Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Historical Photos & Images

I've been working on finding photos for the book. Here are some historical photos for your enjoyment. These photos are all from Utah State History, archived online. They have a great searchable database that you can browse.

A buffalo hunting scene. Peregrine Sessions chased buffalo in this manner in 1847, and brought 1,800 lbs of meat back to the camp.

Fruit grown in Toquerville, famous as a wine making region in the 1860s. I just love that dusty coating of yeast.

Interior of a bakery in Helper, Utah. The large wooden box on the right is for proofing dough. The oven is the hole in the wall behind the baker.

A wheat field, harvested in shocks by hand.

A bakery in the boom town of Corinne, Utah, about 1869, out of a tent. And a book store behind it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

All In...

I was looking for historical photos online and stumbled onto the blog for the Mount Pleasant Pioneer Relic Hall. I think I've mentioned this blog before here. It's like peeking through the scrapbook of your mother's cousin: interesting in unexpected ways. At any rate, the following recipe was posted there.

At the bottom is a note indicating the recipe came from "Wilhemina Henrietta Morrison Eriksen." With the recipe titled, "Finnan Haddie with Tomatoes (Fish)" and the attributed author having the Scandinavian last name of Eriksen, and the recipe coming from the heavily Danish area of Sanpete Valley in Utah, I thought this would likely be a Danish recipe.

Isn't it curious that nobody ever seems to collect the provenance for these things? It would seem to me that these things are important. When did Wilhemina come to Utah? Or was she born here? Was she a 20th century pioneer? Where were her parents from? How old is this recipe?

It turns out that both of her parents, William Morrison and Margaret Cruikshank, were from Scotland. They came to the Sanpete Valley in the 1850s and Wilhemina was born in 1859. Finnan haddie is a traditional Scottish dish made with smoked haddock. Here Wilhemina adapts the recipe for used with salted dried fish, similar to the salt cod that Brigham Young's wife might have used to make codfish gravy. Apparently, immigrants continued to insist on maintaining their maritime foodways even while living a thousand miles from an ocean.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Big News!

Yeah yeah, its been a while. I haven't had anything to blog about as I haven't had any new research. For the past few months the manuscript has been going through a series of revisions and reviews, but recently (last week) the manuscript was accepted for publication by University of Utah Press. Yay! So now we're back to work getting it ready for typesetting etc.

Among other things, the editor tells me that I need to come up with some photos. Some of these will be historical, such as this image of early commercial fishing on Utah Lake...

They say they would also like some modern full color photos of some (or many) of the recipes in the book, all made up and ready to serve. Like this photo of bread from a past blog entry...

The trouble is, I've never been big on photos and I haven't taken a lot of photos as I've been cooking. I have a couple here and there, but not as many as the editor is talking about. So here's an idea... what if any interested parties wanted to volunteer? I could send you a recipe, you make it and photograph it, and send me back lovely print-ready high resolution images? Most of the recipes that will be in the book have not been published here before. So you'd get a sneak peek at them before anyone sees the book for sale. Tempting, no? Send me an email ("contact us") and I'll send you a recipe to try.

Isn't it nice to have friends?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Welsh Potatoes

Hello again friends. I'm plugging away on the requested revisions to the book. Originally I had written a chapter about Danish foodways, as the Scandinavians comprised about a third of the foreign born population in Utah, and in some places like Ephraim and Brigham City dominated the local culture. The requested revision is to balance the chapter with the three major foreign born populations: British Isles, Scandinavian, and German-speaking (primarily Swiss).

I hadn't thought the British foodways would be anything special. After all, how different could it be from the New England foods that typified Brigham Young's diet? Yesterday at the LDS Archives I got to reading a diary of a Welsh convert, William Ajax. He often wrote in Gaelic, particularly poems and place names. I think this shows his reluctance to leave the culture entirely behind.

