Posts tagged ‘food history’
The heyday of arctic exploration during the late 19th and early 20th centuries represents a significant period in our national history and helped to shape our identity as Americans. While a series of expeditions marked a time of scientific advancement, a deep sense of international competition also fueled the age. Many attempts to push further north resulted in shipwreck and disaster. However, many more of these missions would have failed if it were not for a handful of plants that played an important role in saving them.
The Polaris Expedition of 1871 faced ruin after adverse weather conditions and the sudden death of the captain, Charles Francis Hall, left nineteen crew members stranded on a drifting ice floe. Fortunately for the sailors, their late captain’s foresight gave them a fighting chance. For six months they floated through the Arctic, surviving on a ration of biscuits, chocolate, and pemmican—a mixture of dried meat, animal fat, and berries. Pemmican was a traditional American Indian food renowned for its nutritional content and ability to last without refrigeration. The dish was high in protein, and its berries (usually Saskatoon Serviceberry Amelanchier alnifolia or chokecherries Prunus virginiana) provided necessary vitamins and flavor. Captain Hall, a seasoned explorer, prudently equipped each of his expeditions with a large stock of pemmican. Even though Hall did not survive the journey (and was possibly murdered by his own crew), his pemmican sustained the men of Polaris until they were rescued.
Pemmican is still used today! Its high-energy value has made it a go-to food for backpackers, hikers, and survivalists. Do you have a pemmican recipe to share?
The 1881 Lady Franklin Bay Expedition was led by Adolphus Greely—a man with no arctic experience. After multiple failed resupply missions, Greely and his crew waited three years for rescue as their food stores dwindled. The crew survived on foraged material, including moss (Polytrichum sp.) and lichens—some of the only things able to grow in the severe environment in which they were stranded. Though starvation seemed certain, this plant enabled Greely and five of his crew to return home. Greely and his men were not the only explorers to dine on moss. The moss specimen in the National Museum of American History collection was obtained from Bennett Island, Russia by the crew of the doomed Jeanette Expedition during their attempt to reach the North Pole from the Bering Sea.
In 1908, seasoned explorer Robert E. Peary began his final expedition to the Arctic. Peary’s lifelong obsession paid off, and he became the first man to reach the North Pole. Though recent historians believe he fell a few miles short of the actual pole, Peary’s feat marked a great success for America during the height of arctic exploration. Peary’s team required highly nutritional food that could also remain fresh for months on end. Among the supplies, Peary brought 608 pounds of dried plums, better known as prunes (Prunus domestica). Prunes provided an excellent source of fiber for the crew, ran little risk of spoiling, and added a sweet relief to a monotonous diet of meats and fats. Peary and his men returned from the expedition the following year, successful in their goal.
– Brett McNish, Supervisory Horticulturist and Sara Kuhn, Smithsonian Gardens Intern
Above all else, Memorial Day is a holiday dedicated to honoring those who have lost their lives serving the United States. Unofficially, the long weekend also marks the start of grilling season. As we come together as family, friends, and neighbors to celebrate the arrival of summer and strengthen community bonds, the grill is the hearth around which we gather in backyards across the country. Barbecue and grilling have a long history in America, an ebb and flow of foodways coming together and drifting apart. Each region in America has their outdoor cooking traditions, from the vinegary pulled pork of North Carolina to bean-hole beans in Maine, to tri-tip grilled on the spit in southern California. Immigrants from as far away as Korea and Brazil have introduced new flavors and cooking methods to the American picnic table, expanding our ever-changing menu.
Our newest traveling exhibit is a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibit Services and the Smithsonian Gardens’ Archives of American Gardens. Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Backyard explores the rise of outdoor living in the decades after World War II, as the suburban backyard became the setting for pool parties, barbecues, and family fun. The exhibit is currently on view at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum and travels next to the Tampa History Center in June 2015.
