During last Thursday’s lecture, we brainstormed a list of the various aspects we consider as readers of the various cookbooks and literary works often associated with food. One of the key aspects we considered was the variable functionality of mass-produced cookbooks versus handwritten manuscript cookbooks, and I stumbled upon an article published by the BBC’s Good Food site—“trustworthy guidance for all your foodie needs”—specifically addressing how to write a recipe. The article itself is a quick read and ironically asserts a recipe for writing recipes, hence this post’s title.

It is quite comical that at this point in the modern age, we are so entranced with—and arguably encumbered by—standardized methodologies that the art behind cooking necessitates input from professionals concerning how recipes “should” be written. As we see through The Compleat Housewife, American Cookery, and subsequent works, preparation techniques & general international cuisine have evolved with technology and humans’ tastes. The intents of recording & executing recipes, however, have remained developmentally stagnant outside the realm of transcription routes (written or electronically generated) simply because the ultimate unchanging goal of recipe writing is to provide instructions.

Although I primarily intended to highlight the article’s questionably redundant nature, I hope everyone finds it helpful as we start considering the various options and requirements for our class projects, mainly with the sections after “Ingredients.” The entire Good Food site offers resources one might normally see on the Food Network sans foodnetwork.com’s relatively disjointed nature.

A recipe in India was once reliant on oral transmission, but the surge of cookbooks in India with the rise of the middle-class is creating the dialogue towards the question, “What is a national cuisine?.”  While the cook book allows the individual to interact closely with the link of food preparation and consumption, it is also creating a false representation of culture through a subjective catalog of food.

The cookbook is a frugal, timely way to allow the contributor of a dish to become the beneficiary, while experimenting with flavors and food groups of their choosing.  With technological innovations, social boundaries are torn down as “blenders, spice grinders, and refrigerators are seen in more and more homes.”  Growing food industries are able to provide more ingredients and varieties to diverse socio-economic backgrounds.  The cookbook’s popularity has also led to new sub-genres of cooking, oriented around various topics (ex. diets, food groups, leftovers, preparation, celebrities,…) creating loose representations to culinary cultures.  According to Appadurai’s essay regional and ethnic cookbooks do two things: “they begin to provide people from one region or place a systematic glimpse of the culinary traditions of another; and they also represent a growing body of food-based characterizations of the ethnic other.”  For this reason, there is a sense of  responsibility for the author of cookbooks to create an accurate representation of the region or culture of their choice.

However, most authors’ false representation of a regional or culture is the result of a subjective taste versus the objective goal of a cookbook which appeals to the general public.  It is difficult to represent a culture’s taste through a series of lenses.  In America alone, food variations in the North do not comply with those in the South, so the background and history of the author creates a bias and lens for creating a list.  This list of foods is later subjected to the critical lens of the books goals by changing ingredients and proportions for reasons of price, access, or personal taste.  For this reason, cookbooks should be revered as “documents of culture in the making” rather than cultural descriptions.

 

 

http://blogs.usda.gov/2013/11/15/reaching-back-to-traditional-native-american-cooking-in-search-of-healthier-meals/

The link above directs us to an article that speaks about the health benefits of Native American cooking and foods. This ties to our discussion in class about the changes in the thinking of food. It has gone from just a necessity to survive to a way to control and improve one’s diet. One of the popular movements in food today is the idea of “farm to table”, which essentially means that the food should be all natural with little to no processing.

This is a fairly new movement with people becoming increasingly more conscious about their health and the ingredients present in their food, and it’s interesting to see how we can go back hundreds of years to find foods and cooking processes that would support this idea of healthy eating. The article not only focuses on fresh and healthy foods, but also speaks at length about foods and recipes that would help combat chronic diseases, such as Type II diabetes. The food preparation passed on by the elders of the tribes represent decades old recipes and methods, but can still be relevant today and help today’s generation cope with chronic diseases.

Ultimately, I believe this article and the program mentioned in the article represents what we have so far talked about in class. We can look to the past to see how to make our processes in the present better. By looking at the foods and harvesting practices used by the tribes in the past, we can see the health benefits and try to integrate them into our current processes to create a healthier food lifestyle. We are able to learn more about the past and improve our processes in the present through one main idea: the way we view and prepare our food.

