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

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.


Course Spotlight: Culture and Cuisine of New England, Spring 2018


Looking to add another course to your spring schedule? You might consider Netta Davis’s course, Culture and Cuisine of New England. Without fail, this course receives rave reviews from all who take it — from students who have lived in the region for years to those who moved here just for school.

This course explores the unique culinary culture of the New England region.  From history and anthropology, to archaeology, material culture, and folklore, this course employs an interdisciplinary approach to learning about regional dishes, their origins and meanings, the extraordinary people who developed New England cookery and food industries, and the intimate relationship between the land, (and sea!), the inhabitants and the foodways that evolved.

The encounters between Native peoples and Europeans brought forth succotash and “indian” pudding, (but maybe not Butterball Turkeys); Immigrant communities added linguica sausage to clambakes and Cranberry Chutney to the Thanksgiving table.  From Yankee Pot Roast and Eel Pie to Moxie, Maple Syrup and Sam Adams, New England culture and cuisine is a rich and tasty subject for study.

This class will include a weekend field trip, likely to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center in Connecticut. The last class visited there and feasted on Wampanoag chef Sherry Pocknett’s superb cuisine in the museum cafe.  (You can read Gastronomy alumnus Michael Floreak’s article about the food and beverage program at the museum here.) Weather permitting, we may try our hands at making sea salt from Maine seawater as well.

Culture and Cuisine of New England (MET ML 638) will meet on Thursday evenings from 6 to 8:45 PM, beginning on January 18. Registration information can be found on this page.

Images: Fisherman, Brewery labels, Cranberries, Boston Cooking School MagazineMoxie, Succotash

Cookbooks & History: Carrot Soup

Students in Cookbooks and History (MET ML 630), directed by Dr. Karen Metheny, researched and recreated a historical recipe to bring in to class. They were instructed to note the challenges they faced, as well as define why they selected their recipe and why it appealed to them. Here is the thirteenth essay in this series, written by Sami Vitale.

My name is Samantha Vitale and I am a second year Gastronomy student. For one of my classes this semester, Cookbooks and History with Karen Metheny, we were given the task to recreate a historical recipe. The recipe I choose was from American Cookery by Amelia Simmons. Amelia Simmons is deemed the American Orphan and helped to create the initial American cuisine. The version of American Cookery I chose was from 1798. As I was looking through the cookbook I found mostly meats, preserves, pies, and puddings. As I am a vegetarian, I chose to recreate a pudding recipe and because I am poor I tried to find a recipe with ingredients that I already had in my fridge. The recipe that I ended up choosing was “Carrot Pudding”. The recipe is as follows: A coffee cup full of boiled and strained carrots, 5 eggs, 2 ounces of sugar and butter each, cinnamon and rosewater to your taste, baked in a deep dish without paste. (1798: 28)

As you can see, there are no instructions regarding time or temperature which was the hardest part of recreating this recipe. I was not sure how long to boil the carrots for (until soft or until they were mush) or how long to keep the pudding in the oven. I also was unsure of the temperature that the oven was supposed to be or the temperature of the pudding when ready to eat. I ended up leaving the carrots to boil uncovered and about a half an hour in, decided to cover the pot with a lid because the water was hot but not boiling. I let this process happen for about an hour.

I then strained the carrots and added in the sugar, butter, cinnamon, eggs, and mixed them together. I put this pudding mixture (smelled rather good actually) into a Pyrex dish and stuck it in the oven.

The usual baking temperature for 75% of everything you bake is 350 degrees which is what I went with. Since the pudding has eggs in it, the pudding needed to fully cook in the oven which took about 30 minutes.

This pudding smelled so delicious and it was not the smell I was expecting. I let the pudding cool for about 15 minutes and tasted it. OMG was this carrot pudding good! Not at all what I was expecting it to taste like. I was imaging from just reading the recipe that it was going to be an interesting flavor, however, it was buttery and sweet, pretty eggy, and the carrots added a nice texture to the dish. It seems like this is a good dish for either breakfast, the season of fall, or Thanksgiving.

