Babette Audant’s Chunos Assignment for Culinary Improvisation

What I did in class: 

I committed three days each semester to incorporating food history with food preparation, or, 25% of the course.

In the Fall,

  1. Students tested recipes for cacao beverages developed by students in Fritz’s class. The recipes were informed by documents written by Spanish colonials/explorers describing their encounters with/observations of Mexicans preparing cacao beverages. KCC students, who had read the same documents, developed parameters for cacao beverages (ingredients that must be included; ingredients that could or should not be included; degree of sweetness; additional flavorings; technique). They evaluated the recipes written by students at John Jay, developed their own recipes in groups, and tested both sets of recipes.
  2. On the day Michael Krondl came to lecture about working with recipes from historical sources, students had received recipes from a 19th century Mexican Spanish cookbook. Spanish speaking students had received a recipe in Spanish, and were asked to translate it; non-Spanish speakers were given two recipes for “moles” and asked to translate it into a recipe format that would pass today. Testing these recipes was an experience because of the difficulty in working with imprecise measures, and techniques that have no correlate today. I had started the day with a short lecture on the history of quinine, as the drink that saved the (colonial) world, riffing on Fritz’s much more in-depth lecture.
  3. After the Pilcher and Laudan article, students discussed the emergence and myth of mestizo cuisine, as well as the race/class issues it put into motion. Then, having discussed the influences of the Columbian Exchange, the melding of culinary traditions, I assigned students a description of a dish from the article, and based on this description, had them prepare a meal. This approach to cooking drew on their knowledge of technique, flavor balance, and timing, and the food – drawn simply from narrative sources – was delicious.

In the spring, I changed the sequence a bit, in order to better align with some themes from Eating Animals, the 2013-2014 campus reading:

  1. Repeated the Pilcher and Laudan inspired day, combined it with chocolate readings/resources and also referred to an article by Rick Bayless on mole. Students developed cacao beverage recipes, and developed mole recipes based on ingredient hints/recipes in the Pilcher and Laudan article, and guidance from the Bayless article. Two groups tested and adapted recipes submitted by students in Megan’s class at QCC, which were informed by readings about Mexican colonial cuisine and the Columbian Exchange.
  2. New York, New York – an introduction to the history of the oyster as a defining New York food, including an examination of how oysters were used in some of NYC’s finest restaurants, the culture of oyster bars, and oysters as a street food. We branched out to discuss the oyster trade in the Chesapeake, sustainability and the revival of oystering on Long Island. Students opened and tasted oysters on the half shell; cooked with oysters and other local, sustainable seafood and fish.
  3. Soul Food: Past, Present and Future – students read High on the Hog excerpts, as well as watched Soul Food Junkies, in addition to accessing additional resources. In class, we discussed the emergence of soul food and its African, then Caribbean roots. We discussed the essence of soul food as a food of community, resilience, and improvisation. We discussed the methods used for soul food, as well as what need not be part of soul food (referring to the movie – and the irony of soul food, that once saved a people, was killing them, as more processed, high fat and high salt foods were incorporated). The soul of soul food spoke to my students of diverse backgrounds, and the history engaged them. We also discussed specific techniques such as gumbo, and jambalaya, and boils. They were tasked with making a meal, to be served family style, informed by their understanding of soul food. It was a magnificent repast, which included some first class gumbos prepared by students who had never eaten, let alone prepared, gumbos before.

Reading and Recipe Writing Assignment for Megan Elias’s Growth of American Civilization, 1600-1877

1. Read [assigned food history text, e.g.“Chiles, Chocolate, and Race in New Spain:
Glancing Backward to Spain or Looking Forward to Mexico?”]

2. Write: Add one recipe to the class cookbook wiki and explain how this recipe represents the author’s main point.

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