Is there a food in North America more intrinsically linked with the landscape of the past and nostalgically intertwined with a holiday feast than the cranberry? From Cranberry Lakes in Nova Scotia, Cranberry River of West Virginia, Cranberry Pond in Sunderland, Massachusetts, the Cranberry Isles of Maine, Cranberry Mountain in New York, Cranberry Meadow in New Jersey, and many a Cranberry Bog dotting coastal areas, the plant deserves the appellation of First or Founding Fruit. It is one of the indigenous foods in North America widely cultivated today. The narratives of the places where the berries once grew wild and of the loss of these habitats can be recovered from historical sources.
An entry into this magical season can be gained through the Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (History of the Northern Peoples) by Olaus Magnus, first published in Rome in 1555. It is a work greatly valued by Smithsonian curators and researchers and other scholars, since the author – a true Renaissance man – wrote down his geographical, anthropological and naturalistic observations of a land unknown to much of Europe of the time. In the present day, the book’s vivid descriptions and woodcut illustrations offer a wealth for modern study: early shipbuilding, fishing and whaling practices, meteorology, agriculture and mining techniques, warfare, daily occupations and religious practices of the Scandinavian peoples. It also provides wonderful images for what we have come to perceive as traditional for the winter holidays.
Interested in culinary history and books? Join us on Wednesday, November 16th for our Annual Adopt-a-Book Evening, featuring a food and drink theme!
Slavery and freedom, the Revolutionary War, New England’s maritime culture and life, Colonial revivalism, trade, women’s role in the economy, the development of regional cuisines, the not-fully-explored history of African Americans in the North. More than just molasses, spices and rum, there is a heady mix of history in the Joe Frogger. Can all these ingredients of America’s past be found in a cookie?
Rhubarb, that harbinger of spring for many, is honored in the United States on January 23rd with National Rhubarb Day. Having let National Rhubarb Vodka Day (first Saturday in December) pass without note, I wanted to bake a pie in preparation. Thanks to the generosity of a neighbor and his bountiful garden last spring and summer, I had plenty set by. Rhubarb does freeze well. Inspired by the scholars transcribing, as well as cooking with and blogging about, culinary manuscripts dating from 1600 to 1800 in the University of Pennsylvania collections (recently profiled in The Washington Post), I turned to the Smithsonian Libraries for my commemorative effort.
July is National Ice Cream Month and the Libraries wants you to break out your ice cream maker and try out some recipes … from 1907.
For National Cocoa Day we thought we might share some chocolate recipes from our staff—a recipe for chili from Polly Lasker, and some hot chocolate from Ninette Dean—both sure to warm you up. Just add chocolate!
Yesterday, November 26, was National Cake Day. Now who thought that was a good idea, so close to Thanksgiving? Why not National Pie Day?