Last week, I was interested in the class discussions of the way products are marketed to appeal to certain audiences. Like the example that Diet Coke is marketed toward women because it has the word “diet” in the title paired with a feminine silver can. While Coke Zero may have the same amount of calories, it is geared toward a male audience, lacking the feminizing term “diet” and having a black can. However, with some research, I found that the popular “Share a Coke” campaign has taken the gendered no calorie Coke products a step further. While the Diet Coke cans say “Share a Coke with (insert feminine acquaintance)” such as “BFF,” the Coke Zero cans use more masculine terms like “grillmaster” or “bros.” I believe that this marketing strategy is effective in getting the other half of the market to take interest in a very similar product. However, I disagree with the polarization of the market into a female category that is only concerned with dieting, and a male counterpart, that while still concerned with reducing caloric intake, cannot use a product coined with the word “diet” in order to maintain his masculinity.

http://nymag.com/thecut/2014/08/nations-masculinity-intact-with-bros-coke.html#

Many of the posts I read were talking about how national cuisine has a lot of tiny, regional nuance to it. Every town in India has a different way of presenting one specific dish. Another searcher post talked about how America bastardizes foreign food. On that note, I figured I would post a few videos I had mentioned in class.

Italian Grandmas Trying Olive Garden

Sushi Chef Tries Cheap Sushi

Mexicans Try Taco Bell

Because these different people know what their cuisine is like, the American knock offs are very obviously not their national cuisine. There’s more that goes into food than just a handful of ingredients that racist corporate types assume might be related to a culture. Cultures generate food with significance behind each ingredient, it’s very easy to miss it if you don’t read any of the history behind a meal.

In Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife, the title page reads “Method is the Soul of Management”. Throughout the remainder of the preface and introduction, that phrase plays out in three ways: in cooking, the kitchen, and performing everyday life duties. Randolph asserts that in order to cook consistently and to scale, a recipe with distinct measurements must be used. Dressing the table and sticking to a strict cleaning regiment, along with attending to duties in the kitchen overall brings “economy as well as comfort in a regular mode of doing business”. Randolph’s ideas helped her cookbook to gain fame for the concept of introducing order and precision into the kitchen where previously little existed to that extent.

As I read the preface and introduction, I was amazed that a standard implementation of measurements in cooking had not existed up to that time. The argument for increasing scale in cooking a meal was fantastic, and despite our regard as that being common practice, it is indeed something important – nearly akin to the invention of interchangeable parts. However, my wonder withdrew and gave way to curiosity as I realized how sterile the concepts were. In essence, the “soul of management” I felt defeated the soul of cooking.

For beginners, the genius of a measured recipe is extremely valuable. Add three eggs, two cups of flour, stir until slightly lumpy. The root of this measured method comes from Mrs. Randolph’s daily life, where it is insured that things are performed in a business-like way, daily, without error. This can be a boon to ensuring consistency and good results, but defeats in a way the soul of cooking. From everything that I’ve seen from those that have enjoyed cooking, their delight comes from experimentation and trying new amounts or variations of ingredients. This obviously brings failure, but success comes as well. In addition, that trial and error builds an intuition over time as to how to cook more expertly. Cooking becomes a challenge, but with many rewards as one finds pride in what they’ve created. This leads to a better eating experience as well, as the consumer finds joy in their labors, as well as possibly a better taste. Overall, I believe that although a method can indeed be the soul of management, the soul of cooking requires more than measurements but our best efforts.

After reading “How to Make a National Cuisine: Cookbooks in Contemporary India,” I thought about how I form my views of world food. Many of my views are influenced by food that I’ve eaten in restaurants or the typical street food found in a nation. I took some time to think about American street food and the food trucks that stop on campus. I realized that most Americanized street food rely on presenting a nation’s dish in a new light through unconventional serving methods. I began searching for the strangest unconventional street food served in America and came across an article about “spaghetti- cones”.

Spaghetti in a cone: a miracle of physics, a genius food delivery system

The content of this article embodies most modern food in America. New food movements, such as molecular gastronomy, rely on presenting old foods in new, exciting ways. The author of the original article was confused, yet delighted by his “spaghetti-cone”. It is no longer enough to simply make a classic dish for it to be well received, but to make the dish in a new way. This gives reason for the hundreds of new recipes that take classic ideas and turn them upside down, such as open-faced pot pies, or flash frozen bananas. This article is relevant because hundreds of chefs make their living on bizarre takes on classic dishes. We are looking in to historic recipes to learn about the past, while some modern chefs look towards historic recipes for inspiration. They combine popular classics and the preferences of society to form new modern food fads. The culture of America is ever changing and this is reflected in the food we eat.

