Saturday, November 28, 2009

Food and Memory

I was listening to some of the NPR commentary on Thanksgiving, leading up to the holiday. One chef they interviewed said something about how much of the meaning we attach to food is associated with memory, and that memory probably accounts for most of what we find desirable in the foods we go back to again and again.

That got me thinking about pioneer food, of course. In itself, there's probably not much appetizing about pioneer food, or any other multi-generational food. We have so much variety in the grocery store today that we can make much tastier morsels that we would find from pioneer days. But we attach emotional significance to the pioneer items. The carrot or plum pudding serves as an example. Danish abelskiver are not particularly tasty (they are certainly nice) but there's more emotional memory attached to them for me so they become special.

Here's our assignment for today: List three foods that are tasty on their own, and three foods that are special because of memories you attach to them.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Tomorrow being Thanksgiving, it seems we should reflect on the tradition of feasting. One of my friends tells me his extended family is going to Golden Corral for their Thanksgiving feast. Certainly, they will have access to a far greater volume of food there than will grace my table tomorrow. If feasting means volume, they win.

On the other hand, I'm guessing that even with his best efforts, my friend's feast will be over in about 30 minutes. I'm trying to figure out ways to draw my feasting out as long as possible. Unfortunately, we won't have any kids to dinner this year, but that also means we can drag it out more without snarfing. One idea is to serve corn nibblets one at a time. Just kidding, it hasn't come to that. But I am setting out a meat and cheese tray for grazing in the late morning. We have an edam, a brie, a chevre, an aged spanish raw goatsmilk, a French compte, a raw milk cheese from local Beehive Cheese, and a raw milk farmhouse cheddar that I made (less than 30 days!). My brother is bringing a blue stilton and an apricot stilton. Part of how I define feasting is staggering variety.

I'm also doing a soup course to lengthen the meal. Part of feasting for me means a lengthy marathon, leisurely for hours. For the soup, I wanted to do something light and fresh so we don't get too full too fast. Can you guess what we're having? Yup, its miso soup. It seems like a bit of a departure for a traditional Thanksgiving, but if we just use fish stock with no seafood, and green onions with tempura crisps, it should match well enough.

Of course we have to keep some traditional elements. In the past I've always made carrot pudding for dessert, served steaming hot with a lemon sauce and melting ice cream. Absolutely divine! But since I discovered a plum pudding recipe dating back 7 generations in my family, we must do that. It directs to be served with a hard sauce made with creamed butter, sugar and brandy. I've posted that recipe here previously, so check the archives.

I guess what I'm saying is that tomorrow we have a chance to do something wonderful with food and social interaction. We get to make it all happen in a way we don't have very many times otherwise. I'm excited! (Aren't you?)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"who he calls, he qualifies..."

Today I'm feeling a little bit of consternation about some of the Church "callings" I've been asked to shoulder. I wonder why they ask me to do these things. I hope it might be because they see that I have some talents and skills, and they might want to put those things to good use. More often it seems that they ask me because I'm conveniently available and I said yes when they asked.

In my wife's family, she's descended from a fellow named Shadrack Roundy, who happens to be one of the several people who claim to have plowed the first furrow in the Salt Lake Valley. That is, if we disqualify the Mexican settlers who were here before the Mormons. At any rate, I was reading some of Shadrack's journal the other day. He crossed the plains multiple times as he brought one group of immigrants after another to the valley. Still, he wasn't the company captain. He wrote in his journal that some of the immigrants he was traveling with said that he should have been the captain, on account of the fine table and dinner service he laid each evening, including silverware and linen napkins.

So I'm torn... do I muse about the state of fine dining on the Mormon pioneer trail, or about the funny things that "qualify him for the work"?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Beef Bones

I've been a bit ill the last few days with some sort of digestive complaint delivered by way of my sweet daughter. Feeling much better now. The whole time I was ill I had a yearning for a nice French onion soup, made with real beef broth from beef bones. Now that I'm feeling up to it, I went and bought some nice bread, a bit of cheese, and some beef bones. It brought me to think about a quote from John Jacques, with the Martin handcart company. He wrote,

"...a good brother came to our camp fire and asked if we were all one family. We said we were six in number... He asked if mother had no husband and she told him her husband had died two weeks ago and was buried on the plains. He had been standing with his hands behind him, then he handed us a piece of beef to cook for our supper. He left and came back with a beef bone. He said, 'Here is a bone to make some soup and don't quarrel over it.' We felt surprised that he should think we would ever quarrel over our food."

Of course, the reason he chastised about quarrelling is that the whole company was on the verge of starvation (many having already died), so quarreling was a matter of life and death. The beef bones were rich in marrow and fat, which could make the difference when each calorie mattered so much. Fortunately, I don't have to quarrel with anyone for my bones. In fact, the fam might rather eat Burger King tonight, as a prelude to the New Moon release.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Notes from Patty Sessions

Patty Sessions was one of the more prolific diarists of the pioneer era. In November 1855, Patty Sessions wrote a little more than 300 words in her diary. Of those, 36 words had some food context. There are no recipes or even dishes found in those 36 words. In fact, the entries say more about her family relationships than they say about food.

Here are those 36 words:

Tuesd 15 lb sugar
Wed 7:...PG & David brought me a peice of beaf
Sat 24:...David here went to get some Aple trees did not get any I gave him what I did not set out for PG

So long as we focus on recipes, Mormon pioneer food history eludes us. But when we look at how food items function in the context of the larger society, food can be illuminating.

That's all for today.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Sense of Community

WARNING: No Pioneers Found in This Installment.

A couple of posts ago I discussed how the Providence Sauerkraut Dinner did, or did not, help to create a sense of community. I think we often use food as a vehicle for creating community. At the Episcopal church in Ogden, they use coffee before the service to do this, and then of course the service itself with the wafer and the wine is designed to bind the community together (with a communal cup).

Last night was Halloween. Last year for Halloween we took the kids trick or treating. Some in the neighborhood wanted to do the "Trunk or Treat" at the church. Both were employed last year, and the neighborhood swarmed with ghosts and gremlins. This year, it seems the emphasis was placed on the Trunk or Treat. Very few ghosts or gremlins were to be found out and about. At the Trunk or Treat, food (sweets) are dished out in large quantities, in the most efficient manner, but there is no social interaction.

We seem to be seeing a shift in how we organize our social spaces and interactions. It seems we don't visit each other like we once did. The home is being fortified more and more as a private space which excludes neighbors and passing strangers. We seem to prefer congregating in a common public place, then retreating to the safety of our homes, instead of welcoming friends into our homes.

This is a little disturbing to me.