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Food Books That Make You Think

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: smoking , science , history , entertainment , books

Savage Barbecue, by Andrew WarnesFood history is a relatively new scholarly discipline, going back onlyCatching Fire, by Richard Wrangham about thirty years.  It evolved from two seemingly disparate human endeavors, cooking and recording general history.  The late food historian Karen Hess observed in 1981: “Few scholars are cooks—and fewer cooks scholars. Perhaps this accounts for the fact that no other aspect of human endeavor has been so neglected by historians as home cooking.” And not only has home cooking been neglected as a subject for historians, so have the history of food ingredients, inns and restaurants, food philosophy, and food in culture—until the last three decades.

Before then, accounts of culinary subjects were “regarded as relevant only to a kind of anthropology of ceremony,” in the words of Paul Freedman, editor of Food: The History of Taste. He goes on to point out that the history of cuisine had been viewed as part of the history of fashion, “hence of frivolity.” In other words, not a serious subject for a historian to explore.  But how that has changed!  The turning point seems to be the publication of Food in History by Reay Tannahill in 1973. It was a bestseller then and is still in print and in the revised and expanded edition published in 1988, Tannahill commented: “When the idea of Food in History first occurred to me, I was mystified by the fact that no one had already written such a book.” Indeed, The New York Times book reviewer observed: “Here at last is what may serve as the first textbook for what should become a new sub-discipline; call it Alimentary History I.” Tannahill continued, “And it came to pass. Since 1973 there has been unprecedented academic interest in the subject and a spate of books on different aspects of it.”  And whether you call it alimentary history, food history, or cooking history, for me it is completely fascinating.

In Savage Barbecue:Race, Culture, and the Invention of America's First Food, Andrew Warnes searches for the origin of barbecue and is alternately overly scholarly and very interesting, especially when he finds great quotes, like this one from journalist David Dudley: "Barbecue's appeal isn't hard to fathom and may explain why barbecue cookery seems such a Neanderthal corner of modern gastronomy.  It elegantly embraces several stereotypically Guy Things: fire building, beast slaughtering, fiddling with grubby mechanical objects, expensive gear fetishes, afternoon-long beer drinking, and, of course, great heaps of greasy meat at the end of the day.  Top this off with the frisson of ritual tribal warfare and you've got the mother of all male pastimes."

Another scholar, Richard Wrangham, in Catching Fire, tracks the origin of cooking over fire back to Homo erectus, the immediate precursor of Homo sapiens, some 1.8 million years ago.  This was about the time mankind first controlled fire, and he notes: "Effects of cooking include extra energy, softer food, fireside meals, and a more predictably food supply during periods of scarcity.  Cooking would therefore be expected to increase survival, especially of the vulnerable young.

Both books are highly recommended but with a warning that they tend to be quite academic in places.  Warnes is a Lecturer in American Literature and Culture at Leeds University in England and Wrangham is the Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard University.


Ciudad Juárez Then and Now

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: restaurants

Waiters and Chefs at Martino's, 2003.  Photo by Bobby Byrd.I used to spend a lot of time in Juárez back when it was one of my favorite Mexican cities. Back in the late '70s, I was producing custom car shows at the El Paso Civic Center, and in the '80s I was visiting NMSU a lot to research chile peppers, so a trip across the border was not only commonplace, it was a lot of fun. There was a great mercado, my favorite tile shop, a very nice furniture store, and of course the La Florida Bar and one of my favorite restaurants, Martino's on Avenida de Juárez. Mary Jane and I took our first trip together when we visited El Paso and Juárez in 1984, and of course we had to dine at the romantic Martino's, which was like a trip back to another century, with waiters in tuxes, elegant service, gourmet food, and a wonderful menu including Boquilla Black Bass, a delicacy from Lake Boquilla in Chihuahua. I remember getting nearly drunk because of bar-hopping with Doug Kane, and when my brother Rick visited, I warned him that the margaritas at La Florida were very potent. He didn't listen and I caught him when he passed out and fell off the bar stool.

 

After Mexican Mafia thugs sprayed Martino's with a hail of bullets and slaughtered the customers and waiters in late 2007, the restaurant sadly closed after more than 80 years in business. With soldiers from Ft. Bliss in El Paso banned from going there, and students from New Mexico State University strongly advised to stay away, tourism in Juárez is dead. In October 2008, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported, “The U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory on Tuesday, warning Americans of daylight shootings at shopping centers in Juárez and suggesting applicants for U.S. visas at the consulate in Juárez not pay in cash to avoid getting mugged while in line.” That year, more than 2,000 people were murdered in that border city.

