On the heels of Tuesday’s post about small-scale maltsters who are supplying microbreweries with an essential beer-making ingredient, I thought I’d share a fascinating piece [PDF] from Wisconsin Historical Magazine about a Wisconsin maltster who lived and worked a century ago.
In his look at a bygone age of industrial brewing, Jeff Haas details the experiences of his great-grandfather who heads to Japan as the U.S. is on the brink of Prohibition.
Although Haas touches on aspects of Wisconsin brewing history in his piece, he begins with a focus on his forebear:
On July 16, 1917, after a three-day train trip from Duluth to Seattle, thirty-nine year old August Groeschel found himself aboard the S. S. Sado Maru on his way to Yokohama, Japan. The Wisconsin native carried with him a one-year contract with the Kirin Brewing Company, which guaranteed him $125 per month plus living expenses. The generous salary (which Groeschel would re-negotiate to $225 shortly after his arrival) was for his expertise as a maltster and an engineer, a career he had begun more than two decades earlier in his hometown of Kewaskum in Washington County, just forty miles northwest of Milwaukee’s lakefront. The salary was significant for the time, but it was not the only incentive for Groeschel to leave the U.S. and his beloved family. He believed this international assignment would garner him a level of prestige that would ultimately allow him the higher management responsibilities that he desired, but that were out of reach at home. The contract with Kirin, however, was not the only thing that he carried with him. August Groeschel had tuberculosis, and his career ambitions would rest as much on his overall health as well as his two decades of expertise. In a series of letters home, he brought a Wisconsin perspective abroad, and he described the frustrations and the satisfactions of doing the most familiar work he knew in the most unfamiliar place he had ever been.
The full piece is an interesting look at an earlier era of domestic and international beer-making through the lens of one man’s life, so I encourage you to check it out [PDF].
Today’s “best of” lists have some overlap with yesterday’s nominations for the best cookbooks of 2012. That’s because, while some outlets do a nice job keeping cookbooks separate from other food-related books, others just lump them together.
Tejal Rao of The Village Voice, for example, offers 18 selections, many of which are recipe collections. Non-cookbook recommendations include Robin Shulman’s Eat the City (“elegant, fascinating stories about New York’s culinary geography with rich portraits of the people — past and present — who have taken part in its food production”) and Kate Hopkins’ Sweet Tooth: The Bittersweet History of Candy (“a smart, rambling meditation on the history of candy that dips a little into the food memoir genre without feeling formulaic or turning into a confection.”)
Rao and team also recommend Lucky Peach from McSweeney’s:
We know this isn’t a book, but this quarterly food journal has been consistently delivering some of the most exciting food writing, interviews, and design all year long. And it’s the kind of magazine you actually want to read from cover to cover, you know, like a book. If you don’t already have a subscription, consider one for 2013.
For others to consider, The Observer has a photo slideshow of 20 recommendations, with suggestions that include Edible Selby, photographer Todd Selby’s view of the culinary world, and Nicholas Lander’s The Art of the Restaurateur.
Zoe Williams offers suggestions at The Guardian, including Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat and Steven Poole’s You Aren’t What You Eat: Fed Up With Gastroculture.
Leah Douglas at Serious Eats has recommendations like Tracie McMillan’s The American Way of Eating and the essay collection Greenhorns: The Next Generation of American Farmers.
For still more suggestions, check out lists from Paula Forbes at Eater; the librarians of Schaumburg Township; Jamie Frater at Listverse; and Josh of Potter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts (who give another thumbs up to Lucky Peach).
Happy shopping, and happy reading!
I just finished reading Gustavo Arellano‘s latest book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. Arellano, author of the weekly syndicated column ¡Ask a Mexican!, takes readers on an enjoyable romp through the last couple centuries of Mexican-American food. As Michael Meyer describes in his review for the Columbia Journalism Review,
[the book] is part culinary history, part travelogue, and part extended essay on the various accidents and ironies of colonialism that caused Mexican food to, as the book’s subtitle puts it, “conquer” America. It’s a fun read worthy of the burrito-loving masses—and a thoughtful examination of America’s simultaneous hunger for and fear of the influence of other cultures.
Praise for the book from Meyer and Jim Sherman at the Houston Chronicle is tempered a bit in L.V. Anderson’s take at Slate: I found myself agreeing with Anderson’s main critique—Arellano’s book is wider than it is deep, in both substance and analysis—but also with Anderson’s final conclusion, i.e., “the book still has a lot to offer.”