Upon reaching Salt Lake City Ajax lamented that potatoes seem to be a rare item in the city, and he had none all the way across the plains. Butter likewise, he says, is rare, as are onions and cheese. Upon further research, it appears these items are mainstays for Welsh cuissine. The potato was, as in Ireland, one of the major Welsh crops, and it shows up in such dishes as potato cakes (teissenau tatws) and potato based stews such as tatws pum munud.

I've made potato cakes for years, and never thought of them as exotic or foreign. I like my welsh-influenced potato cakes much better than the latkes we have at Passover. The basic formula is just a cup of mashed potatoes, a fourth-cup flour, an egg, and a splash of milk. Like William Ajax, I like onions in lots of things, so I mince half an onion and mix that in. William also likes traditional Welsh cheddar, so I often shred a bit of that and mix it in. S & P to taste, of course, and then fry in bacon fat. Later in William's diary he made note of a kind neighbor who gave him a half pound of bacon fat. Gotta thank God for good neighbors.

The garden is going nuts these days, and I'm finishing up a chicken coop. William Ajax started his "stock" with a single laying hen shortly after entering the valley, and I hope to do the same soon. Until then...

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Howdy Stranger

Well, its been a while. Sorry about that. Sometimes I think my obscure efforts are hardly worth doing, so I stop for a bit. Then I find that these obscure efforts are the only thing that keeps me going. So here I am again.

The publishers tell me that they think archaeologists are a strong audience for the book, if it ever gets published. To that end, they want me to include more spin around material culture (read: shattered pottery mixing bowls) so that archaeologists can use my book to help them interpret what they're finding in their excavations.

So I was reading an archaeological report about findings at the original site of Goshen, circa 1860. This little town was about two miles west of the current Goshen, down near Santaquin. The original site was on alkalai soil, so crops wouldn't grow, and they had to move.

Things you can learn from that sentence alone: Utah's history is intricately tied to food history. They moved a whole town based on food and agriculture. They picked the buildings up and moved them, leaving an exquisite, undisturbed archaeological footprint. Also, we learn that if you're looking for saleratus, you can find some near the old Goshen townsite. Saleratus is what made alkalai soil. Again, food.

So, among other things I learned from the archae report: the Mormon settlers circa 1860 left a lot of broken dishes in their abandoned cellars. (Cellars: food. Dishes: food) And what sort of broken dishes? Rustic Mormon earthenware you think? Grainy, salt-glazed stoneware? Nope. Nope.

Blue Willow.

Blue willow also makes a strong showing in the DUP Museum, with good provenance among early plains-crossing pioneers. By the way, Blue Willow was first designed in the mid-1700s, and JCPenny still has a line of it in production today. Apparently, it is THE PATTERN for sentimental Mormons. I've got some in my curio cabinet. Do you?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Detective Work, part deux

Pretty sophisticated huh? Deux?

Anyway, last time we saw a recipe card from Alice Hafen. Alice's recipes are often referenced as being from the pioneer tradition, and as an example of the Sanpete Valley's Danish food tradition. PLEASE CLICK HERE if you'd like to participate in a survey about your family's Scandinavian food traditions. Alice's recipe is transcribed as follows:

"Quick Danish Soup
1 lb. ground beef
1 qt. water
2 tb chicken soup base
1 tb. beef soup base
1 qt. water [error?]
6 carrots, diced
4 potatoes diced
1 onion chopped
2 stalks celerey sliced
1 8 0z can tomato sauce
2 tb parsely minced
1 ts salt
1 ts. M.S.G. accent
1/4 ts. pepper

Drop crumbled raw meat into 1 qt. lightly boiling water, seasoned with chicken base & beef base. Cook 10 minutes (or until meat is brown). Cool skim off fat. Add 1 more qt water, vegetables, tomatoe sauce & seasonings. Cook just until vegetables are tender. (still firm) Add water to taste. Reheat yield 12 servings."

Some of the questions I had after seeing this were, "How much does this recipe reflect the foods of Alice's Danish pioneer ancestors? How much has this recipe changed over four generations removed from Denmark?" My friend Stephen Shepherd took one look at the recipe and said, "Not pioneer, not Danish." After all, MSG, canned tomato sauce, instant processed soup base?