Juárez Today

“What's Up,” the El Paso entertainment blog, commented: “The drug war in Mexico has taken 800 lives so far this year (2010) along with another casualty: the Avenida de Juarez. The once-thriving stretch of bars and nightclubs known by El Pasoans, especially teenagers, as the Juarez Strip has become a ghost town and a symbol of the estrangement between El Paso and Juárez, two communities once closely bound by commerce, culture, family and yes, fun.”  All of this is incredibly sad to me.


Red Chile Sauce, photo by Wes NamanI never imagined that a single red chile enchilada could burn me out. After all, I've been eating New Mexican red chile enchiladas for 35 years, and although some red chile sauces are hotter than others, they usually run medium-hot at the hottest. But yesterday, Lois (the SuperSite editor and art director) and I had a business lunch at Abuelita's Restaurant at 6083 Isleta Boulevard in Albuquerque's South Valley, about three miles from my house. Fall was in the air, so I had a bowl of green chile stew plus a red chile enchilada a la carte. The stew was tasty and medium in heat. But it took me ten minutes to finish that single enchilada. It was just killer hot and I had to wait between bites for capsaicin dispersal. I called the server over and asked her if the chef had put habaneros in the red chile. Nope, she replied, it was just that last year's dried red chile crop they purchased was unusually hot. It was a perfect storm of the right combination of capsaicin genes colliding with some stress on those particular plants that produced an abnormally high amount of capsaicin. And I tried to wolf down that enchilada only to find that I had to treat it with extreme respect.


 

Fiery Foods Mag

Or...

Combust Digital Mag

We have the preliminary results of our Digital Magazine survey. After 70 responses, we know this: our readers are 61% male and 39% female; 40% of them are 36-45, 37% are 46 or older, and a mere 23% are 35 or younger; 85.7 % said “Yes” or “Maybe” about subscribing; 58% wanted editorial content very similar to the SuperSite, but 19% wanted us to add more babes, booze, etc. Everyone wants recipes and more recipes, and got 'em. When asked about their favorite cuisines, the response was American Southwest and American Barbecue taking first, Mexican second, Asian third, and Italian fourth.

We continue planning the design, content, and engineering of a digital magazine called Burn: Peppers, Spice, and Smoke, or something like that. We have secured the domain iburn.com and will be producing a smart phone/pad app in conjunction with the magazine, plus a lot more features.

Meanwhile, I'd like more responses to the survey, so I'm keeping it posted here for a few more weeks.


 

Fiery Foods Mag

Or...

Combust Digital Mag

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK!

The SuperSite is a great resource, but it's not a magazine--it's an archive.  We think SuperSite readers deserve a new monthly magazine complete with fresh content from the best writers around the world, including articles, how-tos, recipes, and so on, but we want to make sure we create the kind of digital magazine our readers will enjoy.

A digital magazine looks exactly like a print magazine but with enhanced features including embedded video, recipes for easy printing, and links to related subjects all over the web.  It is delivered to subscribers via the Internet rather than USPS, and can be downloaded--it is compatible with mobile devices like iPhones, iPads, and Blackberries as well as your home computer.

A link to the new issue will be posted on the SuperSite home page the first of every month.  Magazine content will be unique and not repeated on the SuperSite but rather retained in a back-issue archive.  Subscribers can read or download any issue to their own devices, or print it out.  We will notify subscribers by email when a new issue is posted. The estimated subscription price will be $36 for a 3-year subscription, $15 for a one-year subscription. That means you get the best new content about the hot and spicy/smoky universe delivered to your mobile device...it's easy, convenient, and costs as little as $1.00 per issue!

Please take our quick, two-minute survey to help us plan the magazine here.

Dave DeWitt, SuperSite Publisher
Former Publisher, Fiery Foods & BBQ magazine (1997-2008) and Founding Editor of Chile Pepper magazine (1987-1996)


Diana Does It Again

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: history , fiery foods , books

Diana Kennedy

One of my favorite food authors is Diana Kennedy, the doenne of Mexican cooking despite the fact she's British. She's been eclipsed in the Mexican food field by multi-dimensional Rick Bayless, star of books, restaurants, products, and TV. But she's still down south of the border, researching, testing, and writing.

I first met Diana at a food event in Phoenix in the early '80s where we had booths next to each other. I was promoting Chile Pepper magazine and she was pushing her books like The Cuisines of Mexico. We engaged in spirited discussions, mostly about chile peppers and I really liked her. Then we were honored celebrity guests at the Fiery Foods Festival in Sydney in 2000 and I helped her with the set up of her cooking demo. Again, we hit it off.

I just received notice from the University of Texas Press that her new book will be out in September.  And it features my favorite part of Mexico: Oaxaca. I haven't seen it yet, but it looks terrific from the advance press materials.

