Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Founding Foodies

Jefferson's Gardens at Monticello Virginia

History is an interesting thing, and as the historians usually say, written by the conquerors. In the last decade or so, there has been an upsurge in Food History. The Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity actually makes it a criteria for a food to get protected status, that there be a historical aspect to foods that are nominated either for the Presidia or the Ark of Taste.

I love history. I am told that my Dedo Evan, my dad's dad, was quite the history buff. My father often tells me that I get my love of history from that side of the family. Maybe it is also my career as a health care professional, a good history always leads you to a proper diagnosis and treatment.

In honor of the 237th Birthday of America, I thought I would explore different historical aspects of American cuisine and agriculture. When I worked for Copia, the concept of the American Table was fascinating, because when you consider the native cuisine of pemmican, grasshoppers, acorn mash and wild turkey, we certainly are very far removed from our continent's indigenous foods.

Food history actually encompasses all aspects of human history. While scholars focus on treaties, economic trends and religious revolution, I have always been more interested in what people ate. When I travel, I spend most of my time in grocery stores, specialty food shops and out door markets. I love talking to home cooks, farmers and food producers, they are so much more interesting. Food, I have come to the conclusion, is the only group art form that one consumes through the mouth. It is bonding, soothing, fun and sensual, it shapes all of history.

Tuesday's program features Dave DeWitt, author and lecturer of all things Chili Pepper. http://www.dave-dewitt.com/

I chose DeWitt because he wrote a delightful book called the Founding Foodies, which if there was ever a perfect Fourth of July food book, that was it! I have been reading a lot of American History in the last several years, mainly because I find the current situation in our nation unbearable. I wanted to see what the heck they were thinking when these United States were founded. I fall deeper and deeper in love with our ideals as I study, and to my surprise, so many of the issues we are struggling with, have been what we might call, running themes.

Apparently when the Colonists came to our shores, they were their centuries "city folk." It never occurred to them they would have to grow their own food. They brought much of it with them, and depended on the ships from England to furnish their staples. Talk about food miles and a locavores nightmare! Obviously this was not a good strategy, thank goodness the natives stepped in with food and instructions. The continued dependence on England for items such as tea created a prime opportunity for taxation, and well, you know the rest of the story. The creativity and willingness to try new things spread from shaping a new nation to being gastronomic adventurers.

Founding Foodies is a delightful overview of how characters such as Washington, Jefferson, Franklin  and Smith helped to shape American cuisine. Founding Foodies covers their farming techniques and experiments as well as their importation of things like French Cuisine. No freedom fries for me thank you, Jefferson proudly trained his house servants in the finer arts of the French kitchen, and remember the French really did help us win the war. It was also fun to learn that BBQ was the favorite of our Founding Fathers. The interview is really fun, and covers DeWitts contribution to our historical lexicon as Americans. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/real-food-empire/2013/07/09/founding-foodies

Colonial Williamsburg Foodways Demonstration Kitchen

So when you are enjoying your summer meals, and your out door grilling festivities, know that you can thank our first and third Presidents for their contributions, from tomatoes to peaches, smoked pork to beer and moonshine, the palates of George and Tom would be quite in fashion today! I imagine Michelle Obama and Thomas Jefferson would have much to talk about concerning the new White House garden!

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