I then let it cool for another 30 minutes to see if the pudding would taste better at room temperature. Carrot pudding tastes much better hot or warm, room temperature was just chewy and I did not taste the undertones of cinnamon. Overall, the experience of recreating a recipe from over 200 years ago was easier than I thought, especially because the recipe was simple and had limited ingredients. I honestly did not think that I was going to enjoy carrot pudding as much as I did and I am happy that I tried something new.

Works Cited

Simmons, Amelia. 1798. American Cookery or the Art of Dressing Viand, Fish, Poultry, and Vegetables and the Best Modes of Baking Pastes Puffs, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards and Preserves and All Kinds of Cakes from the Imperial Plum to Plain Cake: Adapted to the Country and All Grades of Life. Hartford: Simeon Butler.

Cookbooks & History: Custard Pudding

Students in Cookbooks and History (MET ML 630), directed by Dr. Karen Metheny, researched and recreated a historical recipe to bring in to class. They were instructed to note the challenges they faced, as well as define why they selected their recipe and why it appealed to them. Here is the twelfth essay in this series, written by Danielle Tarpley.

I selected the Custard Pudding recipe from Lydia Maria Child’s The Frugal Housewife (1830: 65) because the nature of this book appealed to me. In my household, I am the modern, frugal housewife. Much like myself, Child came from a middle-class family with moderate income. Even after she was married, her family relied heavily her income. It was necessary for Child to be frugal. I would describe my role as financial manager and waste monitor. I despise food waste and The Frugal Housewife has many admirable time- and money-saving tips. The author writes, “Time is money” (Child 1830:3). Truer words I have never heard.

The book also appealed to my pastry passion. I love how full fat milk products give body and richness to desserts, especially custards. I was also curious to see how the difference in milk affected the outcome of the dessert. Child suggests using boiled skim milk in this recipe as a substitute for a heavier cream. In the 19th century, it is likely skim milk was similar the whole milk we use today. It is likely 1% milk had significantly less fat that the skim milk used two hundred years ago.

Before moving forward with the project I set up my criteria for picking the recipe:

  • Do not purchase anything for the assignment.
  • Modify recipe as little as possible.
  • Make partner (Aaron) a tasty dessert.

Once I set these parameters, choosing the custard recipe was easy. Not only did I have all of the ingredients in my kitchen, I really love custard. Below is the recipe as it is written in the book:

Custard Puddings.

Custard puddings sufficiently good for common use can be made with five eggs to a quart of milk, sweetened with brown sugar, and spiced with cinnamon or nutmeg, and very little salt. It is well to boil your milk, and set it away till it gets cold. Boiling milk enriches it so much that boiled skim-milk is about as good as new milk. A little cinnamon, or lemon peel or peach leaves, if you do not dislike the taste, boiled in the milk and afterwards strained from it, give a pleasant flavor. Bake fifteen or twenty minutes.

First, I modified the recipe for my home kitchen. I made a half batch because the dessert would only feed two people and I did not want waste. I also did not have brown sugar so I substituted white sugar with a little molasses. Because I used medium-sized eggs, I decided three eggs would be appropriate for the recipe. I then identified the challenges: 1) No oven temperature given; 2) No mix method given; 3) No quantity of sugar given. I bake quite a bit at home, custards included. With my cooking knowledge I created the recipe below.


Modified Custard Pudding (1/2x)


  • 3 eggs (medium)
  • ½ qt. milk (1%)
  • ½ c. white sugar
  • 2 tbls. molasses
  • pinch of salt
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon


  1. Boil milk and cool
  2. Mix all ingredients
  3. Bake for 15-20 min at 325 F

After mixing, I noticed immediately that the batter was very thin, even after boiling the milk to “enrich” it.  Typically, baked custards are cooked in a water bath so they do not overcook. I choose a 325 F temperature because I thought it would be hot enough to cook the custard in 15-20 minutes. This did not happen. After 20 minutes, the batter was barely set. At this point, I raised the temperature of the oven to 375 and baked it for an additional 10-12 minutes. I had a feeling it would over cook and it did.