Oaxaca al GustoOaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy

9.75 x 11.5 in.459 pp., 302 color photos, 12 color maps, 22 color drawings

ISBN: 978-0-292-72266-8.  $50.00, hardcover with dust jacket

Order it here.  Read more about it here.

 



 

 


Exploding HabaneroThe consumption of spices in the United States has exploded almost three times as fast as the population over the past several decades, data from the USDA reveals. Some of that spicy increase is due to the changing demographics of America—immigrant populations fom Mexico, the Far East, Southeast Asia and India. Immigration has resulted in more ethnic restaurants while food blogs and television cooking shows have inspired more home cooking using all kinds of chile peppers. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show big gains in Americans’ spice consumption since the 1970s, including 600 percent more chile pepper, 300 percent more cumin, and a whopping 1,600 percent more ginger.

McCormick, the world’s largest spice and seasoning company, produces more than one billionChipotle Chiles bottles of spices and seasonings annually in its Hunt Valley, MD, plant, nicknamed “Spiceville.” The company’s net sales in 2009 topped $3 billion. With the help of some 40,000 consumer testers, the company has decided that there’s a market for such spices. The company’s chipotle chile pepper has seen a 70 percent increase in sales since its launch five years ago. And sales of smoked paprika have jumped 300 percent since its launch three years ago.

McCormick is not the only spice company seeing growth. Penzeys Spices began as a mail-order business in 1986. It opened its first walk-in store in 1994 and now has 45 stores in 24 states, with plans to open five more this year.


End of the World BeerAt the BrewDog Micro Brewery, in Fraserburgh, Scotland, the whacked-out brewers have created the strongest and most expensive beer in the world.  In fact, it's called End of the World, and it's packaged in a taxidermied squirrel or stoat (weasel).  It's done through "Extreme ABV Brewing," and they have "frozen, hopped and oak-aged stronger beers than have ever before been made in the history of beer."  "ABV" is "alcohol by volume," and 55% means that the beer is 110 proof.  They only brewed 12 bottles of End of the World, a Belgian blone ale, the price was set at $765 each, and they sold out.

How do you drink it?  In their words: "This 55% beer should be drank in small servings whilst exuding an endearing pseudo vigilance and reverence for Mr Stoat. This is to be enjoyed with a weather eye on the horizon for inflatable alcohol industry Nazis, judgemental washed up neo-prohibitionists or any grandiloquent, ostentatious foxes."

And the significance of this beer? "The impact of The End of History is a perfect conceptual marriage between art, taxidermy, and craft brewing. The bottles are at once beautiful and disturbing – they disrupt conventions and break taboos, just like the beer they hold within them.  This beer is an audacious blend of eccentricity, artistry and rebellion; changing the general perception of beer one stuffed animal at a time."  For more information on BrewDog, go here.

 


Chile Odds and Ends

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Daily ExpressThe British tabloid Daily Express reported last week that chilli pepper sales are up 600%!  Of course, there is no citation for this statistic and no quoted source other than chilli farmer Salvatore Genovese who claims he ships out half a million pods a week of 'Dorset Naga', a superhot variety very similar to 'Naga Jolokia'.  I suspect both these numbers are highly exaggerated and suggest that the Express stick to its usual expertise: pin-ups and gossip.Morton Hot Salt

Morton released its Hot Salt in 2004 and because I don't use much salt, I had never tasted it until yesterday when Barbe Awalt gave me a plastic jar of it.  I have decided that it is perfect with butter for baked potatoes.  It's salt plus chipotle and cayenne powder, and it would make a good rub for grilled chicken in a pinch.

Green and Red SerranosI don't particularly care for green jalapeños, so for fresh salsas I grow serranos, and my two plants are simply covered with pods.  To the left is my favorite photo of serranos, which I took in the summer of 1989.  Mary Jane uses them in her Mexican-style (rather than New Mexican-style) tomatillo enchiladas.


Chile SeedsSeveral varieties of chile pepper seeds, including 'Wenk's Yellow Hots', 'Pico de Gallo', and the "unpredictably hot" 'San Juan Tsiles' have arrived at the so-called "doomsday vault" at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault located on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen near the town of Longyearbyen in the remote Arctic.  Svalbard has what scientists describe as the most diverse repository of crop seeds and is a safeguard against war, natural disasters, or diseases that could wipe out food crops.  More likely, it will be frequently accessed when genebanks lose samples due to mismanagement, accident, equipment failures, or funding cuts.  The seeds are stored in four-ply sealed envelopes, then placed into plastic tote containers on metal shelving racks. The storage rooms are kept at −18 degrees C. (-0.4 F).  The low temperature and limited access to oxygen will ensure low metabolic activity and delay seed aging.  The permafrost surrounding the facility will help maintain the low temperature of the seeds if the electricity supply should fail.

Diagram of Svalbard Global Seed Vault


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