Thursday, September 3, 2015

Food Focus and Age

Raa Middle School cafeteria, Tallahassee, Florida, 1960 (Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory)
We continue our back-to-school serious today building on a comment from Gary who is one of our readers. Gary’s son, who attended the University of Rochester, once introduced him to what they call in that part of the country a "Garbage Plate." Gary goes on to say, “as I recall, it’s the makings of a perfectly good hamburger plate with fries and macaroni salad, sadly mishandled to the point that it’s all messed up on the plate. No points for presentation here" but it's delicious. What is interesting is how children respond when the food doesn't look good. It seems that when you get older, particularly college years, your focus turns to inexpensive and taste good. A word to the wise for those preparing food for younger children, make it look good as well as taste good, and you will have a hit!

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     Zora Neale Hurston on Florida Food

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Words and Culinary Tradtions

Roast beef wedge
In the 1970s  the Board of Education in my village of Croton on Hudson, NY  cut the hot lunch program which facilitated the daily parade of students into the village in search good but cheap eats. Our village had a lot of delis and most ran lunch specials that often included sandwiches made with lettuce, tomato, mayo or mustard, and freshly delivered Boar’s Head cold cuts which we called wedges. Since graduating from high school I've learned that the term wedge is a regional culinary idiom and my wedge is another person's grinder, hero, hoagie, Italian, po' boy, zep, or torpedo depending one's formative educational and eating experience. Slang like wedges are interesting identifiers of one's culinary traditions.  

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Let Malcolm X Be Your Model

Malcolm X taking a photo of Mohammad Ali, at a restaurant
I love the picture above because it is emblematic of the time Malcolm spent in restaurants including the one his mosque operated in Harlem and the Nation of Islam operated across the country. He and Elijah Muhammed had a lot to say about food as what I describe in my book Hog and Hominy, food rebels. Both men denounced the traditional US diet in general, and after an American culinary traditions specifically as un-nutritious. Malcolm inspired me to become a student of history which he loved. Malcolm always kept a book or newspaper on him to read. That became my example after I read his autobiography. I prefer audible books and podcast because with ADHD reading, although I do it, it's labor intensive for me. A lot of what I research, write, and teach comes from a voracious consumption of books, interviews, and news I hear as podcast. As you return to school (or start a new job), let Malcolm X be your model and get the content you need to be a good teacher, student, employee, and informed citizen.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Basting and Barbecuing Meat

Basting barbecuing pork ribs in Sarasota, Florida, 1951 (Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory)
During the Great Depression US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) launched His Works Progress Administration (WPA) as one of his many New Deal Policies promising North Americans a way of out the Great Depression. WPA officials at the state level hired workers and scholars such as the anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston a native of Florida. Hurston and others like her traveled throughout the country collectiing and documenting local traditions including food traditions. A WPA administrator interested in food decided to publish a collection called America Eats. The start of World War II and the resulting end of the Great Depression resulted in the abandonment of the project. Sources from that project are largely housed in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. but some remain archived at the state level around the country. They are an incredible wealth for studying and writing food history. A WPA writer in Alabama had this to say about barbecue. No barbecue was considered done unless the meat was “saturated with blistering sauces.” Cooks repeatedly basted the barbecuing meat for hours until it was a “aromatic brown,” with a “mixture of vinegar, mustard, catsup, Worchester sauce, olive oil, Tabasco sauce, lemon juice and whole red peppers in great quantity. The sauce [was] boiled for three minutes after mixture before being applied to the meat [sic].” (America Eats Project, WPA State Records, Alabama 1930s). Good barbecue in short is meat cooked slowly and frequently basted. 

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Fish Friday

Lobster Thermidor, recipe below  
The summer before I started school at Syracuse University as a transfer student recruited to play lacrosse, I went on this self-inflicted weight and strength gaining regiment. In retrospect, I lifted my fork and spoon more than I lifted weights. That summer I worked for a catering company doing grunt work at a Con Ed cafeteria in Tarrytown, New York. Con Ed workers went out on strike that summer and the cafeteria staff had to serve three meals a day to managers covering for the striking workers. That summer I made lots of money working overtime and I ate like a champ downing lobster thermidor, other delicacies, and desserts. My weight ballooned from 178 to 205. Moreover, just weeks before school started I underwent surgery on both knees to remedy tendinitis. So between kitchen job and knee surgery, I arrived at Syracuse in the fall of 1983 bigger, faster, slower.That's a back to school memory that I will never forget.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

