CHNY’s “Celebration of Our Members,” opening reception (Joanna Press’s Devilish Deviled Eggs were an especial hit), and annual business meeting were held on September 19th at the Anthroposophical Society of America. After brief business reports and elections for the board of directors, we heard from four members about recent work: Samantha Presnal, Charity Robey, Cathy Kaufman, and Andy Smith.
Samantha Presnal is enrolled in the Fullbright/PhD program at NYU where she is studying French Literature. Her dissertation research is entitled “Made to Order: Culinary Instruction and the Formation of the French Domestic Cook, 1882−1914.” Presnal discussed the new kinds of culinary instruction the evolved for children and women during the first few decades of the Third Republic, from 1882 to 1914. Her talk highlighted the overlaying layers of the French welfare state, as well class, gender, and citizenship, and pointed out ways the production, preparation, presentation, and consumption of France’s food have come to define the French identity.
Charity Robey, a former scientific editor at Wiley, has written for numerous outlets, including Edible East End and NYTimes, spoke about Peconic Bay scallops, based on a paper she presented in July at the 2017 Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery. The theme at Oxford this year was “Food and Landscape,” with many presentations on varieties of terroir, and Robey focused on the unique flavors of the sweet, briney-tasting mollusks that once proliferated up and down much of the Atlantic coast, noting that today they are primarily found in the Peconic Bay, between the North and South Forks of Long Island. Illustrating her presentation with gorgeous slides of the scallops and the fishermen and women involved in the local industry, Robey treated us to a crash coarse in the mollusk’s natural history. The bays are smaller than sea scallops—only 2 to 3 inches—with fluted shells but no edible coral. In noting issues relating to sustainability and environmental concerns, Robey explained that, in 1985, much of the population was wiped out due to “brown tide,” an algae bloom. Although there has been significant recovery, the scallops are still threatened by periodic returns of the brown tide. Nonetheless, their relatively short lifespan (they die after spawning) and economic impact on the local communities argues in favor of harvesting and consuming these luscious treats in season, after their reproductive period has passed.
Cathy Kaufman spoke about her work as a member of “The Sifter Advisory Board,” formed by the estimable Barbara Ketcham Wheaton to act as a steward of Wheaton’s life’s work, a database of cookbooks and culinary writings. Many CHNY members attended Wheaton’s presentation in 2016 of “The Cook’s Oracle,” the then-name of her project, dating back to the 1960s(!), of compiling information from cookbooks, agricultural manuals, etiquette books, and other primary sources relating to all things culinary.
Wheaton’s goal is to make the fruits of this lifelong work available to researchers on an open-source basis, but she has faced technical challenges because her extensive listings of information has exceeded the range of generally available software. Wheaton, who is the Honorary Curator of the Culinary Collection at the Radcliffe Institute’s Schlesingr Library, negotiated a deal with the library: in exchange for giving the Library the right to use the fruits of Wheaton’s labors, the Library has assigned a technical whiz to build a more powerful database using software that will not only accommodate the hundreds of thousands of discrete entries that Wheaton has created over her long career, but will allow for expansion. The idea is to create something in the nature of a Wiki: volunteers will be able to enter new data, with the quixotically elusive goal of trying to map out the universe of culinary information for the benefit of researchers. The database, now renamed “The Sifter,” will be administered by the Schelsinger in consultation with The Sifter Advisory Board, of which Kaufman is a member. The Sifter is still under construction, but should be ready for its first round of testing in November of this year.
Andy Smith, who is currently teaching a class at The New School about “Zero Food Waste,” focused on the shocking facts of the amount of waste inherent in Americans’ food consumption. The statistics were sobering: currently, Americans discard forty percent of their food, either because (a) it is not sold or used in a timely fashion, or (b) it never makes it to market because it is not picture perfect. Compounding the problem is the fact hat much of the waste is put into landfills where the proper systems needed to compost or digest food waste are not in place; these landfills thus emit methane gas and adversely affect the environment. Smith discussed ways of preventing waste and also diverting food to food banks or as animal feed. He is hosting a Times Talk panel in October to promote Wasted! The Story of Food Waste, directed by Anthony Bourdain.