There was more to the Smithsonian Food History Weekend than I was privy to. Too bad, but the Gala at which the first Julia Child Award was (fittingly) bestowed upon Jacques Pepin was beyond my price point. There was plenty more that was more accessible (i.e., free!).
On the Friday, a full day of Food History Roundtables covered the landscape of food production: culture, farming, business, and preparation each had a session. Discussion among thoughtful and diverse panelists, book signings, and schmoozing made it a satisfying day.
There was a special lunch arranged at the Stars and Stripes Cafe which I elected to forgo in favor of the farmers market across the street in the Reagan Building courtyard. In hindsight, I should have resisted its siren call, because it was more of an outdoor food court than a farmers market. Live and learn!
Session 1 discussed today’s food culture. Issues included the Web, farm machine automation, “modernist cuisine” (nee molecular gastronomy), food waste, and the carbon footprint involved in food transportation. Tuna can be caught off Boston, shipped to Tokyo, and sold back to a restaurant in Boston. Is this sustainable?
Farmers dominated Session 2. Farming issues and practices such as drip irrigation, remote control of equipment, and defining small fruit size as a cosmetic defect; the price of land and machinery; and lack of entry points for young farmers were discussed.
Pop quiz! Can you identify the “TeEO” of Honest Tea? Hint: he’s the one with the bottle that isn’t water next to him. Session 3 was all about innovation in food-related businesses. Aspects included breaking into the business, social responsibility, and disruptive trends such as direct delivery thru Web ordering. I remember “direct” milk delivery – everything old is new again! Thus the theme of New, Return, Rebirth emerged, especially strong in this and…
Session 4, when we learned that Allrecipes can follow trends so closely that they know when it snows in the Southwest, because the searches for snow ice cream peak! But Jessica Harris pointed out that the European tradition of relying on written recipes leaves us in danger of losing the human touch in teaching cooking. African cooks rely on oral tradition, and riffing on recipes like jazz musicians. She injected a needed bit of global perspective into the day.
Back to NMAH I went on Saturday, to the Food History Festival. There was way more going on than one person could cover. Cooking demos, book signings, tours, movies, activities for kids and grown-ups, artifacts on display – everything except the actual object of the day: gratifying one’s sense of taste. If you thought you were going to get some of what the chefs were cooking, the films were showing, the end result of the processes the artifacts were used for, the books were about… you were sorely mistaken.
No, wait, you could buy it in the cafeteria! And, in fact, to make up for yesterday’s miscalculation, I headed there for lunch. Instead of a special set menu, there were some dishes incorporated into the cafeteria choices “inspired by” the demo chefs. I indulged in a nice piece of Ancho Coffee Roasted Sirloin with onions from the BBQ station. The steak was big enough to split between two of us.
NMAH has a brand-new demonstration kitchen across the lobby from the big FOOD exhibit. It’s nice – there are built-in video screens so the audience can see everything the chefs cook.
Pati Jinich showed us how she makes salsas and guacamole. You can add things to guacamole if you want, but she likes it very simple, and she makes it in her molcajete.
She gave a shout-out to her parents, in the audience,
and mentioned that she didn’t like the shortening “guac,” because it sounds like something rude in Spanish.
The other demo chef I caught was Naftali Duran, who made two kinds of tacos.
In between, I showed up at the FOOD exhibit for a tour conducted by curator Paula Johnson. I could only stay for the beginning because I had to meet my daughter for lunch, but I was delighted to renew my acquaintance with Julia’s kitchen.
And I noticed a detail I had missed on my other visits: a magnet with a Kliban cat affixed to the wall. These cat illustrations were popular back in the 1970’s, on posters, mugs, and sure enough, magnets. I was delighted to know that Julia shared my affection for this one, especially because it’s a little edgy.
It’s faded, but I know what that cat with the guitar is singing:
Love to eat them mousies,
Mousies what I love to eat.
Bite they little heads off…
Nibble on they tiny feet.
I know because I have a mug with the same motif.
After lunch, I went out to the Victory Garden. On the way, I passed a station where a Smithsonian staffer was engaging with patrons who might have been born after some of those “artifacts” had gone the way of the dinosaurs. I remember those ice trays!
There was a lot going on outside. The garden itself was a little tattered, as the season was winding down.
The hop harvest was in, and the public was invited to help pick the hops off the stalks.
The flower pounding activity was popular. In this craft, flower impressions are made in squares of muslin by application of brute force. It’s fun, and can be quite artistic.
The garden contains a wide variety of plants that have been used for food and other purposes. I found a few Baltimore fish pepper plants hiding under an edible hibiscus. I didn’t know the pepper plant leaves were variegated. What an attractive little plant!
There are already plans, and a date reserved, for next year’s Food Weekend: October 27-29, 2016. It’s on my calendar!