School Lunches in Croton

One of the many great Delis I grew up with in Croton-on Hudson, New York (Photo courtesy of Bill Tuttle)
As part of my back to school series I must talk about the deli food in my hometown in the late 1970s. My high School, Croton Harmon is located just up the street from the village of Croton on Old Post Road. School administrators had an open campus policy that permitted students to purchase food in the village. The fact that the school cut the hot lunch program that most other area schools had also facilitated the daily parade of students into the village in search of good but cheap eats. Now my situation was problematic to say the least because my father took on the task of making my lunch instead of forking over five dollars like allot of the parents of my classmates did. Two experiences shaped my dads view of an acceptable lunch: He never forgot the poverty he experienced as a child in the Great Depression and during the 1970s he listened to allot of Dick Gregory on the radio talking about eating to live instead of living to eat as he sat in his tower as correctional officer perched over looking the inside of Sing Sing prison and ironically a spectacular view of the Hudson River. Gregory in part inspired my dad to make me lunches with fruits and vegetables, sandwiches with whole grain bread, and "carob bars" and sesame and honey snacks he'd buy at the Chilmart Health Food store for dessert.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Satchmo's School Lunch in New Orleans

Louis Armstrong at the Aquarium in New York 1946, Photographer Bill Gottlieb (Courtesy of the Library of Congress), related links and recipes below

Summer vacation is just about over and my two children return to school soon.  Today let’s turn to Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong's school food memories. Talking about his childhood in New Orleans and his mother, Armstrong writes, “When Mayann was living with stepfather Tom [who] was working at the DeSoto Hotel on Barrone and Perdido Streets. When he came home he brought with him a lot of ‘broken arms’ which were the leftovers from the tables he served. From them Mayann would fix a delicious lunch for me which I took to school when her work kept her away from home all day long. When I undid these wonders in the schoolyard, all the kids would gather around me like hungry wolves. It did not take them long to discover what I had: the best steaks, chops, chicken, eggs, a little of everything that was good.”

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Religion and Temperance in Antebellum America

Banana-Peach Buttermilk smoothie, recipe below
Former slave Louis Hughes who grew up an enslaved person on a plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia. He describes beverages served at a plantation barbecue that are indicative of antebellum religion and politics. “The drinks were strictly temperance drinks - buttermilk and water,” says Hughes. Between 1825 and 1835 the Presbyterian minister Charles Grandison Finney led a spiritual revival and preached social reform sermons in Central and Western New York which became known as the burned over district. The temperance movement came out of the revival calling Christians to be filled with the Spirit of God and not with strong drink. Nineteenth century elites also latched on to this theme as way of encouraging their workers to say sober and thus more productive on the job. From Hughes we learn that the Second Great Awakening and the temperance message had its influence on his Virginia master. By the start of the Civil War, the joint Southern and Northern Presbyterian Church association split not over the issue of temperance but over the issue of slavery. Here’s a cold southern buttermilk drink recipe.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Feeding the Revolution in Mississippi

Civil rights activist Medger Evers 
The pace of the civil rights movement accelerated with the return of World War II soldiers like Medger Evers who fought in France and earned the rank of sergeant during the war. He returned to his home state of Mississippi where he went on to become Mississippi’s first NAACP field secretary setting up his office in the city of Jackson over the top of the Big Apple Inn restaurant. Still open today, Juan “Big John” Mora (1890-1976) opened it back in 1939. He was an immigrant from Mexico City who married a black women in Jackson. Mora's developed a pig ear sandwich that became a hit. Evers did not have adequate office space to hold meetings, and he would often hold them down stairs in Big John's where he would discuss civil rights organizing and protest strategies. When customers came in they liked what they heard, and joined the movement. “In fact they would be lined up at the [restaurant’s] door just to hear Medger’s strategy,” says Big John’s grandson Gene Lee, Sr. 

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Sandwich Stories and Recipes:

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Listen to The Breaking Bread Podcast: [Listen Now]

Author and Activist on Medgar Evers: [Listen Now 47 min 6 sec]

Documentary Film on the Big Apple Inn: [Watch Now 20 min 9 sec]

Friday, August 21, 2015

Living on Catfish

Fishing on Taylor Creek, circa1910 (Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory)
August is national catfish month. Here is a commentary on catfish consumption in colonial America  in the 17th century by a traveler from France who observed , “Travellers and poor people live on [catfish] very comfortably, for it can be eaten, and is very good cooked in water without any sauce. It is also full of a very good oil, which forms admirable seasoning for sagamité, the name given to porridge made of Indian corn.” (“The Journey of Dollier and Galinée, Early Narratives of the Northwest 1634-1699)

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