I first turned to The Internet (DUN Dun dun!), that definitive source of all things authoratative, and found a modern recipe for a Danish soup called "gronkaal." Gronkaal (green kale?) apparently means "green & curly things" like cabbage, kale, or spinach. The recipe I found is for a kale soup, and the recipe called for tomato sauce. Maybe modern Danish cooking has embraced a few foreign ingredients. I have a different recipe for gronkall from 1973 which doesn't call for tomato sauce or hamburger, but does call for a ham bone or ham hocks.

My oldest gronkall recipe comes from a second generation Danish immigrant, whose mother came to Utah from Denmark in 1868. I believe the recipe was transcribed in the 1930s. This one calls for 8 different kinds of greens beyond spinach as the base. It also calls for 2 quarts beef stock and pre-cooked meatballs (frickadeller)dropped into the broth. No tomato sauce, no MSG.

It looks like some elements of Alice's Danish soup maintained integrity to the original Danish tradition, and she adapted other elements to meet her tastes and needs. It seems that integrity to the original Danish formula was not the highest priority. Instead, the value was Danish identity. For whatever reason, Alice considered this dish as a reinforcement of her Danish heritage. I think that's the important idea.

As modern Mormons we don't follow the same religious behaviors as our pioneer ancestors. We place emphasis on different parts of the religion today to reinforce our identity as Mormons. And we adapt the theology to fit our needs. I don't think anyone would expect anything different. I think this is the same approach Alice Hafen took to her identity as a daughter of Danish pioneers.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Detective Work

Last weekend I went down to the Sanpete Valley to do research for the upcoming radio show (StoryRoad Utah for KSL). While I was there I learned about a blog called Pioneer Recipes. The blog is a sister to another Sanpete history blog, Mt. Pleasant Pioneer Relic Hall. Both are orchestrated by a nice woman named Kathy, who also helps to run the Mount Pleasant Pioneer Relic Hall.

When I first found the Pioneer Recipes blog, I couldn't make heads or tails of it. Some of the recipes seemed to have the hallmarks of pioneer foodways, but I couldn't be sure since there wasn't any identified provenance. Without identifiers for dates, people, or places, how can we know that the recipe really is... Pioneer. However, in talking with Kathy over the weekend, she told me that many of the recipes come from Alice Hafen. That was a lead.

It turns out that Alice (1912-2010) wrote a cookbook that documented her Danish foodways as she inherited them from her mother, Margaret Peel (1880-1967). The Peel family was part of the original Danish settlement of the Sanpete Valley, going back to the first blacksmith in Mount Pleasant, Peter Madsen Peel. My friend Dale Peel is from this clan. He makes traditional Mormon pioneer-styled furniture in Mount Pleasant.

Back to Alice Peel Hafen then. Alice wrote a cookbook to preserve some of her Danish foodways. I have not seen this cookbook, and I don't know the title. Kathy tells me that it has been through two sold-out editions. It wasn't available in the Relic Hall, or in the Ephraim public library, and wasn't on sale at the Ephraim co-op. It would be quite a valuable document I think, but it wasn't available anywhere I looked.

Alice would have been at least four generations removed from Denmark (or Norway), as it was her great-grandparents who came to Utah in the 1850's. Her grandfather Christian Peel (or Pihl) was born in Independence, Missouri, 1854, as the family was enroute to Utah. Yet, Alice still held firmly to her Danish heritage and Danish foodways. The following image, a recipe card from Alice's files, comes to us from Mt. Pleasant Pioneer Relic Hall:

So the questions remaining for me are: How much does this recipe reflect the contemporary Danish foodways of the 1850s? How did this recipe change over four generations? Why did Alice hold onto this one particularly? Are there other Danish-influenced chefs and recipes in Mount Pleasant and the Sanpete Valley, or was Alice the last of the breed? In other words, what is the context?

I hope to explore some of these questions in the next blog post.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

First Fire

Not much to say but...