In the mid-19th century, people’s tastes were probably different then they are today. It is likely middle class families didn’t waste money to prepare well-seasoned dishes. Taste buds were accustomed to less seasoned dishes. Modern American cuisine is very high in sugar, fat and salt. Because our taste is accustomed to high fat, sugar and salt content, it is the reason why I gave this dish a C- grade on flavor, texture and body. The flavor wasn’t terrible. It resembled flan but lacked in sweetness and richness. I felt the custard needed more fat, sugar and perhaps a little more salt. It was also overcooked. Water was leaching out of it the moment it came out of the oven. The overcooked bits were a little chewy and eggy. Once the custard cooled, I served it with preserved strawberries in an attempted in improve the dish.

Because I have formal culinary training, I know what a custard base, cooked and uncooked, should look like. I conclude that this book was meant for an audience with knowledge developed through domestic experience, or perhaps some culinary education; this is suggested by the incomplete instructions, measurements, and quantities. However, on a personal note, had I been living during this time, I would have rather gone without dessert than serve this economical version.

Work Cited:

Child, Lydia Maria. 1830. The Frugal Housewife: Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy. Second ed. Boston: Carter and Hendee.

Cookbooks & History: Syrian Khātūnī Rice

Students in Cookbooks and History (MET ML 630), directed by Dr. Karen Metheny, researched and recreated a historical recipe to bring in to class. They were instructed to note the challenges they faced, as well as define why they selected their recipe and why it appealed to them. Here is the eleventh essay in this series, written by Giselle Lord.

Recreating a historical recipe in my own kitchen is about as good as homework gets and I certainly did not intend to squander the opportunity. I cracked open my brand new book, Scents and Flavors – a recently published translation of a very old book containing recipes that represent the cuisine and aroma mania of 13th-century Syrian Ayyubid rulers (Perry 2017, xxix). The table of contents alone is a fantastic curiosity, essentially broken up into sections or categories that are (usually) further broken up into numbered variations. In the “Section on rice dishes – nine recipes,” there is a “Tenth dish – making khātūnī rice, which is wonderful” (Perry 2017, xiv). Aside from the inclusion of a tenth recipe in a section of nine recipes, the snippet of the unknown author’s voice and relatively unusual revelation of his culinary preference caught my attention. Of the dozen or so recipes that feature a nod to deliciousness from the author, this seemingly simple rice dish with pistachios and sugar seemed my most practicable option. Hence, I procured a bag of pistachios fit for the job and took to my kitchen to attempt to recreate the recipe.

All of the recipes in this volume were extracted from the original paragraph-less manuscripts and broken out into one-part recipes. The recipe for “making khātūnī rice” is translated as follows:

*Tenth dish – making khātūnī  rice, which is wonderful Boil water and add tail fat and chicken fat, both melted without salt. Add rice, and when half-done, let the water reduce till nothing is left but the fat. Take pistachios toasted in sesame oil, crush, and add pounded sugar. Put them in the rice – put plenty – spray with rose water and a little musk, and serve. It is outstanding. (Perry 2017, 121).

I assumed that tail fat and chicken fat were simply the rendered fat of two animals (sheep and chicken, respectively), and substituted pork fat for them, or more specifically, the clean leaf lard I had rendered from the fat of a pig raised by local farmers. I left out the musk – which is “a glandular secretion of the musk deer and certain other animals, [and] has a strong smell… In appropriately discreet quantity or diluted form, musk was formerly used in the kitchen with rosewater to flavor such things as pies but this practice seems to have died out during the 17th century…” (Davidson 2014, 540). I recently spent some time with a 1798 cookbook by Amelia Simmons titled American Cookery wherein she consistently includes rosewater and orange flower water as interchangeable ingredients, so I substituted orange blossom water for the rosewater, since, without the musk, we would not benefit from the apparently lovely combination of musk and rosewater anyhow. All other ingredients, namely rice, pistachios, sesame oil, and sugar, I already had in my kitchen or was able to procure with an easy visit to a local grocer.

