Jennifer Cognard-Black could have filled the hour by lecturing on the subject of her book, or reading excerpts from it, both of which would be the sort of things one would expect from an author asked to give a book talk. Instead, Dr. Cognard-Black presented a visual and physical manifestation of her thesis, and asked the audience to prove it to their own satisfaction in a sort of culinary show-and-tell.
She brought a box full of her Grandma Peg’s recipe cards – all 1,400 of them – collected over a lifetime of cooking in the mid-20th century, and asked us to read them as if they were works of literature. Treating “recipes as manuscripts” allows one to bring a set of critical tools to an overlooked genre. We saw the recipes with new eyes, as stories with the elements of title, exposition (list of ingredients), resolution (set of instructions, beginning with a verb, inviting the reader into the “story”), and – always! a happy ending (eat)!
Almost every one of Grandma Peg’s recipes includes an attribution to her source – usually one of the women in her circle of friends and relations. One can derive from this a picture of a collaborative community of sharing; a mutual respect inherent in the act of swapping “trade secrets” with trusted peers.
What a great exercise in deductive anthropology! Not what I expected from an excursion to Deepest Southern Maryland. Down Route 4, just before you fall into the Bay at Solomons, Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center covers 30 acres of Calvert County with art and nature. I had known about its existence but never had a good reason to visit until last week, when the exhibit and book talk coincided with several of my keenest interests.
The exhibit is housed in a large shed-like building with no internal supports other than a staircase to an open loft, conducive to flexibility of display space. The talk occupied a corner of the exhibit area.
The exhibit contained a congeries of artworks of varying media and styles, some more inventive and surprising than others, but most on the conservative, representational end of the art spectrum. Only a few were willing to be provocatively ugly; most would be welcome in any living room. Here are some of my favorites.
And on the way down, Route 4 offered up a surreal vision – a giant inflatable turkey, the size of a pickup truck. It was easy to make the comparison, since there were several of the latter parked directly beneath the huge fowl.