Looks like pizza tonight!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pie Night

No pioneers here today. Just wanted to let you know tonight was Lip Synch & Pie Night for the ward party. I entered a banoffe pie, wife entered a pecan pie. I won "Best Most Unusual Pie" and she got second place overall. I got a certificate suitable for framing, she got a nice faberware stainless steel pie server. So there.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Nothing to see here...

No new research to report. I've been working on the oven. Today I finished the main baking chamber. The firebrick was extremely dense and hard, and wouldn't cut even with a diamond masonry blade. Mostly I used the bricks in the shapes they came in. However, as you see the entry is turned on 45 degrees (due to space limitations and the pre-established location of the flue) I did have to make some cuts on the last course of the roof to accommodate. At any rate, here are some poor quality pictures.

Here is the interior. You might have to click to open the picture to see it. I had a shop light shining into the oven, but it turned out dark.

Here is the oven door. You may notice I used a steel lintel instead of an arch. Don't worry, there will be functional arches aplenty. Again, the 45 angle on the entry complicated the merger of roof to wall so that an arch was impractical, given my bricks that would not cut. The entry is 9x18, and too small for me to fit into. Fortunately my children are still small.

Here is the front elevation, such as it is. I think there's about 7,000 pounds of bricks and mortar sitting there. So far the floor hasn't cracked.

Next chore is to put some sort of sealing stucco over the whole thing, and then figure out how the chimney will work. Gosh this is taking forever.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Towards a Pioneer Food Ethic

Yesterday I made a vegetable soup for dinner, which started with me heading out to the garden to dig some carrots. We left most of the carrots in the ground through the winter, and every time the ground thawed a little I went out and dug a few. They've lasted all the way through till now, with pretty good flavor too.

We also did well with our onions last year. Our basement stays cool, so the onions kept just fine in a cardboard box. We haven't bought carrots or onions in more than six months. We haven't bought jam or jelly in more than a year.

As I was making dinner I got to thinking about how I might define a modern pioneer food ethic. It might be similar to a Slow Food ethic, but it would find greater context from our pioneer ancestors. I imagine that any two people might implement it differently, but there would be common fundamental values. Here's a trial stab at one description of what it means to follow a pioneer food ethic.

Agriculture: Our pioneer ancestors lived in an agricultural economy. Their daily meals came from their relationship with agriculture. A pioneer food ethic would have a personal agricultural connection. For some this would mean growing a garden or keeping chickens. For others this would mean a first-hand relationship with the farmers who grow their food. A personal agricultural effort allows us to access a diverse range of food beyond the grocery store.

Seasonality: Direct relationships with agriculture imply seasonal patterns. Summer meals emphasize fresh produce; winter meals utilize root vegetables and preserved foods. Pioneer food systems cycled with the seasons; we follow this pattern.

Preserves: Pioneers preserved foods for winter to optimize the harvest and nutrtitional value. We might put up preserves for similar reasons. Additionally, we preserve foods to access a diversity of possibilities that aren't available at the grocery store, and to emphasize a providential attitude.

Home Cooking: It goes without saying that pioneer foods are home-prepared, not eaten out.

Social Meaning: Food served as a social vehicle for pioneers, and continues to do so for us today. We seek to amplify the social connections facilitated by pioneer foodways. We value food exchanges, whether garden seeds and produce; one jar of preserves for another; meals shared with friends; or a warm dish given to an under-the-weather friend. We value the exchange of ideas and information that comes with the exchange of food, as we share garden tips and cooking tips when we share those foods.

Do you have any suggestions for things I haven't considered?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wood Fired Oven Photos

A week or two ago I got some explicit direction from the Press about what I need to do to make my manuscript acceptible, but I haven't done any of it because I'm working to finish the oven. Here are some photos of the latest progression of work on the oven.

Here you see the understructure. The center wall provides support for the concrete slab that will sit above it. The two arched openings are simply access to the area under the oven. The purpose to this point was to elevate the slab to a standing work level.

