Spring 2015 Course Profile: Archaeology of Food

Dr. Karen Metheny, Lecturer in the MLA in Gastronomy Program, has planned several guest lectures and workshops in conjunction with her spring 2015 course, Archaeology of Food.

mount vernon
Archaeological site in Mount Vernon (credit: mountvernon.org)

The first of these special programs, paired with the Pépin Lecture Series, is a Whiskey-Tasting Program with Luke Pecoraro, Senior Archaeologist at Mount Vernon. Drawing from the archaeological records of known whiskey production sites, Pecoraro will offer a brief introduction to distilled products made in colonial America, with specific reference to George Washington’s distillery. A five-still commercial operation on one of Washington’s farms from 1797 to circa 1802, the distillery burned to ground in 1814, and was lost until re-discovered by Mount Vernon archaeologists in 1997. Intensive excavations uncovered the entire structure, revealing information about the layout of the stills, drains, and living quarters, and sparking renewed interest in spirits distillation in America. The recently reconstructed distillery is one of the few places where whiskey is made just as it was in the early Republic. The recipe for Washington’s whiskey survives, and is faithfully reproduced in small batches, twice a year, at the distillery. Following the lecture students will have the opportunity to taste five whiskeys.

succotash
Paula prepares Plymouth Succotash for a program in 2013 (credit: plymouthcraft.org)

Later in the semester, students will participate in a day-long, hands-on workshop on Succotash, a Native American dish that has become inextricably linked to colonial New England foodways and to regional traditions associated with Forefathers’ Day, a celebration of the founding of Plymouth Colony. The workshop will be led by Paula Marcoux, a food historian and archaeologist, author of Cooking with Fire, editor of Edible South Shore and South Coast, and a craft artisan/instructor for the Plymouth Center for Restoration Arts and Forgotten Trades. Paula is a frequent lecturer on the topic of vernacular foodways. Her research on succotash draws upon manuscript receipt books and print cookbooks in the archives of the Plymouth Antiquarian Society. Students will have the opportunity to hear about her research as they prepare the ingredients for succotash using the recipe of Frona Spooner (1831- 1917), a resident of North Street in Plymouth.

Archaeology of Food (MET ML 611 A1) introduces students to the archaeological study of food in prehistoric and historic-period cultures, with a specific focus on how food was obtained, processed, consumed, and preserved in past times, and the impact of diet upon past human populations in terms of disease and mortality. Students will learn how archaeologists use a wide range of artifacts, plant remains, human skeletal evidence, animal remains, and other data to recover information about food use and food technology over time. This introduction will be followed by a survey of the archaeological evidence of food procurement, processing, and consumption from the earliest modern humans to early farmers to more recent historical periods. Key topics will include the domestication of plants and animals, feasting, the role of households in food production, and the archaeological evidence for gender and status in cooking, preparation areas, serving vessels, and consumption.

Enrollment in this class is open to qualified non-degree students, who are encouraged to contact gastrmla@bu.edu to inquire about registration. Classes will be held on Monday evenings, beginning January 26.

 

 

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