Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Getting Carried Away With Betty

Author Betty Fussell kicks off the Southern Food and Beverage Museum’s (SoFAB) Special Lecture Series with “Raising Steaks: The Life and Times of American Beef,” on Saturday, May 2, 2009 at 5 p.m. at the museum. Best known for her book The Story of Corn, winner of the first Jane Grigson Award given by the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) in 1993, Betty Fussell is the author of ten books, ranging from biography to cookbooks, food history and memoir. Her most recent book on American food, Raising Steaks: The Life and Times of American Beef, was published in the fall and has been nominated for a book award by the IACP and the James Beard Foundation.

“We are excited to have a culinary star of Betty’s caliber lecturing at SoFAB. It will be a stimulating event timed to prime the appetite,” says Liz Williams, Director of SoFAB. A frequent speaker at IACP conferences, Betty Fussell was Scholar in Residence in 1999. Her essays on food, travel and the arts have appeared in scholarly journals, popular magazines and newspapers over the past 40 years. She has lectured throughout the country in venues as varied as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Iowa’s State Fair. A winner of Food Arts’ Silver Spoon Award, she has presented courses and/or workshops in food writing, food history and food preparation at universities, colleges, culinary schools and cooking stores across the United States and in Mexico. Her memoir, My Kitchen Wars, was performed in Hollywood and New York as a one-woman show by actress Dorothy Lyman.

Why a lecture on beef? Fussell may say it best in her book, Raising Steaks, ““Real American men, women and children eat steak because it’s red with blood, blood that pumps flavor, iron, vitality, and sex into flaccid bodies. For women, steak is better than spinach. For men, it’s better than Viagra. With steak, its easy to get carried away.”

SoFAB looks forward to getting carried away with Fussell. As a writer and lecturer, Fussell is both controversial and endearing. “I’ve spent most of my life doing kitchen battle, feeding others and myself, torn between the desire to escape and the impulse to entrench myself further. When social revolutions hustled women out of the kitchen and into the boardroom, I seemed to be caught in flagrante with a potholder in my hand. I knew that the position of women like myself was of strategic importance in the war between the sexes. But if you could stand the heat, did you have to get out of the kitchen?” writes Fussell in Kitchen Wars.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Culinary Corps

I have really come to look forward to the visits from Culinary Corps. Just in case you don't know about them, the Corps is a group of chefs who volunteer to travel to do good. Since Hurricane Katrina, Christine Carroll has been leading trips to New Orleans and the surrounding area. Culinary Corps is her brainchild. Christine has taken her idea and made it into a reality as real as government supported service organizations, such as Americorps and VISTA.

This group of chefs traveled to New Orleans to do good. They brought us cookbooks and menus for our collections. They wanted to know what the museum is doing to support the community. I was pleased to be able to answer their questions with our very real and often innovative activities. But every time that I talk to the participants in Culinary Corps, especially to Christine, I am struck by their generosity and selflessness.

So I would like to thank them for their visit. And in particular, I thank Christine, not only for a brilliant idea, but for perservering despite difficulties. We are all better for it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Texans -- We Need Your Old Cookbooks

If you have a cookbook with a Texas theme that is getting dusty and moldy on your shelf, let us know. The Southern Food and Beverage Museum is seeking cookbooks from Texas to boost its holdings of books from the Lone Star State.
We estimate that the museum has only 20 to 30 cookbooks pertaining to Texas cuisine and that’s just not enough. Most focus on barbeque or Tex-Mex cuisine.
We also know there are at least 1,000 books that focus on Texas cuisine because the Texas Collection at Baylor University's Carroll Library has at least that many, some going back to the late 19th century.

Texas has a deep and rich culinary history. Each of the five regions of Texas was settled by pioneers from different parts of the United States and Europe. Each had different food heritages. The French, Native Americans, Spanish, Mexicans, and Germans influenced the culture and cuisine of Texas. They adapted their recipes to include local ingredients and cooking facilities.

The museum seeks a variety of cookbooks:
• Restaurant cookbooks and cookbooks created by celebrity chefs;
• Junior League cookbooks;
• Community cookbooks – the inexpensively produced, spiral-bound cookbooks that frequently are created as fundraisers for churches or schools;
• Cookbooks produced by churches, civic groups, public schools, universities, women’s groups or other cultural groups; and
• Specialty cookbooks. For example, a great book that was produced recently is the Texas Judicial Cookbook, a compilation of 59 recipes from residing and former judges and other state and county officials. It’s a tribute to Texas' county courthouses. That’s the kind of book we’re looking for.

Cookbooks are historical documents that provide important information to scholars, researchers, culinary professionals and foodies. Hefty hardbound books or small spiral-bound versions to benefit churches or schools. Filled with recipes from famous chefs or the ladies from around the corner. Seafood, fried food, casseroles, appetizers to desserts. They are all of value to us.

Monday, April 13, 2009

SoFAB is looking for a few good Elvis fans

Sometime last winter, we opened a box of donated books and found an Elvis cookbook.

