culinaria eugenius in cambridge: fruits of our labor

Yesterday, I learned how to be a Virginia house-wife.  Luckily, my guide book from 1824 focused more on preservation techniques and less on, well, everything else.  So I should be just fine.  I’m also now in possession of knowing what, exactly, an American suffragette cooked.  In two states, West Coast and East.

Yes, I’ve started the workshop on reading historic cookbooks at the wonderful Schlesinger Library in Cambridge. It’s a fascinating group of people — we’re representing places from Mumbai to San Diego, and there’s a healthy mix of academic types, professional and amateur chefs, and librarians.  I mentioned that I was working on an article on Modernist Cuisine in my introduction to the group, and someone on the other side of the table responded that she had recently sat on a panel with Nathan Myrhvold, and he had mentioned this-and-such about my topic.  Cool, huh?

We’re each responsible for five books, and each day we examine a new one in depth, focusing on a particular angle.  The first day was ingredients, and I think today is cooking techniques.  As you might imagine, it’s heaven for me.

(Forget Christ, there’s a miraculous pickle hanging from that fruit vine, yo!)

I had the extremely good fortune to visit two of the world’s best art museums this weekend, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardner museums. At the former, I was particularly thrilled to see a large collection of food-related still lives.  They were all fantastic, each in their own way, but I loved the detail of these 18th-century overripe Spanish pears, just on the verge of browning from those little damaged pits the painter faithfully reproduced.  Or these 17th-century Dutch strawberries, which — forget the symbolism or technique! — make me miss home terribly:

The food here is excellent.  I’m staying in Central Square, which was faintly disparaged the other day by a local who didn’t know what she was missing.  Every restaurant has been a delight.  I had big, beautiful dosas at an Indian fast food joint, a pickled long bean and minced pork dish at a Thai restaurant that specializes in Sichuan food (!), a legume couscous, burnt caramel ice cream, grilled sardines and plump skate wing in brown butter.  I ate some of the juiciest soup dumplings ever in Chinatown, and nibbled on extremely high end sushi nearby that deserves its own post.

But now, I’m off to learn more about how to cook in 18th-century England!  Sometimes it’s the journeys of the mind that take one the farthest…