly polarizing foodstuffs: kangaroo, the flat white and Vegemite.

According to Emily, kangaroo is a lean gamey meat that has been eaten by Australia’s indigenous population for thousands of years. Since it’s considered to be ecologically friendly and nutritious, there has been a recent (and mostly unsuccessful) effort to get more Australians to incorporate it into their diet. However, kangaroo meat is often associated with road kill and pet food (it’s largely exported to Europe as an ingredient for the latter), and the trend has been slow to catch on. But creative marketing, such as 2008’s Taste of Kangaroo/Roocipes campaign, may be making a dent in the Australian market — kangaroo is now more widely available, and sales may be increasing.

While Aussies may be slow to embrace eating kangaroo meat, the same can’t be said for the iconic treat Emily spoke Emily talking about Vegemiteabout next. The flat white was described as “Australia’s greatest contribution to global gastronomy” by Australian food history scholar Michael Symons. Stemming from European coffee culture, this popular hot drink is a product of 20th century immigration. It consists of a double shot of espresso and micro-foamed milk, resulting in a coffee drink that’s velvety sweet without the fluffiness of a latte or cappuccino. Traditionally served in a 165ml tulip cup, it’s also enjoyed at a slightly colder temperature than other coffee/milk specialties. From Emily’s point of view, the flat white is uniquely global, created as something new in Australia based on Italian coffee culture. Members of the audience at the lecture who had enjoyed the flat white while visiting Australia agreed it was a truly enjoyable part of their daily ritual while traveling there.

TheVegemite crackers last featured food of the evening seemed to spark the most interest from the crowd: Vegemite. Developed in 1923 due to the decreased availability of Marmite from England during World War I, Vegemite is made from yeast extract left over from the beer brewing process and is seasoned with salt and vegetable extracts. From the start, it has been promoted as a health food that is “packed with B vitamins”. Emily shared some impressive statistics, including that Vegemite can be found in 80% of Australian kitchens. It’s also rumored to be many Australian babies’ first solid food, and many Australians don’t leave home without it (because, of course, it comes in convenient Crowd sampling Vegemitetravel-size tubes). She pointed out the culinary tie to the British Empire and explored marketing campaigns in Australia and the U.S., noting the correlation between the first successful sales of Vegemite in America and the Aussie pop culture wave that occurred here in the 80s.

The evening ended with a Vegemite tasting; each audience member received two Ritz crackers with a thin coating of the inky spread, which garnered some spirited reactions. Overall, it was a fun and informative presentation, and the audience was keen to participate. For more information on Emily’s work in food studies, visit her website or follow her on Twitter @emilycontois.

Sustaining Stillman’s: Turning a Profit at the Boston Public Market

By Kendall Vanderslice

Outside the Harvard Square Sunday Market, rain drizzles on a row of vendors as they advertise their assortments of produce, cheese, and baked goods to passersby. In a small, unassuming stall in the middle of the market, Rebecca Stillman sells a variety of meats on behalf of her daughter Kate, owner of Stillman’s Quality Meats.

Kate’s father started Stillman’s Farm over 30 years ago. Eager to find her own niche in the family business, Kate initiated Stillman’s Quality Meats on her father’s land in 2005, selling at markets all over the greater Boston area. Through the direct marketing made possible by the Massachusetts’ Farmer’s Market Association, small family farming has maintained a sustainable income for Massachusetts farmers. The ability to build relationships with customers has allowed the Stillmans to ensure their customers that they exercise the highest standards of care out of respect for nature rather than to appease third-party certifiers.

While seasonal farmer’s markets have given Kate the opportunity to start and grow her business by selling “conscientiously raised, grass fed, pasture raised meat and poultry,” it is her new stall at the year-round Boston Public Market that will give her company the space to turn a profit. Rebecca eagerly tells of the new value-added products available for sale there. From beef kebabs and peach-stuffed pork chops to house-cured charcuterie, the spread is sure to entice the crowd.

In an attempt to find new ways to sustain the business of farming in a post-agrarian culture, small farmers are turning to value-added products to boost profits. A produce farmer might, for instance, be able to sell quarts of fresh concord grapes for $5 a basket. At the end of the day, any leftover grapes will likely not make it through another market. With the addition of just a touch of sugar and half an hour over the stove, however, the farmer can sell those otherwise unusable grapes for $10 a jar in the form of jelly. By transforming their original products into something new and more valuable, farmers are finding ways to widen the scope of their sales. Creating a forum to introduce value-added products revamps the playing field for local small farmers.

Kate Stillman has eagerly joined in the game, but in the end, it is her customers who truly win.