 

In “How to Make a National Cuisine: Cookbooks in Contemporary India,” Arjun Appadurai discusses the state of society that facilitates the emergence of specialized cookbooks. In order for cookbooks to become common and useful, the society in which they are created and used must be one where there exists a middle class. That is, there must be prominent literacy and a culture of domesticity.

The rise of a middle class tends to occur in developing nations when there is a formation of a class between the working class and the upper class. In modern day, there is a global rise of the middle class occurring. It is taking place in India as the traditional caste system is being left behind as people are moving between regions and beginning to work for business corporations. This mixture of regions and cultures along with the rise of the middle class occurring in India now, seven decades after they gained independence, can be compared to that of America in the mid 1800’s.

In the time of Mary Randolf, the American cookbook was first emerging sixty years after the American Revolution. Mary Randolf is considered by some to have written the first truly American cookbook. Regional cuisine played an important role in the recipes described in Randolf’s cookbook. Most of her cuisine was Southern cooking; however, she incorporated food of English, French and Spanish origins, as well as what was considered Yankee dishes. As the middle class emerges in a society, those entering into the middle class gain increased mobility. This can be observed in current day India as well as through the recipes included in Randolf’s cookbook. People like Mary Randolf and modern day Indian citizens gain increased exposure to regions outside of their own. Since becoming a part of the middle class allows for more free time and disposable income, women like Randolf desired increased knowledge of domestic and culinary activities. They could afford better and more diverse foods. However, since they were women who were not of upper class decent, they did not know the proper way to prepare and serve these kinds of foods which becomes the necessity of the cookbook. These women also have the excess household income available to be capable of purchasing a cookbook which facilitates demand.

Although hundreds of years apart, the phenomenon Appadurai is observing in India and the circumstances that led to Mary Randolf’s first American cookbook are very similar in nature. The emergence of a prominent middle class led to the demand for cookbooks and increased access to them.

The video above is an episode of The Frugal Gourmet where Jeff Smith visits the Governor’s Palace at Colonial Williamsburg to see what kitchens were like in colonial America. The main difference between an English kitchen and a colonial kitchen was that in an English kitchen, women used a grill to do most of the cooking, while in a colonial kitchen, women cooked using a fireplace. The Governor’s Palace has both means of cooking.

This episode is important to the class in that it highlights possible pitfalls in using an old recipe mainly the differences in technology and measurements. Notably, Jeff Smith mentioned that in earlier times when “receipts”, or recipes, called for a “glass” of some kind of liquid, it did not mean to add a modern day cup. A “glass” would be equivalent to about 6 ounces by today’s standard, unlike today’s cup which is 8 ounces. Also, there were no numerical temperature references on any of the recipes at that time considering that most colonial cooking was done in the fireplace. Any variation of how hot the fire should be was based on how much coal would be put on. When Jeff Smith made an old colonial recipe for carrot pudding, the recipe called for a “slow oven”. Today this phrase has little to no meaning to a chef and the chef can only guess to what temperature he should set his oven to or how long to cook the dish. Jeff made a guess that this was about 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

With modern day conveniences being used to recreate these dishes, they will not be exact to colonial times. However, we can come close if we carefully analyze the old “receipt” instructions paying special attention to the meaning of old measurement markings.

Childhood is accompanied by a multitude of life lessons, but one that nearly everyone has heard some form of is that a healthy breakfast is the best way to start the day. Mary Randolph takes this idea one step further in her introduction to The Virginia Housewife: or, Methodical Cook by arguing that breakfast is more than just a meal: it’s an event that determines the flow for the rest of the day. If everyone does not eat breakfast at the same time, for example, then the servants will not be able to work properly until their morning meal, which is now delayed. The lady of the house is unable to wash and arrange, and the rest of the day becomes cluttered at best. To Mary, if breakfast itself were to be disrupted, all order and values for the entire day were squandered.

This obsession with an orderly and properly house is indicative of Victorian Era values at the time. Being published in 1838, Mary’s cookbook released at the very beginning of the era, yet her introduction alone is heavily saturated with the prim and proper. The lady of the house was its keeper, and keeping the house in line was key to adhering to the presentable culture. Mary recognizes the importance of food in house order, describing the household itself as a government, and the first meal of the day as a way of stamping out problems early, while creating conveniences for later in the day. While the meal itself is straightforward, consisting of standard foods such as muffins and cakes, the event of the meal must be carried out as Mary describes, or the appearance of the home will fall short of the expectations of the era. If these expectations aren’t met, family prosperity is reduced, and future generations cannot be raised properly for the times. As Mary describes, breakfast during the Victorian Era was far more important than we could give it credit for today.