Here you see the hearth bricks after the slab has been poured. I put a couple of inches of sand on top of the slab and then leveled the bricks into the sand.

Here you see the arch of the roof beginning to take shape over the oven floor. The bricks for the roof came cut as keystone shapes, which made the arch a little easier to fit.

Here you see the facade, and the sidewalls of the oven door opening. The darker colored bricks and mortar are todays work. The work below has been coated with the same fine layer of brick dust that pervades everything in the basement, much to my wife's chagrin.

Here you see the bubble in my level. Though it looks pretty good in this photo, I can assure you that the actual brick work is not nearly so uniform. I am constantly vexed by this little bubble.

There you have it. Maybe I'll finish soon and be ready to get back to revising and editing the manuscript. Or maybe when the oven is done I'll spend all my time baking and never finish the manuscript. Only heaven knows...

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Whisk!

Yeah, I guess my riddles are too easy. It is a whisk.

I was just excited to find it in a museum. I had read the following instruction on egg beating from Eliza Leslie's Directions for Cookery (1840):

Persons who do not know the right way, complain much of the fatigue of beating eggs, and therefore leave off too soon. There will be no fatigue, if they are beaten with the proper stroke, and with wooden rods, and in a shallow, flat-bottomed earthen pan.

I imagined someone holding a handful of sticks. But there we have evidence of an early whisk, to meet Leslie's description somewhat. And I was even more amazed that someone would care to preserve such an artifact for a hundred and fifty years. I mean, its just a bunch of twigs. But some granddaughter of Ole Anderson cherished that bundle of twigs. I like that idea, a lot.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What is it?

I was at the Daughters of Utah Pioneers museum the other day (where they don't allow photos) and saw this curious object. What is it? Its not the broom made of corn straw. And I'm not talking about the little rolling pin. I'm talking about the assemblege of willow sticks, made by Ole Anderson in early Pleasant Grove days. What would possess a person to preserve such an artifact made of willow sticks for more than a hundred years?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The never-ending book saga...

So I finally heard back from the publisher... again. To catch you up on the story, I first submitted a manuscript to USU Press a couple of years ago. They sat on it for a year, then submitted it to outside reviewers. The outside reviewers said "Great, overall, change this or that." So I changed this or that. Then USU Press gave it to their Committee In Charge of Approving Manuscripts for Publication (or something like that). The committee said, "In these economic times, we want to save our publishing resources for just faculty works." And with that I was back to square one.

So now I've given it to a different press, they submitted it to outside reviewers, the reviewer said, "Great, overall, change this or that." So now they say if I can make the changes in a month or so, we might be able to resubmit for another round of outside reviews, and perhaps be in production before the end of summer, publication next year, if all goes well.

They did also say they really like the manuscript, they think there's a market, they think it is an important contribution to the body of research, etc. Just needs revisions, and more revisions.

Soooo tedious.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Brigham Young, redux

I just heard back from yet another reviewer for my manuscript. It looks like we're getting closer. He enjoyed reading it, said he learned new things, etc. On the "need to fix" column, he said the first couple of chapters needed some organizational focus and editing. I have a chapter about Brigham Young as an example of non-typical pioneer diets: things exotic and unusual and indulgent. The reviewer didn't like this chapter.

In this chapter I cited original diaries that showed how Brigham Young got special treatment anywhere he went. On various trips through the settlements he was wined and dined. His personal gardener (he had a personal gardener!!!) raised strawberries for him under glass frames. His children made ice cream recreationally in the summer (before electricity and refrigeration). His daughter wrote about him eating squab for breafast (butchered by his overseer, caught fresh that morning, then prepared by kitchen help). Lots of doughnuts. Codfish gravy made from salt cod shipped from Massachusets. He died after two days of feasting on watermelon.

So after recounting all this, the reviewer thought that I had portrayed Brigham Young as a self-indulgent glutton. This might turn some readers off. I suppose my goal was to show a human side of Brigham rather than as a semi-divine being. The myth tends to overshadow many realities. In reality, the man was rather portly, and his diet contributed to this.