After doing some research, we discovered there were at east 10 Elvis-themed cookbooks that had been published since the death of the King. This is odd Most chefs with lifetimes of experience don’t have 10 cookbooks to their name so why should Elvis, a man who made bacon and eggs when he cooked? And why were all of the books produced after he died? And though all of them have photos, why is there only one featuring a heavy Elvis?

We decided to find the other Elvis cookbooks and create an exhibition. After all, if droves of people visited Graceland each year, maybe we could attract a small crowd of devoted Elvis fans at a time when our new and small museum could use some help.

Visitors can now find a display of eight cookbooks as well as other Elvis memorabilia.

The main thing visitors will learn is that Elvis was a classic Southern boy who liked all the hard-core foods – meat loaf, mashed potatoes, pork chops, fried chicken, white bread with gravy, cheeseburgers, the whole nine yards. He had his favorites, including banana pudding and the infamous fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

Visitors also will learn about Elvis’ eating habits:
• Elvis did not like to eat fish;
• He loved watermelon and cantaloupe;
• His favorite meal was breakfast;
• Elvis ate a lot of sandwiches because he said he didn’t have a lot of time to eat;
• Elvis liked his meat cooked very well-done;
• When Elvis cooked, he generally fixed eggs and bacon;
• One item to be hand-made each night at Graceland was banana pudding;
• Elvis did not drink alcohol; and
• Elvis drank milk and would say “Milk makes ya sexy!”

Anther interesting piece of information is that Elvis did not change his eating habits once he became famous. Even though he had the money to eat anywhere he wanted, he did not like fancy restaurants. He preferred the food he grew up with.

Now we are waiting for the Elvis people to come. Impersonators are welcome too.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


I have been reading a lot about authenticity recently. It has made me look at the food of New Orleans and Louisiana to try to define what may be authentic about it. I think that after many bowls of gumbo and many people's versions of red beans and rice, I have come to a conclusion. This is likely to be an unpopular notion.

When we are familiar with the cuisine, I think that we consider authentic to be what we know. That means what we remember from early family life - what Mom or Dad or Aunt Jane served - defines authenticity. So if my mother took shortcuts and used prepackaged shortcuts or added cream of mushroom soup to her oyster bisque (she didn't), I might find that to be authentic. The younger person may say, never, it is only authentic with cream and homemade stock. But neither of us was around in 1900 when oyster bisque was made in some other way to make it authentic.

So if we have no early memory of food to benchmark authenticity how can we do it? I think that if local people eat the food, even as it is evolving, then it is authentic. Yes, food can be made the way that it was in 1875. But just because it is historically accurate doesn't make it any more authentic than the way we make it in 2009. Food changes: we begin to add garlic, we begin to omit blood sausage, we add wine, we experiment. As food evolves it remains authentic because it is still eaten and identified by the people in the area.

No cuisine remains alive if it is static, so historically accurate does not define authentic - eaters do. I have eaten many version of Salade Nicoise in the US and in France. In Nice this salad is served tossed in a bowl or on a plate. It is not a composed salad, but a tossed salad. As I traveled west along the coast in France, I was in Provence when ordering the Salade Nicoise was composed. I would venture to say that dispite the fact that I know this as a composed salad, that what I ate in Nice was authentic.

Monday, April 6, 2009

In Praise of Squid

Going through the boxes of donated cookbooks is fun because there is always something unusual that we haven’t seen before.

Recently, something truly unusual and interesting arrived – a cookbook that focuses on squid. The International Squid Cookbook, by Isaac Cronin, is a 94-page paperback devoted exclusively to the preparation and consumption of squid. There are not many cookbooks that focus on squid – in English, probably fewer than ten.

Squid has taken its time in getting to North America. As legend has it, American restaurateurs did not serve squid until someone came up with the idea of using the mollusk’s Italian name – calamari, which refers to any dish that contains squid. (The singular is calamaro.)

Up until then, Americans couldn’t seem to process the idea of eating squid, let alone octopus. Most Americans probably get their information about squid from Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Even today, most Americans think of squid only as a deep fried appetizer.

The International Squid Cookbook serves as a primer on all things squid: varieties of edible squid; how to buy squid; how to clean squid; how to stuff and cook squid; and even a section on how to deal with tentacles.

Dozens of recipes are broken down by nation of origin as squid is a food that is prepared throughout the world. From Japan, there is squid ball soup. From Indonesia, squid curried in coconut milk. From France, squid and leeks in red wine. There are many recipes from the countries of the Mediterranean.

Obviously, a cookbook devoted to calamari is not something one finds in very many households at this time. They’re hard enough to find in bookstores. That might change because squid might become a more popular food source considering that it grows quickly and many species of fish have been over-harvested.

This is the kind of cookbook that tempts cooks to take a chance, and by doing so, one is rewarded with new and unusual additions to one’s cooking repertoire.