For more, check out the reviews linked above and this piece from NPR, in which Carolina Miranda and Arellano follow the “California taco trail” from Cielito Lindo in Los Angeles to Milta Cafe in San Bernardino (across the street from what would become the original Taco Bell) to Alebrije’s Grill Taco Truck in Santa Ana.
Then catch this episode of public radio’s On Point (audio available below) that features Arellano on the occasion of Taco USA’s publication this spring. Head to the On Point episode page for a sneak peak at the book’s introduction, too.
Finally, head to this short piece by Arellano (from Saveur’s recent Mexico issue) on the burritos of his parents’ Mexican home and a primer on the history of the burrito’s transformation north of the border:
Whereas their Americanized children had grown up on burritos, the ones in Ahumada were the first my folks actually enjoyed. The burrito to them was as alien as a Korean taco; being from Zacatecas, where corn tortillas are the norm, they hadn’t even tasted the flour variety until migrating to California in the 1960s. The American obsession with the food bewildered them—the ones we ate in the States were as Mexican as Doritos. But in Villa Ahumada, my parents were happy to feed on burritos because, well, that’s what everybody ate. To them, Ahumada was the place where America became Mexico, and Mexico became America; the burrito was the food that embodied that in-between place.
I recommend the essay as a nice preview of what you can expect from the full-length Taco USA. Happy reading/listening/eating!
NPR’s food blog, The Salt, recently ran this piece from Jessica Stoller-Conrad on community cookbooks. As she describes,
Millions of users share recipes, DIY projects, and household tips on the social networking site Pinterest and myriad blogs and other sites. But over a century before pinboards were virtual and bookmarking had nothing to do with actual books, people shared their domestic prowess through community cookbooks. And these cookbooks (some historic covers are featured above in our slide show) were so much more than just a catalog of recipes — they were fundraisers, political pamphlets, and historical accounts of the communities they served.
As Michelle Green details in this article for Food & Wine,
What I like best about these amateur productions is that, aside from that caught-in-amber quality, they were a labor of love. And the recipes tend to justify the authors’ pride: “Most of the ones I tried worked very well,” says Marcia Kiesel, F&W’s test-kitchen director, who adapted recipes from seven cookbooks for this story. “They came from a time when women had to cook, when recipes were handed down like treasures.” The Key lime pie recipe in the Florida Keys Cooking pamphlet, published in 1946 by Patricia’s Notebook newsletter, seems almost too simple, with just three ingredients in the filling (the F&W version adds lime zest for extra flavor)—but it works beautifully. And the French dressing from A Cook’s Tour of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, published in 1949 by the Junior Auxiliary of the Memorial Hospital of Easton, Maryland, is a silky puree of celery, onion, mustard, vinegar and oil that bears no resemblance to the orange bottled dressings of today.
Check out the full NPR story for some great links, the Food & Wine article for eight recipes (including the two mentioned above), and this virtual exhibit from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for a slice of Americana. The introduction to latter notes that “The recipes include the ubiquitous Sunshine Cake, Aunt Sally’s corn bread as well as oddities for today’s taste such as calf’s head soup….” Finally, for some local flavor, pick up the recipe collection, Potluck! Home Cooking From Wisconsin’s Community Cookbooks, published by the Wisconsin Historical Society.
I’m currently in the middle of reading White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf, which was published a couple months ago. Written by Aaron Bobrow-Strain, professor of politics at Whitman College, it’s a fascinating look at the history of industrialized bread in the US and the shifting sociological and cultural factors that influenced its production, marketing, and consumption from the 19th century to today. It’s well-researched and well-written, and much of the analysis — of concerns about purity and contamination, for example — is highly relevant to today’s food debates. For overviews, check out this piece from NPR’s Weekend Edition and this engaging interview with Veronia Rueckert on Wisconsin Public Radio.
Portions of the book have also been adapted and/or excerpted in a number of pieces online, and all provide nice slices (pun intended) of the book.
- This essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled “What Would Great-Grandma Eat?”, takes a piece of Michael Pollan’s advice a bit too literally but poses a useful question: “… as I dug into the history of battles over bread, I realized that this whole nostalgic perspective had a bigger problem: What if Great-Grandmother was just as conflicted about food as we are?”
- This excerpt in The Believer looks at “Atomic Bread Baking at Home: A Yucatan-Based American Tries to Re-create the ’50s-Era Market-Tested USDA White Pan Loaf No. 1, and In Doing So Reveals How Today’s Miracle Food Can Become Tomorrow’s Catastrophe.”