Just about every town in America has rows upon rows of suburban tract houses, built as housing for returning veterans after World War II. The GI Bill of Rights placed homeownerships within reach of millions of people; by 1959, thirty-one million people owned their own home. With these homes came backyards, small lots that could be transformed into outdoor living rooms with a little imagination, some elbow grease, and a subscription to Popular Mechanics.
As a garden feature though, the grill really hit its stride in the 1930s and 1940s, gaining popularity on the West Coast before making its way east across the country. Fire pits and permanent brick barbecues complimented the low-slung, L-shaped ranch houses gaining popularity in California. The open architecture of the ranch house seamlessly blended the indoors with the outdoors, expanding the living space of the home. Outdoor kitchens, patios, and swimming pools began to take centerstage in the western backyard.
In the years after World War II, as wartime restrictions on materials were lifted and consumers flexed their newfound buying power, novel products for outdoor living flooded the market. The Weber kettle grill was invented in 1951 by combining two metal marine buoys, and was just one of many popular options sold at department and hardware stores nationwide. Pop culture portrayed grilling as a gender-specific activity, with women preparing side dishes indoors and men toiling away outside at a smoking grill. Cliché imagery of the cave man was often invoked when describing the art of grilling, such as in this quote from a 1956 issue of Kiplinger Magazine: “Give a man a patch of yard to call his own, and soon you will see him, garbed in white hat, funny apron and asbestos gloves, solemnly practicing that most ancient of masculine arts—the cooking of raw flesh at an open fire.”
Grilling was well established in the cultural zeitgeist of the time. Big brands hopped on the barbecue bandwagon as well, even those not peddling grills and ketchup. Want to be reminded of outdoor grilling season in the middle of winter? Why not choose this barbecue-themed wallpaper for your next remodeling project. From aprons to children’s toys, the barbecue motif was as hot as a burger just off the grill. In the 1957 I Love Lucy episode “Building a Bar-B-Q” Ethel and Lucy comically take on the typical suburban do-it-yourself task with humorous results (to which I am sure many homeowners could relate).
Cookbooks provided endless ideas for Jell-O salads and baked beans to accompany your grilled shish kebobs. This weekend, if you’re firing up the grill for a gathering, use it as an excuse to peak into your personal archives. Do you have a favorite family recipe from your mother, grandfather, or great-aunt? Our family recipes are our family stories, whether the ingredients came from the garden or a tin can. I leave you with two summer recipes from my grandmothers, both of whom grew up during the Depression, married veterans of World War II, and raised their families in the Maryland suburbs in the 1950s. Remember, it wouldn’t be a mid-century recipe without either pineapple or mayonnaise—or both!
-Kate Fox, curator, Patios, Pools & the Invention of the American Backyard
Do you have a favorite family recipe for barbecue, or a side dish with a story? Memories of your backyard or garden from the 1950s and 1960s? Share it with Community of Gardens, our digital archive! We are collecting stories from the public about gardens and backyards in America and building a digital archive of our shared landscape history.
With Halloween just around the corner and Thanksgiving on our minds already, we are celebrating the season of the pumpkin here at Smithsonian Gardens.
Will you carve a pumpkin for Halloween? Jack-o’-lanterns as we know them today are rooted in European traditions. In Ireland and Scotland, people used turnips and potatoes to make scary faces that would frighten evil spirits. When immigrants from these countries came to America they began using pumpkins, a native fruit.
The modern-day pumpkin pie evolved from early recipes that arrived in the America from England and France. Pumpkins (called “pompons” in French) were stuffed with sweet fillings or were served in a pie crust along with apples. By the mid-nineteenth century the custard-style pumpkin pie (with a bottom crust and no top crust) was a familiar “Yankee” delicacy. This excerpt from the “The Pumpkin” by John Greenleaf Whittier (1850) pretty much sums up how we feel about this gorgeous gourd:
Then thanks for thy present!— none sweeter or better
E’er smoked from an oven or circled a platter!
Fairer hands never wrought at a pastry more fine,
Brighter eyes never watched o’er its baking than thine!
