The Schlesinger Library

Looking for resources to finish up those final papers? Check out the Schlesinger Library at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute.

With hundreds of volumes of cookbooks dating back to the 17th century and leading to the present, culinary magazines, and other periodicals, to manuscripts of world renowned and lesser known chefs, cooks, television personalities and restauranteurs the Schlesinger Library offers an interesting and diverse sojourn into the American culinary landscape. Here, researchers can follow the development of cooking techniques, the introduction of and popularity of new ingredients in American cooking overtime. Get answers to questions like how have the menus for holidays and special occasions evolved since the 18th century? What were the most popular seasonal foods in 19th century New England? And really, when did green casserole become a thing?

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One of the largest and most well-known collections here is that of American born French Chef, Julia Child. In her more than 100 boxes of material are correspondence, audio visual material from television shows, journals and of course recipes! Her papers not only tell her personal story as a woman, wife, and chef but that of a changing American food culture. Her efforts simplified and made French cuisine more accessible to the American cook and complicated the American palate.

Amidst the vast publications, advertisements, audio-visual material and large collections like that of Julia Child is one of our smaller collections that explores the introduction of Chinese cuisine to the American food culture. The “Frist Lady of Chopsticks”, Grace Zia Chu, is largely credited with making Chinese cuisine more accessible to the American home cook. Born in Shanghai China in 1899, Grace came to the United States to study physical education at Wellesley. As a student there, she was often homesick and to remedy her longing she began experimenting with Chinese cooking styles using local ingredients. After graduating and getting married she returned to China where she taught physical education. When her husband was called to Washington, DC in 1941 to serve as a military attaché to the Chinese Embassy Grace began instructing the officers’ wives who were interested in learning Chinese cooking.

Madame Chu stressed the cooking technique rather than the ingredients that made a meal uniquely Chinese. She taught her students about the variety of Chinese cooking from region to region. It was in 1954 that she was established as Chinese cook when she was invited to teach at the China Institute in America (New York). By 1962, Grace published her best seller The Pleasures of Chinese Cooking. In this and subsequent publications she provided pictures and anecdotes to the recipes simplifying the food preparation methods. One of the most important aspects being the use of high heat. This lead to her being a spokesperson for the American Gas Association and a short film based on the book in 1963.

Like Julia’s papers, Graces, although limited also tell of more than her personal journey with cooking. One tidbit that is included in her papers is a story of the advent of the Fortune Cookie. According to the notice from the San Joaquin Valley library system the fortune cookie was part of the charitable works of Los Angeles Restaurant owner David Jung. After World War I, Jung would see passersby that needed food and encouragement. After trying many recipes he found the perfect cookie and included scriptures and encouraging words given to by a local clergyman. This staple in American consumption of Chinese food was born in LA as an offering. Many more interesting developments and customs of American food culture have been chronicled in the collections at the Schlesinger Library. Come explore the food culture material in our archives, you never know where the journey will take you!

Kenvi C. Phillips, PhD
Curator for Race and Ethnicity
Schlesinger Library
Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
Harvard University
3 James Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
617 834-8550

The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey, with Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt

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Left: Laila El-Haddad, Right: Maggie Schmitt                           Photo: Ashlyn Frassinelli

I’ve never seen the authors of a cookbook less interested in talking about recipes, and thank goodness. When I sat down for Laila and Maggie’s lecture, I expected to hear about local cuisine and staple foods of the region, maybe about their own experiences preparing food. But after five minutes, Maggie told us that she initially became interested in Gaza through her humanitarian work. And Laila admitted to having little connection with the kitchen. She explained that her mother, grandmother, and aunts rather shirked traditional female roles because they viewed them as antiquated chores. She explained how confused her family was when she said she decided to write a cookbook, that it was undoing the progress they had worked so hard to achieve. Immediately I realized that this was not a presentation designed to show us how to prepare Gazan cuisine at home. This was an effort to document and preserve the ancient foodways of one of the world’s most volatile regions.