- This excerpt at Salon focuses on “The rise and fall of white bread: [how] we learned to hate the processed loaves not just because of health — but because of class, status and race.”
- Finally, this piece at Huff Post Books taps similar themes about “How White Bread Became White Trash (And What This Tells Us About Food Justice and the American Economy).”
Thanks to NPR’s food blog, The Salt, I came across Jerry Adler and Andrew Lawler’s cover story from the June issue of Smithsonian, titled “How the Chicken Conquered the World.” It’s a history that stretches back millenia, from Egyptians who mastered the art of incubating eggs, to Romans who invented the omelet.
But the chicken’s status in Europe appears to have diminished with the collapse of Rome. “It all goes downhill,” says Kevin MacDonald, a professor of archaeology at University College in London. “In the post-Roman period, the size of chickens returned to what it was during the Iron Age,” more than 1,000 years earlier. He speculates that the big, organized farms of Roman times—which were well suited to feeding numerous chickens and protecting them from predators—largely vanished. As the centuries went by, hardier fowls such as geese and partridge began to adorn medieval tables.
Eventually, though, factory farming brought the chicken to the center of the American diet, with annual consumption in the billions of birds. The article touches on everything from Santería to KFC’s success in modern China, so if you’re looking for a whirlwind tour of the chicken’s long history, look no further.
Also, if you’re the sort who likes to see your food wearing costumes, a companion piece has Timothy Archibald’s photos of whole butchered chickens dressed as historical figures. It’s one of those goofy things we’ve seen before, but don’t let me dissuade you from seeing a gold spray-painted chicken as King Tut!
If you didn’t catch Melissa Block’s recent piece about Thomas Jefferson’s vegetable garden on NPR’s All Things Considered, it’s a worth a listen. The post online includes the audio story, a slideshow, a link to recipes in Jefferson’s own (almost legible) handwriting, and info about a new book from Pater Hatch, who’s been working at the garden for the past 35 years. Hatch’s book is called A Rich Spot of Earth, and a short excerpt is available at NPR.
Give the story a listen; it’s a nice window into an early American gardening enthusiast. “Peas are often regarded as Jefferson’s favorite vegetable,” Hatch tells Block. “He grew some 24 different varieties.” Yep. Two dozen!
Thanks to a review in The New York Times, I just learned about Lizzie Collingham’s book, The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food, newly out in the US. As David Luhrssen of Milwaukee’s Shepherd Express describes, “Collingham explores the role of food in that conflict, showing that securing agricultural independence was one of the objectives of Germany and Japan in launching their campaigns of conquest. The cost of that food drive was enormous…. The only winner was American agribusiness, which emerged from the war as the world’s dominant supplier of food and fertilizer.”
In addition to providing new insights into the causes and consequences of WWII, NYT reviewer Timothy Snyder notes that Collingham’s work provides lessons for current times. “The combination of population growth and prosperity in this century means that we have ever more urban people eating ever more meat, which requires ever more grain, ever more land, ever more efficiency. Climate change and water shortages make soil fertility uncertain. The early 21st century is coming to resemble the early 20th century, with expectations of shortfall influencing ideology and strategy.”
This morning at work there were several king cakes in my office’s common areas. Until I spotted a display of them at the grocery store this past weekend, I don’t think I’d ever seen one before, so their popularity seems to be on the rise here in the midwest.
NPR describes their origin in this piece, entitled “Is That A Plastic Baby Jesus In My Cake?” (Answer: no.) For additional straight-from-New Orleans details on the cake, head over to this post at nola.com, which dubs the assertion that the baby doll in the Gulf Coast version of the cake represents Jesus “dubious,” as backed up by the NPR article.
Happy Mardi Gras!
The finale of season 2 (or “series 2,” if you want to be British about it) of the wonderful Downton Abbey aired on PBS last night. To honor the occasion, I thought I’d share this post from NPR, titled “Dining After ‘Downton Abbey’: Why British Food Was So Bad For So Long.” It’s a brief but interesting look at the evolution of English food culture over the course of the 20th century.
Finally, I couldn’t help but share these delightful paper dolls of several Downton Abbey characters. Though neither Mrs. Patmore nor Daisy* are included, take note of the “evil flour” cutout that comes with Thomas! Kudos to Kyle Hilton at Vulture for creating the witty paper dolls.
* For the uninitiated, Mrs. Patmore and Daisy are, respectively, Downton Abbey’s cook and kitchen maid.