“[Kate] survives, but it’s tough. She provides for her family,” says Rebecca . But when asked if customers are increasingly happy, Rebecca smiles demurely and nods. “Absolutely. Oh, absolutely.”

Sampling Scientific Cooking with Kenji Lopez-Alt at Harvest in Cambridge

By Jerrelle Guy

A private luncheon was held at the historic Harvest restaurant in Harvard square on Monday, October 26th, and a few IMG_0228people from the Gastronomy program attended. You all remember Chef Kenji Lopez-Alt from his column in Serious Eats, right? Well, Chef Kenji Lopez-Alt has taken his M.I.T. degree and brought that proficiency into his kitchen. He’s managed to deconstruct many of the common cooking approaches taken toward some of our favorite recipes (All-American Meatloaf, Classic Baked Ziti, Big, Fat Juicy Grilled Burgers, and more) and boil them down to a simple scientific method. He even went one step further and made his science-based techniques accessible to the home cook.

The luncheon was a tiny taste of what scientific cooking could offer. Chef Kenji Lopez-Alt partnered with Harvest’s Executive Chef Kinnet to prepare a simple yet elegant menu: Slow-Roasted Pumpkin Soup, Spatchcock Roast Chicken with Scalloped Potatoes, Broccoli Rabe and Delicata Squash, and one can’t forget the array of mini desserts that included a life-altering Earl Grey and Caramel Cream Puff!

IMG_0244 IMG_0240IMG_0199  IMG_0235IMG_0202
Along the top of a wide-stretched table dressed in white linen rested his thick new cookbooks, waiting to be doled out to the lucky guests in attendance. Within their pages the chef offers extensive explanations and pictures, and for those who could attend the luncheon, living proof why we as cooks should reconsider the way we think about cooking. The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking through Science is as monumental in size as an encyclopedia, and it behaves like one as well. It’s a necessary resource that should take a place on all of our cookbook shelves.

Harvest is celebrating its 40th anniversary all November-long with a special tasting menu, and inviting and honoring chefs from the Boston area who are shaking up the contemporary culinary scene. You can find more information on future events here.

Butchering Lamb at Lightning Ridge

By Lindsey Barrett

After a sunny forty-five minute Sunday drive from Boston to Sherborn, Mass., my Sous Chef Josh Turka and I arrived at a image1small white poster paper sign with a thin black arrow pointing us to 38A Bullard Street. The narrow gravel path, surrounded by thick green brush, opened up to a single-story grey ranch home with three wood-paneled barns behind it. Lightning Ridge Farm is a modest, family-run business dedicated to raising purebred Corriedale sheep and lamb for auction and wholesale.

“It’s named lighting ridge because a few years ago, right down the street, 24 cows were all killed by one strike of lighting,” said owner Nancy Miniter. She and her husband John, along with, invited restaurant owners and staff to visit the farm, have lunch and watch a whole animal butchery demonstration. This offered a unique and educational experience, bringing chefs out of the kitchen and closer to the products and people they work with. Over twenty chefs, general managers and restaurant owners from Massachusetts and Rhode Island wearing sneakers, full arm tattoos and some even in socks and kitchen Crocs, gathered to learn about purchasing local lamb directly from the farmer.

Nancy and John started the farm with just two small sheep as 4H projects for their son and daughter in 1990. Today they have 45 ewes on 15 acres. “If you can get a lamb to produce three times in two years she is a keeper,” Nancy advised. Lamb and sheep have a gestation period of five months, and most animals will “lamb” twins.

image4Lightning Ridge does most of its retail selling at the Wayland Winter and Natick farmers markets, where the lamb is broken down into loin, rib and chop primal cuts for customers. Nancy sells every part of the animal. “I do pretty good selling testicles at the farmers market,” she said. “Testicles, hearts and tongues — I can’t keep them.”

The farm produces lamb year-round, which is uncommon for a small farm. The animals are butchered at 120-140 pounds and will hang sheered, skinned and head-on at 60-70 pounds. It takes roughly six to seventh months for the animals to reach this weight. Hay made on site by Nancy and John, both animal science graduates, is used for feeding along with a 16% protein enriched grain feed. “I don’t like seeing thin sheep,” Nancy admitted.

After the grounds tour, the chefs sat down in the shade to whole roast lamb, smoked over peach wood, and Jacks Abby. It was welcome refreshment from the blistering heat that beat down from a piercing blue sky littered with a few sharp white clouds. Sitting around six plastic tables under white peaked tents, chefs chatted in true competitive culinary form. Theyimage2 compared who had been working the most hours, what was on their current menu, how often it changed and who did what with lamb, each silently sizing up their fellow chef and quietly judging their practices and procedures.