Before I describe the cooking process, I will admit a dire fault in the assumption mentioned earlier. Upon further inspection, regrettably conducted after I had recreated the recipe, I discovered tail fat to be a veritable cornucopia of flavors captured in the process of rendering the fat of a sheep’s tail. The fourth chapter of the cookbook, albeit a one-page chapter, is entirely dedicated to instructing the reader “How to Melt the Several Varieties of Tail Fat,” a process which involves quince, Fathi apple, coriander seeds, fresh dill, raw onion, Chinese cinnamon, and salt (2017, 40). While wondering how a recipe with aromatics but no spice could be quite so ‘wonderful’, I missed the simple fact that the spices were in fact captured and given to the dish by the all-important tail fat.

To recreate the recipe, I began with melting the leaf lard in a large dutch oven – a pot I often use for making large quantities of rice. I added twice the amount of water as rice I had soaked and rinsed, and let the water boil before adding the rice to the pot. I then lowered the water to a simmer, covered the pot, and let the rice cook twenty minutes. While the rice cooked, I toasted the pistachios in sesame oil and tossed them in sugar. After twenty minutes of cooking and five minutes of resting, I fluffed the rice and transferred it to a wooden bowl. I then added the pistachio and orange blossom. As you can see, this description of my process does not differ greatly from the book’s recipe, except that I used my experience of cooking rice to adapt the volume and cooking time. I also added a pinch of salt to the toasted pistachios and, ultimately, to the pistachio and rice dish. Aside from the lack of clarity on ingredient volume and cook time, the instructions were easy to follow and resulted in what seemed like a perfectly good, if not entirely wonderful or a marvelous rice dish [1].

The aromatics were fittingly the most notable and arguably the most enjoyable feature of the dish – I first noticed the tantalizing aroma of sesame-oil-toasted pistachios and then basked in the perfume-like, floral scent of the orange blossom water. The inclusion of recipes for incenses, soaps, perfumes, and hand-washing solutions suggests the prevalence of aromatics in the medieval Syrian world, and Charles Perry poetically endorses this evidence in writing, “The medieval banquet was a feast for the nose” (2017, xxix). Aside from emphasizing the importance of aromatics in the flavor spectrum of thirteenth-century Syria, Perry also points out that “The cuisine of this book is definitely banquet food, special-occasion food. Not only is it highly aromatic, it is thoroughly luxurious” and that the book “is organized roughly in parallel with the stages of a banquet” including the pre- and post-meal washing and scenting in which the diners engaged (2017, xxx). Thus, it seems this relatively simple rice dish would have greatly contributed to the aroma feast of any good banquet and likely been accompanied by a variety of other main dishes.

In an attempt to right my wrong, I decided to infuse some leaf lard with the spices and flavors included in the author’s directions on rendering tail fat. I heated the lard and the spices slowly over low heat and tossed the leftover rice into the righteously seasoned animal fat. The takeaway from this simple mistake, and its redemption, is to never underestimate the complexity of a single ingredient. I might also add that the intuitive distrust of a recipe without spices merits further research. The seasoned-fat version was truly wonderful, and I can only imagine how much of a marvel this dish may be when prepared with expertly rendered medieval tail fat. For the time being, I’m quite delighted that this thirteenth-century recipe may very well be my inspiration for a great number of nut and spice flavored rice dishes in my future, “which is wonderful” (Perry 2017, xiv).

Works Cited

Davidson, A., & Jaine, Tom. 2014. The Oxford Companion to Food (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Perry, Charles. 2017. Scents & Flavors: a Syrian cookbook. New York: New York University Press.

Simmons, Amelia. 1798. American Cookery. Hartford: Simeon Butler.

Zaouali, Lilia. 2007. Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World: A concise history with 174 recipes. Berkeley: University of California Press.

[1] In another translation of the same recipe that appears in Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World, the final sentence is translated as “It is a marvel” (Zaouali 2007, 127).