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Left: Laila El-Haddad, Center: Nancy Harmon Jenkins, Right: Maggie Schmitt                                                                     Photo: Ashlyn Frassinelli

When I think of Gaza, I think of uncertainty. Those who live there expect the sounds of gunfire and explosions the way we expect to hear car horns. The last thing that comes to mind is the kind of food I might eat if I lived there. But for the people who live in Gaza, food is a comfort the same way it is for us. Laila and Maggie spoke of conflict and impossible living conditions. They said that parts of the area could be without power for hours or even days at a time. Maggie pointed out that it was hard enough for a mother to help her children with their homework and have dinner on the table under “normal” circumstances. But what about mothers in Gaza? At a time when life there is so tumultuous, Maggie and Laila were able to show how food is in many ways, the great unifier. That despite the uncertainties of daily life, people still take the time and gather to eat.

Cuisine in Gaza is based on what’s available. Like other places in the Middle East, that means lentils, cous cous, olive oil, chickpeas, lemon, and chili pepper among others. But at one point someone asked what the defining characteristic of Gazan food was. Laila immediately responded with the word, “heat.” She said that red chili pepper was in most of the food she associated with the region.

Laila also said that sour flavors are found in many dishes. Tamarind, sour plum, and pomegranate are used along with sumac to achieve what she called, “a gripping tartness.” These flavors combined with seasonings like za’atar, clove, cinnamon, sesame, dill, and garlic, aren’t exactly subtle. And while I know that heavily seasoned food isn’t uncommon in the regions surrounding Gaza, as I listened to Laila answer more questions, something occurred to me. The tone with which she spoke, her conviction, they were exactly like the ingredients she was talking about. These weren’t delicate, restrained flavors. They were purposeful, delightfully in your face. Certainly you don’t use clove, chili flakes, or sour plums without clear intention. They are statement-makers. And so was Laila. She and Maggie couldn’t have been better representatives for the kitchens of Gaza. Together they constituted a serious force.

They talked about the difficulties of obtaining traditional foods because of border closures, and how reliance on white flour and sugar were causing health problems associated with malnutrition among many citizens of Gaza. Maggie showed a photo of fisheries that were created as a result of limited access to the sea. They spoke of one-pot meals and a category of dishes Laila hesitantly allowed Maggie to refer to as “mush.” But after two hours of listening to their stories I was struck by what I really saw. Two mothers. Two very poised, confident women trying to tell the story of, quite possibly, the most unstable place in our world.

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Available on Amazon

For hundreds of years tribes of people have converged upon this small region. This has given way to a culinary tradition created from necessity, trade, and war. But despite the constant state of unrest, Maggie and Laila were able to paint a clear picture of a Gazan people who were unwavering and incredibly proud of their culinary heritage.

-Written by Chelsie Lincoln, MLA Gastronomy Student

Thanksgiving with BU Gastronomy Students

We hope you had a great Turkey Day and spent lots of time reflecting on what you are grateful for!  BU is off for the holiday and we were curious about how Gastronomy students spend Thanksgiving.   Meet Michelle and Catherine who have shared their Thanksgiving traditions with us!

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Photo: Oscar Rohena, Flickr CC Search

For Puerto Ricans, Thanksgiving, or the day of the turkey, is a very special holiday. It represents the start of our favorite time of the year, Christmas. All my life, on this special day, my family and I have gathered at my maternal grandparents house. My grandmother has always been responsible for preparing the turkey with a special filling of “mofongo” (mashed plantain) and ground beef, and to make rice with “gandules” (pigeon peas), which is our official symbol of festive food.

My aunt always brings boiled root vegetables and pieces of roasted pork (simply because a Puerto Rican party without pork is incomplete). While in my home we take care of the desserts, whether a good homemade carrot cake, a flan or a “tembleque”, which is custard made with coconut milk, cornstarch and cinnamon. In addition to that, at the table we will always find “pan criollo” (our traditional bread), potato salad with mayonnaise, “pasteles boricuas” (similar to Mexican tamales but based on plantains), “coquito” (a drink made whit coconut cream), and finally “ron caña” (a clandestine rum, illegal for not paying taxes and for not meeting the requirements of health and quality controls).

After chopping the turkey and serving all the plates, my grandparents, my uncles, my parents, my siblings and I stood around the outdoor dining table, and my grandfather lead a prayer of thanks. Once my grandfather finishes the prayer, we say to each other “buen provecho” (a typical phrase that is said before beginning to eat to desire a good digestion) and we run to enjoy the exquisite food that adorns the dishes. The evening is distinguished by the typical Christmas music of Puerto Rico, the loud jokes of my father and planning the parties for the rest of the Christmas.

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Photo: Oscar Rohena, Flickr CC Search

This year is the first time I will celebrate Thanksgiving away from my warm home, but with my extended family.