The butchery demonstration was given by Savenour’s butcher shop manager Adam Lucia. Although the conditions were not ideal — it was warm, the meat was getting soft and the hand saw was not breaking bones as easily as it would had the meat and air temperature been cooler — Adam did his best to demonstrate how to break down a whole lamb. “It’s not magic, it’s just a lost art,” he said as he delicately taps his boning knife with a steel mallet between rib bone and muscle. He explained what he uses the whole animal for and how nothing should be wasted. “The lard inside the lamb, it’s a shame not to use,” he said. “It’s like white gold.” He went on to suggest we use it to sear proteins in pans.

Three days prior, sweat slowly creeped down the small of my back and my thick black chef pants stuck to my thighs. It was a Thursday night and it felt like the entire dining room at The Salty Pig had all sat down at once. At 6 p.m. in the middle of picking up and plating three pork tastings, two buccatini and clam pastas and a small agnolotti, I heard my chef yell my name. “Lindsey, talk to Josh at the pass,” my head chef barked as he finished garnishing a plate with toasted sunflower seeds and five vibrant sunflower pedals.

image5Josh leaned over the shiny black counter and asked what I was doing Sunday. Really? I thought. You want to know my Sunday plans when I’m frantically trying to plate six entrees on a space no bigger than a standard kitchen sized cutting board? “Um nothing chef, what’s up?” I respectfully answered. Over the clanking of plates and beeping of timers, thoughts continued going on in my head: Was my loin resting? Was the garlic burning in the pan or did I have enough time to turn around, bloom in the Aleppo and deglaze with white wine?

He told me he wanted to tour a lamb farm and talk about purchasing a whole lamb. “Sure chef, sounds fun, text me later about details,” I spat out as I whirled back around to the six burner range. With a towel in hand, I grabbed sauté pans and heated up the black garlic purée. I then stole the crispy charred wax beans off the grill, aggressively chopped parsley to finish the pasta and tossed the finished plates to the pass.

Back at Lightning Ridge, as the butchering demonstration continued, Josh and I chugged down our third beer each. A welcome breeze blew in and the faint smell of dried hay and barnyard animal wafted through the tented tables. The shade, icy beer and farm scents were soothing, giving way to a moment to sit back and enjoy the simplistic Sunday setting. “Well,” Josh whispered over the tiny tapping of mallet to knife, a small grin forming out of the image6corner of his mouth, “now I want to get a lamb.”

If you go: Nancy encourages anyone to visit the farm, take a tour and see what they do daily. “We like when people visit,” she says. “We always tell people from the farmers market to visit the farm. They never do but we like it.” For more information, email or call 508-653-3212. Lightning Ridge Farm, 38 A Bullard Street, Sherborn Massachusetts

Dr. Ari Ariel’s Talk on the Hummus Wars

By Kendall Vanderslice

On September 30th, a rainy Wednesday evening, Dr. Ari Ariel presented the second Pepin lecture of the year, titled “Hummus Wars: Buying and Boycotting Middle Eastern Foods.” The new head of the Gastronomy program began his presentation with a slideshow of the Guinness World Record competition between Lebanon and Israel, each vying for the award of producing the largest hummus dish. A 9,000-pound dish in Israel was quickly defeated by a group of Lebanese chefs. After a few rounds of back and forth battling, the record for largest dish of hummus was won by Chef Ramzi Choueiri and students in Lebanon for their 23,000 pound serving.

Ariel PictureWhile this might sound like nothing more than friendly competition between neighboring countries, Dr. Ariel says he views the hummus record as an extension of the political climate. It is set, he explains, within “a rhetoric of violence that turns cooks into combatants.” Since 2008, Lebanon has been seeking a legal claim to hummus. By trademarking hummus in the European Union, they aim to regulate the proportions of ingredients allowed in the tasty dip and require Lebanese recognition on every label.

The history of hummus is largely unknown. In Arabic, the word simply means “chickpea,” but the dish hummus bi tahini has become so popular around the world that it is commonly referred to as simply hummus. The exact origin remains a mystery – the earliest recipe is found in a 13th century cookbook – yet several countries claim ownership of the dish. Because hummus exists between multiple foodways and constructions of identity, this attempt to trademark the dish raises questions of authenticity and gastro-nationalism. Who has a right to regulate claims to authenticity? Is authenticity a product of, or a producer of, identity and nationality?

According to Dr. Ariel, the hummus wars prove that, while food can serve to reconcile, it can also push things in the opposite direction. Far from a bridge to peace, this culinary rivalry creates a new space within which political conflict can work itself out. Whether this non-violent space will remain such is yet to be discovered. So the next time you reach for some hummus, remember that the dish is a little deeper than you thought.

