Friday, March 7, 2014

2013/2014 Cookbook Choices - When America First Went Revolutionary

One of the most interesting children's books I've read is called "Thomas Jefferson's Feast".  It is based on true facts that Jefferson loved gourmet food, often gave fancy dinner parties and introduced ice cream, tomatoes and macaroni pasta to America.  Needless to say, he became my favorite American president.

Currently, my daughter is in 4th grade and is studying about colonial America and the Revolutionary War.  Last Christmas, her grade performed a Christmas play that depicted celebrations in colonial Williamsburg.  It was an enchanting concert and evoked happy memories of our visit to that town, where we ate at restaurants that purposely lacked electric lights in the dining room to give us the sense of the era.  In January, for a school project, a few of her classmates made syllabub, spoon bread and  Sally Lunn.

Two books which elaborate more on this definitive moment in American history are "Revolutionary Cooking" by Virginia Elverson and Mary Ann McLanahan; and "Dining with the Washingtons", edited by Stephen McLeod.

Both books delve more into the habits and practices of that time.  "Revolutionary Cooking" breaks down chapters into 'Breakfast', 'Dinner', 'Supper and Tea' and 'Drinking' and describes the lifestyles and
habits of cooking and entertaining.  These are all important insights into history and I've urged my daughter to read the book.  In fact, it would make for great family reading so that everyone can learn something new about something old.  There are illustrations of utensils, pots and equipment drawn from  actual objects in museum collections.

The recipes are adapted from old cookbooks written in the 1850s, as well as those from family heirlooms. What is reassuring to know is that Elverson had to decipher 'a gill of this' or a 'dipper of that' and I can relate to her because I too, had to figure out 'a bowl of water' or '20 cents of chili' in quantifying my mother's recipes ingredients.

"Dining with the Washingtons" contains more lavish pictorials and is a hardbound copy ready made for the coffee table.  While similar in interest, the book contents center around the first President's entertaining and hospitality from his private estate, Mount Vernon.  The recipes are grander - fricassee chicken, 'forced beef tenderloin', roast duck and Yorkshire Christmas Pie.

Why am I drawn to these books and why would I write about them on a blog largely focused on the Peranakan culture?  Because we all have our specific cultural history to tell and it is worth learning how others tell theirs. Perhaps one day, someone could do the same anthropological study of our Peranakan cooking and eating habits on a similar scale.

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