My Puerto Ricans friends who live in Boston will come to my apartment and we will recreate the typical Puerto Rican Thanksgiving party that I described earlier. I’m sure the only difference will be the cold weather and the possibility of snow, but we will do our best to bring Puerto Rico to us and spend it as warm as if we were at home.

“¡Buen provecho y que empiece la fiesta!”

By Michelle Estades, First-Year MLA Gastronomy

 

It’s All About Pie

One of the key elements of any Thanksgiving meal, arguably the most important, is the dessert. Of course no Thanksgiving dessert spread could ever be complete without the perfect pumpkin pie, at least that is how my family feels. Beginning at a young age I began to help my father make the annual Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. I began to help more and more until, around the age of eleven or twelve, I had completely taken over the pumpkin pie making duties. At that point the only thing I did not do was actually cutting the pumpkins in half. I don’t know many twelve year olds who have the upper body strength to chop a pumpkin in two, so my dad continued to make that contribution for several years.  

It is always vital that I make every bit of the pie from scratch, from the crust to the pumpkin puree for the filling. Absolutely no canned pumpkin in our house. What really turned the tables was the summer that our compost pile in the backyard began to sprout a mysterious vine. By the fall the vine was producing the most perfect pie pumpkins. Not only was our annual Thanksgiving pie made completely from scratch, it was also made from local, metro-Detroit pumpkins, grown in our very own backyard.  

Backyard grown pumpkins are not the only element that I use to create our traditional pumpkin pie. The classic pumpkin spice, the correct balance of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves, isn’t even the most important part of the filling. It is all about the secret ingredient, dark rum. The rich, molasses-like flavor of the dark rum brings the whole pie together in a way that no other ingredient can. Over the years other members of the family have tried to make other things for dessert, like pumpkin cheesecake, or pecan pie, and it is never quite the same. It simply would not be a Santrock family Thanksgiving without a rum flavored pumpkin pie. We usually like to be a little adventurous with our Thanksgiving menu, this year we are replacing the turkey with lamb, some years we don’t even have mashed potatoes! As far as I’m concerned, we could have our entire meal be pumpkin pie and we would still be keeping to tradition.

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Photo: Catherine Santrock
By Catherine Santrock, First-Year MLA Gastronomy

 

 

Intro to Gastronomy: Student Papers

Finals are right around the corner and students from the Introduction to Gastronomy course are working on their final papers.  We asked them: “What are you are writing about?”  Here are some of their responses.

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Here is a description of the Intro course from the BU Gastronomy webstite.

“This course is designed to introduce students to current and foundational issues in food studies and gastronomy. Through this focus on central topics, students will engage directly in the interdisciplinary method that is central to food studies. Each week will introduce a unique view of the holistic approach that is central to a liberal arts approach to studying food and a new research technique will be presented and put into practice through the readings and course exercises. This course will give Gastronomy students a better understanding of the field as a whole. While providing an overview and methodological toolbox, it will act as a springboard in to areas of specialization of the course. 4 cr.”

Tasting the North End

Students from the Fall ’16 Food History course explored the North End to do research for a group project on Sicily. Below are some snippets from their tour!

Entering the North End

Little Italy began in Boston’s North End with its first Italian immigrants in the 1860s. The neighborhood’s new residents sold fruits, cheeses, and other foodstuffs in the early migration.  By 1930, The North End was a flourishing Italian community of 44,000.

Salumeria Italiana:

Salumeria Italiana has served the North End Community for over four decades.  A variety of Italian imported grocery and deli items are available with prosciutto and balsamic vinegar among the best-selling items in the store.    Check out their website! https://salumeriaitaliana.com/

The Daily Catch:

The Daily Catch is a Sicilian style seafood and pasta eatery established in 1973 by Paul Fedora, a North End native.  Mr. Fedora began by selling calamari and other squid products at his 20 seat North End location on Hanover street.  Offerings include Black Pastas, Calamari, and grilled Fish at their Brookline, Seaport and North End locations. Find out more at http://thedailycatch.com/.

Mike’s Pastry:

Don’t let the line intimidate you!  Known for their delicious cannoli, Mike’s Pastry draws a huge crowd. This family owned establishment on Hanover St. serves more than just jumbo sized cannoli with perfectly crisp shells, a variety of pastries, coffee, and gelato can also be purchased.  http://www.mikespastry.com