Don Lindgren Explores the Anatomy of a Cookbook

by Barbara Rotger

Like family bibles and favorite children’s books, cookbooks are often singled out in the home for special treatment. They are kept separately from other books, passed down from generation to generation, with each caretaker inscribing his or her own name within it. However, unlike other treasured volumes, users regularly mark these texts with their own corrections or commentary, adding whole new sections or boldly crossing out recipes that have proved unsuccessful. Years of heavy use are reflected in repairs, occasionally made by professional binders, but more frequently accomplished with tape or needle and thread, providing a tangible link between the craft of cooking and other household crafts.

Don Lindgren, proprietor of Rabelais Fine Books on Food & Drink, made these points in his lecture “The Anatomy of a Cookbook: The Useful Object and Its Users.” This was the first talk in this year’s Jacques Pepin Lectures Series, offered by Boston University’s Programs in Food and Wine. Lindgren emphasized use of the term “object” rather than “text” in his title, noting that there are many aspects of cookbooks that scholars can learn from that beyond lists of ingredients and instructions for their preparation.

Referencing the methodology that historian Barbara Ketcham Wheaton presents in her seminar on Reading Historic Cookbooks, Lindgren encouraged the audience to look for details such as the number of ingredients a cookbook calls for, the source of those ingredients, and the kind of environment they might reflect. Scholars should also consider evidence of the range of equipment in use and the people involved in preparing food – from heads of households planning menus, cooks who prepared them, and the merchants, foragers and farmers who supplied the ingredients.

Lindgren pointed out the importance of considering the motivations of the publisher or author. Cookbooks do not just exist IMG_2361as a vehicle to share recipes; authors may seek to gain publicity for themselves, raise funds for a cause, or support advertisers. The use of pseudonyms is common in cookbook publishing. Lindgren illustrated this point with an example, noting that a volume published by the “Society of New York Gentlemen” sold far more copies after the author’s name was changed to the fictitious “Priscilla Homespun”.

In another example of cookbook sleuthing, Lindgren showed how a bookseller’s ticket, affixed to the inside of a collection of cocktail recipes that was published in 1862, shed light on another historical moment. This slip of paper, pasted inside the cover of the book, indicated that the volume was sold in a shop in Havana that was in business from 1873 to 1877, providing evidence that contradicts the conventional wisdom of when cocktail culture developed on the island of Cuba.

After his talk, participants were invited to examine a number of cookbooks from Lindgren’s shop. Many took home a catalog and went home inspired to consider the “useful objects” on their own kitchen shelves in a new light.

Upcoming Lecture: Taste and Judgment as a Key to Becoming a Responsible and Enjoying Eater

Members of the Gastronomy Community and the public are invited to a lecture by Dr. Helle Brønnum Carlsen on Taste and Judgment as a Key to Becoming a Responsible and Enjoying Eater (Food “Bildung”).

Dr. Carlsbronnum photo for lectureen will discuss an aesthetic approach to food, and how food knowledge and attitudes concerning foods (food Bildung, or food literacy) are used to frame the consumer’s choice as those of a responsible, reflexive human being. Dr. Carlsen, a scholar in food and aesthetics, obtained her Ph.D. at the Danmarks institut for Pædagogik og Uddannelse, now Århus University, from the Institute of Pedagogical Philosophy. She also has a Master of Arts in Literature from Copenhagen University, where she studied food and literature, and a Master’s degree in Nutrition and Biochemistry from DPU. In addition to teaching, Dr. Carlsen has served as an advisor for the Copenhagen House of Food, as a chef consultant for the Ministry of Education, food critic/reviewer in the monthly gastro-magazine Smag og Behag, freelance food writer, and lecturer. She has published 15 cookbooks, 2 academic books about food and philosophy/education and, most recently, a book for teaching food knowledge and cooking skills.

This lecture will be held on October 15, 2015 at  6:00 pm, in the College of General Studies, 871 Commonwealth Avenue, room 511, and is sponsored by the Gastronomy Program and Boston University’s Programs in Food and Wine.

Course Spotlight: Food and Gender

complete housewifeDr. Karen Metheny will be teaching Food and Gender during the Fall 2015 term. This 4-credit course takes an anthropological, cross-cultural, and interdisciplinary approach to the study of food and gender, looking at how masculinity and femininity are defined through beliefs and practices surrounding food and body. Students will engage in a semester-long research project using ethnographic and oral interview techniques such as food-centered life histories.

This class will meet on Monday evenings, from 6 to 9 PM, starting on September 14. The course is open to graduate students and advanced undergraduates. Non-degree students may also register. Please contact for more information.