And the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express,
Swells my heart that thy shadow may never be less,
That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below,
And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow,
And thy life be as sweet, and its last sunset sky
Golden-tinted and fair as thy own pumpkin-pie!
Over the years we have grown a variety of heirloom pumpkins in the Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History. This year keep an eye out for the ‘Long Island Cheese,’ pumpkin. Canned pumpkin has been a popular and convenient alternative to fresh pumpkin since the 1920s. For those who have the time to make a pie from scratch this season, Rebecca Sullivan, Fellow in Food History at the National Museum of American History, has a delicious recipe to share with you:
Recipe for Pumpkin Pie
2 cups pumpkin puree (steam 1 ¼ lbs. peeled pumpkin until soft, then puree)
1 ½ cups thickened cream
1 cup brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
Zest of 1 orange
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons plain flour
1 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
¼ lb. unsalted butter (1 stick), chilled, cubed
-Pecan, gingersnap layer and nut topping:
¼ cup pecans, toasted and ground
¼ cup crushed gingersnap cookies
½ cup almonds or in-season nuts
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 cup light cream
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
- Starting with the pastry, place the flour and confectioner’s sugar in a food processor and pulse for a few seconds. Add butter and process until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg and process until the mixture forms a ball. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Once chilled, roll pastry out on a lightly floured workbench and use to line a lightly greased 9-inch pie pan. Place back in the fridge for 30 minutes to chill further. Next make the pecan gingersnap layer by toasting the pecans in the oven for 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool and then place the pecans, along with the gingersnap cookies, in a food processor and process until finely ground. Press this mixture evenly onto the bottom and up the sides of the unbaked pie crust. Cover and return the pastry to the refrigerator while you make the pumpkin filling.
- Line the pan with baking paper, place the almonds and a drizzle of maple syrup on top of the baking paper and blind-bake for 10 minutes. Take out of the oven and set the nuts aside for later. Increase oven temperature to 420°F. Place pumpkin puree, eggs, cream, sugar and spices in a processor and whiz until smooth. Pour into the tart shell, then bake for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300°F and bake for a further 30 minutes. Take out of the oven and sprinkle the nuts on top of the pie, then return to the oven for a remaining 10 minutes. The pie should be just firm when cooked.
- Cool, and then make the maple cream by pouring the cream into a small bowl and mixing with a hand mixer. As the cream starts to thicken, slowly drizzle in the maple syrup and mix until the consistency you desire. Serve the pie in slices with the whipped maple cream.
This evening marks the end of the delicious—and educational—2014 FOOD in the Garden programming in the Victory Garden. This fall we explored a different key maritime region with connections to the War of 1812 each week: the Long Island Sound, the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, and this week, New Orleans. What contributed to the global and unique cuisine of the Big Easy? How did immigrants shape the culinary heritage of the original foodie city? Our final week we’ll be joined by Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company, Capital City Co., and Phillip Greene in the marketplace and our very own James Gagliardi will be signing copies of Encyclopedia of Garden Plants for Every Location, the first Smithsonian Gardens book on gardening.
New Orleans conjures up images of ornate cast-iron railings, boisterous brass bands, and of course, red beans and rice. The cuisine of New Orleans is a true melting pot of flavors and cultures, a product of its unique location on a major waterway and its tumultuous and storied past. Jambalaya, beignets, and chicory coffee are the confluence of hundreds of years of cross-cultural connections and shared meals steeped in French, Spanish, Caribbean, American Indian, and African traditions.
The archetypal New Orleans meal (in this author’s non-scientific, Yankee opinion) is red beans and rice. Like much of the city’s cuisine, there is debate over the origins of this nutritious & delicious one-pot dish. Precursors of the dish can be found in Spanish, Haitian, Caribbean, and African cuisine. No matter the origins, each chef has their own idea of the “perfect” recipe for Monday dinner, the traditional day to dish up this classic. Before washing machines, Monday was customarily the day to spend hours scrubbing the family clothes. Because this was an all-day process a pot of beans with a ham bone and some vegetables was set to simmer for an easy meal after a busy and sudsy day. Dishes that originated in the working class and slave communities migrated to the elegant tables of the French Quarter and into the city’s lexicon of flavor via hardworking and innovative cooks utilizing a truly global arsenal of ingredients. From the tables of stately homes to mom-and-pop joints, you’ll find this king of dishes on the menu in Louisiana homes and restaurants today.
