Monday, March 3, 2008

authenticity

I've been working on creating the Louisiana food exhibit, which is daunting and I am constantly reminded of what I haven't covered and then realize I can never cover it all and even if I could, it wouldn't all fit in the space and somehow that is comforting. Anyway, I am working on the Red Beans section and have consulted notes from a talk I gave at Satchmo Fest last summer on red beans where I served Louis Armstrong's recipe for red beans, and was remembering the experience. And questions from that talk got tangled up with talks I used to give at Hermann-Grima where I did hearth cooking demonstrations. And people would ask "Is that authentic?" and I wanted to ask them "For when? For whom?" Because even cooking over a hearth cannot be "authentic" when you store your cold ingredients in a refrigerator. But it especially cannot be authentic when you are a free white woman cooking in the 21st century and not an enslaved black woman you get to take the food home with you to your air-conditioned house when the volunteering is over instead of serving them to the family who owns you and then making something else for yourself over that same hot hearth.

And asking whether these beans taste like the beans Louis ate is impossible for me to answer, but I'd hazard to answer "Yes and No." Because with this type of cooking, one rarely follows a recipe exactly. And when you cook with sausage, every pot tastes differently because every link is different. But mainly, I think that every time we eat something, even if we make it the exact same way as our mother or grandfather or Louis Armstrong, if we were there to watch them do it, every time is different because our circumstances are different. Food tastes different if you are happy or sad or with friends or alone or sober or drunk or if the weather is lovely or hot or freezing or you are worried about paying your obscene Entergy bill or tax bill or are happy because you just got a raise. And that's why it's culture and that's why it's art and that's why we get to build a whole museum around it. Well, all we have to do is build it. Back to the beans...