Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Heart & Hand: Blogger and Food Historian, Carolyn Blackstock

Meet Carolyn Blackstock, local food historian, 
blogger and teacher interpreter with the Waterloo Region Museum.            
           
Two years ago Carolyn blogged about her adventures using the 1912 Berlin Cook Book, making a recipe every day for a year. She's at it again, using another local cook book, this time from Cambridge, ON, the 1898 New Galt Cook Book. In her daily blog, Cooking with the Galt Cook Book , Carolyn not only explores the historic recipes but she also researches the lives of the people who contributed them. We asked Carolyn about her interest in historical recipes and her take on changing food traditions.

              How were you first introduced to heritage recipes and what keeps you interested in taking on these projects?
I was first introduced to heritage recipes while working at Doon Heritage Crossroads (now Doon HeritageVillage) and exploring life in 1914 in a rural Waterloo County village. Cooking in the Seibert house was similar to my own upbringing in rural Southern Ontario, so the cookies and canning I did in that building were familiar. It was when I started working in the Martin House, the Old Order Mennonite home, that I was really challenged to understand the food of this era and culture. It required some research and experimenting and I loved it. 
One of  the great aspects of working with historic recipes is that usually the experiments are edible even if they fail. I love the challenge of figuring out the recipe, finding the ingredients and then seeing how it fits into the history. I especially like finding great old recipes that are new to people today. The two projects I've been working on over the past three years involved an extra part. Since both the Berlin Cook Book of 1912 and The New Galt Cook Book of 1898 are community cookbooks, the names of the women (and a few men) who shared their recipes are listed. I love trying to find out more about these people and thinking about how these recipes fit their lives.

           
How does researching the history of a recipe compare to researching an artifact, like a spinning wheel or quilt?
Researching an artifact is amazing, but there is something special about researching a recipe. It is possible to learn more about a recipe without making it just as you can research a quilt or spinning wheel without using it. But a recipe can be used without causing any damage to it and I think trying the recipe provides even more information. It is a form of material culture and living history. It is impossible to recreate it in a totally accurate way, but it is possible to come close with ingredients and methods. This can give a lot of insight into the lives of people who might have used such a recipe.

            Do you think our relationship with food has changed since the late 1800s?
We all still eat, but what we eat and how connected we are to the source of our food has changed. I’m often asked about the kinds of flour and sugar used in these recipes, but the areas that have changed significantly are more likely to be connected to animals. Egg production has changed dramatically and the processing of dairy products is quite different. We are more distant from the meat and poultry we eat. Meat and poultry are purchased in a more packaged form. The poultry recipes in particular often include directions for dressing the bird and meat recipes talk about requesting the butcher to cut the meat in a specific way. Another surprising thing is that we have more information about our food. Our food comes in packages with ingredients listed. The writers of these cookbooks had grown up in a time when food adulteration was a major concern. There is an interest today in where our food originates, which I don’t think was an issue in the late 1800s.

             What will your next big project be? Do you have a recipe or meal you want to try but haven’t yet?
I would like to do more with The Berlin and Galt Cook Books – to publish annotated editions with information about the recipes and contributors for example, but I don’t have another project in mind. I am interested in experimenting with recipes from a much earlier time too. I have cooked some recipes from the 1600s, but I would like to try some medieval or even ancient Roman recipes. And then there are other Canadian cook books to try. 

Carolyn will be on site, recreating a traditional recipe at the Joseph Schneider Haus on Sept. 27 as part of the annual Heart & Hand Festival.  Admission is free.

Photos by Candice Leyland.

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