So... would this turn you off, as a reader? How do you imagine Brigham Young?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Utah Pioneer Heritage Arts

Recently I've become associated with a group of people who share many of my values for history, folk culture and traditional approaches to everyday life. Clive Romney has organized some of these interests under the umbrella called Utah Pioneer Heritage Arts. The primary purpose of the organization seems to be to create a place where people who practice "Pioneer Arts" such as storytelling, old-time dancing, wood working, lace making, etc. can be found for promotion to tourism interests. The group also has a strong educational mandate to promote pioneer arts to young people as a way of passing on the traditions. I guess the idea is that eventually the notion of a "Utah Pioneer" might have some cache similar to "Amish Country."

For me this would be helpful in promoting what I do to people who don't know that I exist. I imagine that tourism and convention people come to Salt Lake City and might want to experience a legitimate historical moment, but don't know where to find it. Clive and his crew promote my thing to that group.

Additionally, Clive Romney is working with KSL on a radio program called "Storyroad Utah." Currently four pilot episodes are in the works. I have been tasked with producing one of the four which will air to a live audience in Ephraim, Utah during the Scandinavian Festival in May. Of course the theme of that particular show will be stories about Scandinavian pioneers in the San Pete Valley. I'll probably slip a few food things in as well.

If you have a pioneer project, or if you want to be involved with pioneer arts in Utah, I recommend you get in touch with Clive and his crew. They're very nice people and they have lots of fun. If you have any pioneer stories from the Manti area, I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Slow Progress...

I've been spending my efforts on building an oven for the past month. Before starting this project I had worked as a stone mason for a couple of years. I thought this wouldn't be much of a stretch. It turns out that stone masonry is very flexible, as the mason accomodates different shapes and sizes. The brick mason is much more exacting, with a demand for straight level lines, plumb and true. The resulting work is not particularly pretty, but I hope it will be functional.

Here is the blank canvas, a spot in my basement with two masonry walls and a thick foundation.

Here are some of my raw materials, which I got for free on www.ksl.com classifieds.

A close-up of an arch to allow access to space below the oven.

Here is an overview of it all. The footprint is 8'x5'. The center wall you see there is to support the center portion of the concrete slab that I will pour next. The concrete slab will support a bed of firebricks and the chamber for the oven. More photos coming soon.

When it is all done, perhaps we can have a little baking workshop for anyone interested in trying a more traditional approach to baking. Anyone? Anyone?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

We're back!

Hello friends. Its been a while since I posted. Here's a brief recap: I've been building a chicken coop (all done but the roof), I'm starting work on building a brick oven in my basement (hope to finish by Feb.) and the publisher dropped my manuscript.

Yeah, it was disappointing, it set me back, I crawled into a lonely hole and stopped blogging. They sat on it for more than a year before deciding this. The editor-in-chief was very kind and encouraging, but the acquisitions board didn't have the same vision. So now the manuscript is at another publisher, who said they'd let me know by Christmas if they were going to publish, and of course the holidays got the better of that one. Still waiting to hear.

So you may remember my styrofoam proofing box that I made last fall? One of my facebook friends asked, "but what did the pioneers do, not having styrofoam or an incandescent light?" They set it next to the hearth. But this got me thinking about how we might let our lack of understanding push us to take cheater steps. I've been baking larger volumes of bread lately (25 lbs. of dough at a crack) and in the course of wondering if I might need a 20 quart mixer or bigger, I came across a short French video. The guy mixes up 50 lbs. of dough by hand in a wooden trough in a matter of minutes without breaking a sweat. And then bakes it off in a wood-fired oven. This made me think that we've really missed the boat. Let's see if the link works... ">here.

The video is long (and all in French), and they make you wade through about 45 seconds of advertising before the good stuff. The relevant section starts at about 7:15 on the counter. I found the video through another fantastic website called "The Fresh Loaf" which is a great site for helping serious home bakers hone their game.

So... are you all great fans of technology? Zealous luddites? I guess we're all here online, but what about pioneer endeavors?