Rice, like the apples featured on the blog last week, is a species introduced from afar but an American dietary staple through and through. The history of rice in the United States cannot be untangled from our dark history of slavery. More and more scholars argue for a West African introduction of rice cultivation techniques to the Americas, with rice being transported over the treacherous Middle Passage and grown by enslaved Africans in their small garden plots. This year we’re growing ‘Carolina Gold’ rice in the Victory Garden. It was a successful plantation crop in the Carolina Lowcountry, its sweet and clean taste complementing delicate fish stews. However, ‘Carolina Gold’ was too finicky a crop to keep up with the mechanical, modern world and was almost lost to extinction. The Carolina Gold Rice Foundation and a small group of rice farmers are leading the charge to put this historic rice back on the table.
New Orleans native Louis Armstrong considered red beans and rice to be his favorite dish among many favorite dishes. He loved red beans and rice so much he often signed off on letters with “Red Beans and Ricely Yours, Louis Armstrong.” Not able to join us at FOOD in the Garden this evening? Whip up a pot of this New Orleans favorite with this recipe for red beans and rice from Armstrong and his wife Lucille, courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum and NPR.
-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator
This week we are highlighting a tree that is not growing in our Victory Garden—yet. Every Thursday in September we are exploring one of four key maritime regions with connections to the War of 1812 at FOOD in the garden at the National Museum of American History: the Long Island Sound, the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, and New Orleans. This week’s theme transports us to the Great Lakes region for a discussion of the ever-changing agricultural heritage of the “Eden of the West.” Join us in the Victory Garden for delicious food, cider-making demonstrations from Distillery Lane Ciderworks, rhubarb and apples pies from Whisked! Bakery, and more. Tickets available here.
What is more American than apple pie? At one point in American history the answer might have been apple cider. Cultivated apples (Malus domestica) originated from the wild species Malus sieversii in Asia and were brought to North America by European colonists in the seventeenth century. Much of the climate of North America was found to be amenable to growing apples. Through the process of grafting, regional varieties proliferated to create a distinctly American pomology. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew apples on their farm estates (here at Smithsonian Gardens we like to think of them as the founding gardeners) and produced cider. Today cider usually refers to the sweet, non-alcoholic variety. The cider (or “cyder”) of the 18th and 19th centuries was a fermented, alcoholic beverage and much different than the commercially-available hard cider today. Dry, cloudy, and lightly effervescent, cider was brewed in relatively small batches and tasted distinctly of the maker’s favorite blend of local apples. Cider apples are more bitter than apples used for baking and eating fresh, and there were hundreds of choices. Jefferson preferred ‘Golden Wilding’ and ‘Red Hughes’ for his cider. According to author Frank Browning in his book Apples, casks of cider were even used as an informal currency, an acceptable payment for goods and services.
Every apple-growing region in the United States was once known for their locally-developed cultivars. Lumpy or squat or pink on the inside, apples can express a certain terroir particular to the people and places who gave them root. Apples with names like ‘Chenango Strawberry’ and ‘Black Oxford’ are stories begging to be told. In the twentieth century Prohibition left cider production at a standstill and a more robust national transportation system put apples on the table no matter the season. Now, at most grocery stores only about a dozen varieties are available, cultivated over the years for their hardiness and sweeter flavor. The United States is now the second-leading producer of apples in the world, after China. ‘Red Delicious’ reigns as local apples have faded away, some lost but others making a comeback as interest in historic American food and foodways grows.
