Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Preserving Food Traditions

I've heard it said that unlike most cultures, America really doesn't have a cuisine of its own. Instead we have a hodge-podge of ethnic cuisines, but nothing really that defines the country as a whole.

However, we do have food traditions worth preserving and traditions in danger of being lost. Fortunately there have been several projects lately aimed at preserving some of these old traditions.

"Feeding America" was a project of Michigan State University to digitize seventy-six early-American cookbooks. While these books reveal their heavy English and sometimes French influences, they also include foodstuffs indigenous to the Americas (cranberries, corn, turkey, squash) and there's even one book (Zuni Breadstuff) specifically about Native American cookery. The cookbooks span from the late 1700's up to the early 1920's (those books from 1924 and later are still under copyright protection, but these older ones are now in the public domain).

Utah State University has a much smaller collection of digitized cookbooks (only seven) from the same period, but they're still worth checking out.

And this website, Dover Centre Books, has a large collection of public domain cookbooks from around the world. (Ever wonder what Andalusian cooking was like in the 13th century--well now you can find out!)

I don't know about you, but I find this kind of historical stuff really neat. The 21st century American diet really looks like crap when you compare it to the richness of these earlier cuisines. There's a lot we can learn from those who went before us.

Still, I don't think anyone's going to be serving this for dessert anytime soon:

To make Puddings of a Heifers Udder.
Take an heifers udder, and boil it; being cold, mince it small, and put to it a pound of almond paste, some grated manchet, three or four eggs, a quart of cream, one pound of beef-suet minced small, sweet herbs chopped small also, currans, cinamon, salt, one pound of sugar, nutmeg, saffron, yolks of hard eggs in quarters, preserved pears in form of square dice; bits of marrow; mingle all together, and put it in a clean napkin dipped in warm liquor, bind it up round like a ball, and boil it.
Being boil’d dish it in a clean scoured dish, scrape sugar, and run it over with beaten butter, stick it with slic’t almonds, or slic’t dates, canded lemon peel, orange, or citrons, juyce of orange over all.
Thus also lamb-stones, sweet-breads, turkey, capon, or any poultrey.

Have fun browsing, and if you know of other digitized historical cookbooks out there, let me know.

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