All posts tagged: cooking

Mouthfeel: How Texture Makes Taste

Whether crispy, creamy, or juicy, texture makes taste. Changing a food’s texture can also remake its taste—to eaters’ detriment or advantage. These gastro-scientific transformations have significant consequences when considering how to make healthy diets interesting, challenging, tasty, and appealing. These are the insights of Mouthfeel: How Texture Makes Taste, a new book published in February 2017 by the Danish team of molecular biophysicist, Ole G. Mouritsen, and chef, Klavs Styrbæk, who wrote together Umami: Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste in 2015. Mouthfeel was translated into English, revised, and adapted for a broader audience by Mariela Johansen. The final product from Columbia University Press is a beautifully executed text packed full of relatively accessible food science, stunning full-color photographs, and thought-provoking recipes. Fans of Gordon Shepherd’s Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters (also from Columbia University Press) will find much to love and think with in Mouthfeel, and with a welcome focus on the culinary. Of interest to me as researcher in food studies and critical nutrition studies was Mouritsen and Styrbæk’s assertion that foods that engage all of our senses provide not only gastronomic pleasure, but also a potential …

Beyond Local: Taste the Spirit of Montana at Lilac in Billings

Montana is called “the last best place,” a long-cherished refrain that applies now more than ever to its increasingly innovative restaurants. Here, beneath an expansive blue sky, diners can taste not just Montana ingredients, but the spirit of the state itself. Expressed through food, the Montana identity values the land and landscape, direct communication and unpretentiousness, affordability and responsibility, and an ironclad sense of character—in ingredients, dishes, cooking technique, and people too. Nestled in the Yellowstone River Valley beneath breathtaking sandstone cliffs, Billings is the largest city in the state, where I grew up, and home to Lilac, a restaurant that has earned local adoration and national accolades. Just a year after it opened in 2012, Lilac was the only restaurant in the state to be included in OpenTable’s Diners’ Choice Award for the Top 100 American Fare Restaurants in the United States. It’s not hard to see how Lilac, and its proprietor and chef Jeremy Engebretson, embody the best of what could be called “Montana cuisine.” In an intimate space on historic Montana Avenue, glossy …

Teaching Food Studies, Cookbooks & Writing

How do cookbooks speak? What stories do they tell—and whose? What do cookbooks reveal about power and how it operates? How do cookbooks communicate and construct gender? These are some of the questions my students and I have pondered lately in our course “Food and Gender in U.S. Popular Culture” at Brown University. For our first assignment, students analyzed how cookbooks prescribe and transgress conventional gender roles. A uniquely interdisciplinary field, food studies scholarship often employs various methods, but the close reading of cookbooks is one method that approaches universality. Perhaps that’s part of why I’ve written on them so often (like here, here, and here). I’m working with a thoughtful and engaged group of 20 mostly first- and second-year students. While most had read and used cookbooks for cooking, few had previously considered them as elements of popular culture, as valuable historical evidence, as prescriptive literature that shape notions of gender, or as sources in which the so-often-silenced voices of women and people of color can be heard. In an effort to fully scaffold and support our work with cookbooks, we first did some reading. …

3 Posts to Toast Julia Child’s 102nd Birthday

Today would have been Julia Child’s 102nd birthday and with her towering height, booming voice, vivacious personality, and insatiable appetite for food, eating, cooking, and learning new things, we can be sure she would have celebrated in style. As a graduate of the MLA in Gastronomy Program at Boston University—the program co-founded by Julia Child with Jacques Pépin to secure a place in higher education for the serious study of food—I share with my BU colleagues a borderline-cult-like love for all things Julia. I celebrated this week by finally reading Laura Shapiro’s biography of Julia Child, which is a petite book that perfectly captures the stages of Julia Child’s life, love, and career. I also spent some time writing an article for Zester Daily, comparing Julia’s advice on wine to that offered by other cookbooks published around the same time. One of the things I most love about Julia is how she expects, encourages, and supports readers to rise to the challenge, whether it be mastering French cuisine or perfectly pairing wines. Like any good teacher, her own love for learning …

Archive Adventures #2: Wartime, Memorial Day … & Kraft American Cheese?

With the tagline, “Hanker No More!” this advertisement from my archive adventures at the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History at Duke University celebrates the return of not only America’s World War II heros, but of Kraft cheese products, like Kraft American cheese, Velveeta, and “Old English” Pasteurized Process Cheese, which were rationed on the home front. Ad copy commiserates with America’s housewives: “For a long time during the war, you couldn’t get an ounce of this mellow, smooth-melting cheese; since then a single package has been ‘a find.’” Now, however, the “cheddar goodness you’ve missed so long” has not only returned to supermarket shelves, but “is plentiful.” Furthermore, while an ounce was once impossible to procure, Kraft American cheese could now be purchased in a five-pound loaf or by the half pound (packaged in blue) if preferred. Such linguistic comparisons of weights and measures reveal some evidence of the food industry’s post-war aim to not only find domestic markets for wartime goods, but to increase consumption more generally. Finally, nearly all of the other advertisements that I collected for Kraft cheeses during the …

Archive Adventures #1: The Oh-So-Glamorous World of Velveeta & Cheez Whiz

Telling the story of how the food industry won over (albeit not immediately) the hearts and kitchens of America’s housewives, Laura Shapiro‘s Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America (2004) is hands down one of my favorite food history texts. I very truly geeked out when she signed my copy at the Siting Julia symposium in 2012. As “deliciously readable” as The New York Times Book Review claims it to be, this delightful book demonstrates how in the years following World War II, the food industry, women’s magazines, and the press alike attempted to sell housewives on convenience food products, emphasizing the technological wonderment and time saving attributes of frozen vegetables, canned meats, and complete frozen meals. I got a taste of this myself when I was researching the marketing of Kraft food products in the archives at the Hartman Center at Duke University last month. But first, let’s talk a little history. Despite the industry’s best efforts, food technology at first failed to capture housewives’ hearts or stomachs. Women who had utilized processed foods during wartime rationing did not desire to do so when …

Typhoid Mary: Public Health Menace or Plucky Bad Ass?

While many may have heard of “Typhoid Mary” (I’m speaking here of the public health historical figure not either of the hard rock bands that bear her name nor the mutant Marvel villain inspired by her plight), fewer know the complete story of Mary Mallon, the immigrant cook incarcerated in isolation for a quarter century for unknowingly spreading typhoid through her cooking. When one hears the name “Typhoid Mary,” the mind often conjures images of some untamable shrew dishing out ladles full of infected slop, a mental picture not unlike the one that the press created in 1909, in which Mallon is depicted cracking skulls into a skillet, while venomous vapors drift downward from her mouth. Often told with a reductionist focus in science textbooks, Judith Walzer Leavitt’s social history, Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public Health (1997), sets Mallon’s story straight. While viewed as a menace by the New York public health department, the legal system, media, and general public, Mary Mallon was also a powerfully plucky bad ass, who despite institutional entities against her, little …

Food and Matriarchy in “Sons of Anarchy”

While Charlie Hunnam‘s handsome face and blonde locks are reason enough for anyone to be watching Sons of Anarchy with unwavering interest, after watching the first five seasons, I’m struck by the way that scenes of eating express the harmony or discontent of the motorcycle club (MC). As its members seek to protect the interests of their aptly named hometown of Charming, California, as well as their families and their MC brothers against drugs, violence, and general discord, three meals mark the club’s progress. Notably, the presence and absence of these meals reflect the changing power and influence of the family matriarch, Gemma Teller-Morrow (Katey Sagal). Spoiler alert: If you haven’t yet watched the show and think you might like to, I’d suggest getting up to speed before reading further. Family is a strong theme throughout Sons of Anarchy, as members of the club treat one another as brothers, willing to fight, kill, and die to protect one another and those dear to them. While these family-like ties grow apparent throughout the first episodes, they are also made …

From Domestic Space to Status Symbol: A Kitchen History Photo Essay

Later this week, I’ll be discussing not only trophy kitchens, but also the phenomenon of ornamental trophy cookbooks at the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference. Just as I’ve explored the phenomenon of expensively outfitted kitchens that are then rarely used for cooking, the panel, “Cookbooks as Works of Art and Status Objects,” will explore cookbooks (such as Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook and Heston Blumenthal’s The Big Fat Duck Cookbook) that may find themselves more at home as coffee table art books than functional tools in the kitchen. And so on that note, please enjoy this photo essay of the evolution of the twenty-first-century trophy kitchen. UPDATE: Some content from this post appears in my article, “Not Just for Cooking Anymore: Exploring the Twenty-First Century Trophy Kitchen,” published in the Graduate Journal of Food Studies, Winter 2014, pages 1-8! Nancy Carlisle and Melinda Talbot Nasardinov straightforwardly define the kitchen in America’s Kitchens as: the domestic space where food is prepared…primarily an indoor space, the place where people go to chop, mix, roast, boil, and bake. Indeed, for hundreds of …

Curating the History of American Convenience Cuisine

In the years following World War II, the United States took on a new shape and so did the way Americans ate. The 1950s witnessed the rise of “packaged-food cuisine,” a dietary change and gastronomic phenomenon that had as much to do with the postwar military industrial complex, women’s issues, and class-consciousness, as it did with food. This selection of five images explores these themes, using convenience food as a lens to explore the socio-cultural context of the 1950s. 1. The Evolution of Betty Crocker, 1921 – Present Created in 1921, the name and face of Betty Crocker has appeared in American grocery store aisles, pantries, and cookbooks for more than 90 years. Betty Crocker was developed as a “live trademark” by Marjorie Child Husted for Washburn Crosby, the company that made Gold Medal flour and would become General Mills. The Betty Crocker character formed bonds between customers and brands at a time when convenience cuisine was in its infancy, but primed to grow quickly. A combination of fantasy and reality, Betty Crocker was an instructor …