Once “new” to the Great Lakes region, apples are now deeply ingrained in the cultural and culinary heritage of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. At FOOD in the Garden this week our panel will discuss apples and other exotic (and sometimes invasive) species introduced to the Great Lakes region as settlers moved westward in search of fertile farmland. Tim Rose of Distillery Lane Ciderworks will be joined by Jodi Branton of the National Museum of American Indian and Rick Finch, interim director of the Glenn Miller Birth Place Museum for the discussion.
We hope to see you tomorrow evening in the Victory Garden as we raise a glass of cider to food history!
-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator
This month we are collaborating with the National Museum of American History to present the second annual FOOD in the Garden evening series. Every Thursday in September we will explore one of four key maritime regions with connections to the War of 1812: the Long Island Sound, the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, and New Orleans. Join us tomorrow for a relaxed evening in the Victory Garden & enjoy fresh food and cocktails as we discuss the foodways and waterways of the Long Island Sound. Every week we’ll highlight a different plant from the Victory Garden with ties to the past and present agricultural heritage of the featured region.
The ‘Long Island Cheese’ pumpkin is a little-known heirloom with a mild, sweet flavor, making it a longstanding regional favorite for pies. This cream-colored pumpkin can be found peeking through its light-green leaves in our Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History. It was a popular variety in the Long Island Sound area in the 1800s, mentioned frequently in cookbooks and farmers’ almanacs, but is less common and harder to find in today’s modern markets. A member of the Cucurbita moschata species, this vine originated in Central or South America and made its way via trade and commerce to European and North American gardens as early as the 1500s. By the time of the Revolutionary War it was commonly found in gardens and markets up and down the Atlantic seaboard. In 1807, Bernard McMahon of Philadelphia introduced cheese pumpkin seeds to the commercial market. Cheese pumpkins made their way into seed catalogs and were popularly cultivated in the Long Island region.
The ‘Long Island Cheese’ pumpkin does not, in fact, taste like cheese at all—though we think it would make an excellent filling for ravioli. The flattened shape and the ribbed, light skin of the pumpkin resemble a wheel of cheese, a common sight in early American markets. Connecticut and the New England states were famous for their dairy production, exporting their delicious cheeses to other states and territories.
The medium-sized cheese pumpkins have deep orange, stringless flesh and a sweet taste, a perfect choice for pumpkin pie. According to one D.D. Tooker in an 1855 issue of the Michigan Farmer, cheese pumpkins were the pick of the pumpkins for any self-respecting pie baker:
The ‘Sweet pumpkin,’ alias ‘Cheese pumpkin’ or ‘pie squash,’—is the only true article, in my opinion, for making that most delicious of ‘yankee notions’—pumpkin pie—and I am not alone in my opinions, for I have yet to see the individual who would not agree with me in this matter . . . The shape and color of the fruit resembles that of a small sized dairy cheese, its flesh is very firm, fine grained and brittle, is of a rich orange color, and very sweet. They will keep all winter in a cool dry cellar if picked and stored before ‘Jack Frost’ touches them.
Seeds are still available from a variety of heirloom seed companies. Or be on the lookout for one in your local farmer’s market or pumpkin patch for the upcoming Thanksgiving baking season. As Tooker observed, this pumpkin stores very well in a cool, dry place.
Tomorrow evening, September 4th, FOOD in the Garden attendees will have the opportunity to sample spirits from Westford Hill Distillers, learn about the process of salt-making from Amagansett Sea Salt, and chat with the Smithsonian Gardens horticulturists who keep the Victory Garden growing. The evening’s panelists include Cindy Lobel, author of Urban Appetites: Food and Culture in Nineteenth-Century New York, Stephanie Villani, co-owner of Blue Moon Fish, and Diana Whitsit of Terry Farms.
More information about the program and how to purchase tickets for “Long Island Sound: Human Impact” can be found here.
Up next week: a pepper to spice up your seafood stew just in time for “Cultural Connections: The Chesapeake” on September 11th.
-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator