Around the Table: Media Spotlight

This month on Around the Table, I am chatting with Laura Carlson, producer and host of the podcast The Feast. In other posts this month, we’ll read about many different experiences and methods for teaching with recipes. Here, Laura will tell us about her idea for incorporating food and recipes into her teaching, and how that turned into a popular podcast and unexpected career path.

When you started The Feast, you were also on the faculty in the Department of History at Queen’s University at Kingston. What sparked your interest in podcasting about food while working in Academia? Has teaching influenced your approach to podcasting about food history?

The idea for The Feast was born out of my experience in teaching history and classics at Queen’s University. At the time, I was experimenting with different types of sources in my syllabi as well as new formats for student research projects and presentations. I had also been incorporating food into my medieval history courses; students loved it, but there wasn’t an opportunity to do more within the course I was teaching.

I had been a fan of podcasts for a long time and I was interested in using podcasts as another source type for students to examine how medieval history and food was being used and discussed in the non-academic sphere. Beyond that, I also thought podcasts had incredible potential as a medium to communicate research and spark dialogue, but also to find interesting and immersive ways to talk about history and food. Because podcasts are free, the medium offered a fantastic way of reaching beyond the university community.

Although I listened to several food and history podcasts, none had struck the right tone that balanced research (engaging with sources, current research, experiments in the kitchen, etc.) with what I saw as a natural format for storytelling. That was really my goal in starting The Feast: a podcast focused on food history that I could feel comfortable assigning my students as part of a syllabus, but one general enough that anyone could listen to an episode and enjoy and (hopefully) learn something about a historical topic through the medium of food.

You strike a great balance between academic and popular in your show; it is a comfortable space for listeners with all degrees of training and interest in the topics. You also have something to offer to listeners interested in a wide array of chronological and geographical areas. How do you decide on your topics, and where do you like to go for sources and guest experts?

Thank you! How we figure out what will make a good Feast episode really depends; over the years, we’ve taken so many different approaches to coming up with show ideas and how to research. Many of the early shows came out of areas or topics I was already interested in or already knew there was source material for. For example, one of our earliest shows was about medieval pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. As the Feast developed, story and episode ideas really started to come from everywhere and anywhere. I’ve been able to collaborate on several episodes with other food historians and even some former history students of mine from Queen’s; one former student was even an associate producer on an episode focusing on Swedish cuisine in North America, inspired by her own family history.

A dish prepared on The Feast from an ancient Roman recipe: hypotrimma with honey spelt biscuits.

Inspiration for new episodes will often start with a single source and build out from there (for example, our episode on Alexander Dumas’ food dictionary). We’re also always inspired when we hear about other great food history projects or often when we’re travelling. My family is based in Arizona, for example, so it was always important to me to highlight some Arizona food history in the episodes. The same is also true for Canadian food history (as I now have a home in Toronto).

I know this is a big topic, but would you mind sharing a little about how one starts a podcast? What technology basics should you know before getting started, and what kinds of things can you learn along the way?

It’s one of the most often stated phrases in the podcast industry that “Anyone can have a podcast.” And, to a certain extent, that’s true. In terms of equipment and technical know-how, it can be very simple. Back in 2016, I started The Feast on a Macbook Pro laptop using pre-loaded Garageband software with a Blue Yeti microphone huddled in the closet of my condo. We just started trying things out to see what worked as far as mic technique, writing scripts to be read aloud, and understanding what went into having a show. As we got deeper into making the show and podcasting became a larger part of my life (and now my full-time job!), I wanted to learn more about equipment and technique.

One of the previous setups for recording The Feast.

So many online resources and new equipment have made it very easy for anyone to make a podcast. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of resources devoted to helping you record, edit, and publish your podcast online (like Transom.org, AIR, and NPR).

With so many resources available, I’d tell any potential podcaster not to get discouraged by technology or equipment. What’s more important is a strong concept to a show: why are you starting the show? What is its audience? Length and durability are also important to consider. Can you think of what your first 10 episodes can be about? What about your first 100? Is your idea focused but flexible enough so that you and your audience will still be interested in the subject in a few years?

Also, it’s also very important to set up a reasonable time commitment to your podcast. If you want to have an interview show, you might spend an hour interviewing a guest, but five hours editing the interview, two hours putting up a show page, an hour posting about it on social media. It really adds up. Consider what’s a reasonable amount of time you can devote to your show on a regular basis.

Has working on The Feast influenced your other research interests and recent projects?

100%! It has been a fantastic way of learning about subjects and periods, not to mention research folks are doing all over the world.

Laura Carlson leading a food tour in Toronto.

For example, since I was living in Toronto at the time, I really wanted to do an episode of The Feast that focused on Toronto food history. But it took me quite a while to find the right angle for an episode. We stumbled upon this great obscure piece of history about the two department stores in Toronto that faced each other for over 100 years. Both of them opened these opulent dining rooms at the same time. And both were very proud of their chicken pot pie recipes. I loved doing this episode because it meant I could focus on Toronto history. But it also inspired me to submit to lead a public history walking tour through the city agency, Heritage Toronto, about the history of food and dining in the city.

I have also been able to use a lot of the research that I did for Feast episodes that didn’t make it into the final cut to other articles or even other podcasts. I’ve also used some of our episodes, such as our holiday special on history of egg nog episode, for inspiration for other podcasts, like one about the history of the orange in North America on America’s Test Kitchen’s podcast, Proof

I also now work full-time as a podcast producer, both pitching stories to food podcasts such as Proof but also working with folks like NPR and Bloomberg to edit and produce popular podcasts. I also even teach food media at local colleges in Toronto. I’m also in the middle of writing a book on some of the topics inspired by Feast episodes. I continue to be surprised how many opportunities podcasting opens. What began as a side project to teaching history has become a diverse and rewarding but entirely unexpected career path.

Thanks, Laura, for chatting with me! You can follow Laura and The Feast on Instagram and Twitter @lauramcarlson and @Feast_Podcast, or on Facebook @thefeastpodcast. You can also reach Laura by email. If you’d like to feature a project, scholar, or institution on Around the Table, please email Sarah Kernan.

A Teaching Round-Up

By Jess Clark

It’s August, which means that some of us are prepping course materials for the coming year (unless you’ve already got your syllabus and teaching plans in order — to you, I tip my hat!).

Here at RP, we believe that recipes can be illuminating and productive sources to mobilize in the classroom. Next month, our co-editor Lisa Smith will feature all new posts in the fifth instalment of our Teaching Recipes: A September Series, including strategies for incorporating recipes into a range of educational settings. But for those of you prepping this month, we’ve put together a round-up of posts from our archives that explore how to make recipes a part of your classroom, for a range of levels and interests. Please join us as we revisit some of the fantastic contributions from previous teaching posts.

A First Aid lesson in a school classroom. Photograph, ca. 1920. Credit: Wellcome Collection.

 

Some of our authors have pointed out the value of recipes in bringing food history into the classroom, offering opportunities for experiential learning. These contributors cooked with their students or designed assignments involving cooking from historical recipes.

 

Recipes also provide opportunities to interrogate practices of reading and writing,  both historically and among our students. These contributors highlight the various skills developed through using recipes as primary sources in the classroom, while thinking about the unique form of recipes.

 

Another key means of using recipes in the classroom is via transcription projects and assignments. This includes participation in Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC)’s annual Transcribathon, which is a fantastic way to get students involved in major online projects. These contributors explain how to incorporate transcriptions into your classroom, offering practical, step-by-step advice.

 

 

As we move into September, we hope that you’ll join us for our teaching series. We’d also love to hear more about how you use recipes in your teaching and public outreach projects, so please join us in the comments or contact us at recipes@mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de.  

Maine’s Favorite Daughter and Blueberries

By Harley Rogers

The Margaret Chase Smith Recipes Research Collaborative is an interdisciplinary group of faculty, students, and staff at the University of Maine. Members represent a wide range of disciplines including history, sociology, folklore, anthropology, public policy, food science, and business. Senator Smith was a trailblazer, passionate about bringing people together through civil discourse, often over a home-cooked meal. She was a proud homemaker throughout her thirty-three years in office, and she maintained an extensive recipe collection, using recipes from her collection to entertain fellow policymakers in Washington and at home in Maine. The collaborative formed to support students and faculty interested in issues of food, recipes, politics, history, and their intersections.

This post is part of a series of student research projects exploring a recipe from Smith’s collection from an Honors tutorial taught by Dr. Rachel Snell in Spring 2019. Combined the students’ insights provide a new window into Sen. Smith’s private and public persona as well as the cultural, social, and scientific context of her lifetime. 

Introduction

A congressional portrait of Sen. Smith.

Maine has a rich history of prominent female politicians. One of the most significant in the twentieth century was Margaret Chase Smith. Sen. Smith took her late husband’s position in the U.S. House of Representatives after his untimely death in 1940 and was then reelected through her own campaign. She served in the House of Representatives for three more terms before successfully running for a spot in the U.S. Senate, thus making her the first woman to serve in both chambers of Congress, and the first female senator to represent Maine. She later ran in the 1964 Republican presidential primary, becoming the first woman to run for president in a major political party. She served until losing reelection to the Senate in 1972 and went on to work as a visiting professor until retiring to her home in Skowhegan, Maine. Research on Sen. Smith has focused on her political life. However, what about her at home or as a woman in the twentieth century? Like many women then and still today, she had a personal recipe collection, filled with recipes of foods for sharing, for convenience, for special occasions, and a few odd recipes.

Recipe Analysis: Blueberry Supreme

As a member of the Margaret Chase Smith Recipe Research Collaborative (MCSRRC), I’ve worked closely with Sen. Smith’s recipes and adapted several. For this recipe analysis, I sought a new challenge. I’ll admit I am partial to dessert recipes, and as a native Mainer myself, I’m especially inclined to the ones with blueberries. Some of my favorite memories of summer in Maine take place in the blueberry fields behind my childhood home. My family and I would fill 5-gallon buckets of the berries and head back home to freeze them. For the rest of the year, we would enjoy blueberry pancakes, muffins, occasionally a blueberry pie, and my personal favorite, a bowl of frozen blueberries with milk and sugar.  Sen. Smith potentially shared my proclivity for blueberry desserts: her recipes for blueberry muffins and blueberry cake were her standard response to recipe requests. Looking through the recipes, a card labeled “Blueberry Supreme” in the casserole section caught my eye. The recipe stood out not only because of the blueberries, but its location amongst recipes for hominy and almond casserole and a mushroom onion casserole.  This was not a cooked casserole, nor was it filled with vegetables. To my delight, this recipe was very much a dessert.

Smith’s recipe for Blueberry Supreme.

The recipe card describes a four-layer blueberry casserole. Starting with a base of ground up vanilla wafers, next a cream layer, then the blueberry filling, topped with whip cream and pecans. The recipe seemed simple enough until I read the recipe more carefully and realize the cream layer was composed of butter, sugar, and two raw eggs. When I called my grandmother about the recipe, she dismissed the concerns of eating raw egg and the chance of salmonella, as Sen. Smith probably did as well. When replicating this recipe today, there are concerns over the use and consumption of raw eggs in one of the layers to the casserole. In order to limit the possibility of salmonella, it is recommended to use farm fresh eggs, and for added reassurance pasteurize the eggs for raw consumption. While the FDA still warns against any raw egg consumption, it provides methods of heating eggs still in the shell to 63 degrees Celsius in order to eliminate bacteria that could be in the egg.[1]This greatly lowers the chance of contamination and makes the dish as safe as possible to eat, while still following the recipe.  

Conclusion

The Blueberry Supreme was a complete hit! The members of the MCSRRC enjoyed the dessert during a collaborative meeting in mid-April. The layers came together to create a light and sweet dish to enjoy with friends and family. When I noticed Sen. Smith never distributed this recipe, as she did with her blueberry muffin and blueberry cake recipes, I wondered if she had ever made it. As women increasingly left the home, quick and easy meals had to become staples in order for women to do both domestic and public responsibilities. As a result, recipes increasingly included processed foods to shorten preparation times. 

Smith’s collection includes many such recipes, including the Blueberry Supreme recipe, which relies on vanilla wafers as a crust, premade pie filling, and whipped cream to top it off. This recipe is a perfect demonstration of how working women managed careers while also tending to their domestic responsibilities. While Sen. Smith may not have made this recipe herself, the chances of it having actually been made are quite high because of the simplicity and reliance on premade foods in the recipe. Despite living in Maine, the recipe calls for blueberry filling from a can. This is particularly interesting because all her other recipes call for fresh blueberries, which in this case would have significantly increased the preparation time. 

This analysis demonstrates how this recipe would have been financially achievable and could have easily fit within the senator’s life. With Sen. Smith’s busy schedule, a dish like this one, which could be made a day or two in advance and served to a large group, could have fit into her lifestyle. I’d like to imagine Sen. Smith serving the dish to government dignitaries on a beautiful spring afternoon at her home in Skowhegan. While this may not have been the case, it certainly fits her love of blueberries and desire for recipes that fit her busy schedule. 


Harley Rogers is a fourth-year Political Science major with minors in Leadership Studies and History and member of the Honors Collegeat the University of Maine. Her Honors thesis, titled, “Female Political Campaigns: Just the Right Amount of Femininity,” compares media coverage of Smith and Hillary Clinton during their presidential runs.


[1]Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Safety of Eggs and Menu and Deli Items Made From Raw Shell Eggs.” Assuring the Safety of Eggs and Menu and Deli Items Made From Raw, Shell Eggs. 

Introducing Our New Co-Editor: Ryan Kashanipour

Interview by Lisa Smith

As April draws to a close and the temperature is already pushing one hundred degrees here in the desert of Southern Arizona, it is my great pleasure to introduce my fellow new co-editor here at the Recipes Project (not to mention fellow Tucson local) Ryan Kashanipour. Ryan is an ethnohistorian of medicine and science at Northern Arizona University, specializing in Latin American history and the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica. Lisa Smith recently caught up with Ryan for an interview on his research and his new role here at the Recipes Project:

Welcome to your new role as co-editor of the Recipes Project, Ryan!  What interests you most about recipes?

I love recipes of all sorts: cookery, medicinal, magical, and the like. I see recipes as a unique genre of records, which can simultaneously be deeply personal accounts that can create family connections, local identities, and a sense of belonging, while also being grand references on everything from metaphysics to the environment to the nation. As everyday records, they can offer rare glimpses at personal and family traditions, along with gendered relations that cut across generations.  Because many of them deal with food and health, they are often intimate accounts of emotions and the body.  All the while, recipes can be regimented and formalized works that are state-level programs that aim to carry nationalist agendas and campaigns.  I have to admit that my life is already filled with recipes. In my home, I have a growing collection of modern and historical print cookbooks.  My six-year-old daughter, in fact, has been writing and leaving recipes all around our kitchen:

We know that you work on medicine and science in colonial Mexico. How do recipes feature in your research?

My work operates at the intersection of magic and medicine in colonial Latin America.  In particular, I look at manuscript books of medicine written by indigenous peoples in southern Mexico in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Most of the works that I deal with are written in the local language, Yucatec Maya, which is what first attracted me to them as an historical anthropologist. The records deal with everything from common skin ailments to epidemic diseases to afflictions caused by curses and sorcery. There are cures for broken legs and broken hearts. The remedies themselves often appear in recipe format, that is to say, as a fairly orderly set of instructions on how to make or perform the cure.  However, because these sorts of practice fell outside of the sanctioned practices of Spanish colonial society, these records were highly protected and secretive. The representatives of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, along with the organization that certified physicians and healers, regularly prosecuted those deemed to be malicious or false healers. Nevertheless, one of the interesting things that I have found is that these recipes circulated among different ethnic and social groups.  There was a constant lack of medical professionals within the colonies and, as a result, people developed their own systems of healing that reflected the social make up of local communities.  In the case of the Yucatán, this meant that natives, African peoples, and Europeans exchanged ideas and practices. As such, I treat these remedies as democratic records that show everyday exchanges and encounters.

We’re excited about new developments here at the Recipes Project. What kinds of posts are you hoping to commission for the RP

As a longtime collaborator (and fan) of the Recipes Project, I am very excited by this new role. Having written for and occasionally edited for the site in the past, I am really thrilled to have the opportunity to actively shape its future directions.  As a Latin Americanist interested in everything from ancient practices to modern traditions, I hope to continue to highlight the breadth and depth of work being done on the Spanish and Portuguese worlds.  My aim, at some core level, is to bring together scholars regardless of the geographic divisions that are often ingrained in our professional and academic training. For me, the Recipes Project is a venue to create connections and foster collaborations about scholarship and teaching through the hybrid of traditional and digital mediums.  I have to say, though, that I am really just excited to try to bring people together from diverse backgrounds and approaches.