Hello, friends! Remember me? It has been a while since I checked in on Ye Olde Blog. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version of what’s been going on in these parts in the past TWO MONTHS (oy):
1. Went to Colorado for a week (I have been and am still planning to do a couple of Foodie Field Trips posts about our culinary adventures in Denver and Boulder).
2. Started adjuncting at two different schools (three classes up north, one class down south), which eats up much of my time.
3. Still freelancing.
4. Juggling family, friends, craft projects and whatnot.
5. I’ve lost 13 pounds since April! Have been pinning heaps of low g.i. and paleo-friendly recipes because, y’all, I’m turning a certain milestone age tomorrow and I would really like to get down to my pre-pregnancy weight and fitness level before completing my next rotation around the sun.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let me tell you about my next project. Let’s call it my “I’m finally recovered from all of that dissertating, where will my research take me next?” project. You may recall that I swore a while back that I’d never write a book on women’s cookbooks as material artifacts, but I may have changed my tune a little bit. You see, last fall, when I was in the throes of completing and defending my dissertation, one of the students in my Rhetoric of Eating class brought in a cookbook belonging to her mom. It’s called Sampler, and it is a community fundraising cookbook put together by the Women’s Art Guild (now the Art Alliance Austin) of the Laguna Gloria Art Museum. Because the topic of women’s community cookbooks was fresh in my mind, I was all over this cookbook like a duck on a Junebug. Fortunately, Madison and her mother were kind enough to loan this cookbook to me to study, along with a healthy armful of other historical Austin community cookbooks.
So, over the next several months, my intention is to acquire my own copies of these cookbooks and pore over them in hopes of piecing together a portrait of Austin culture and foodways past, which will, in turn, help put our contemporary culture and foodways in their context. I hope. Maybe. A very wise woman once said that it is a bad project that has all its questions answered before it even begins, so I just want to make it clear that I have lots of questions and absolutely zero answers.
After a few passes through the cookbook, I think I want to divide up my analysis into a number of categories: the art, the artists and their biographies, the food, and the stories attached to the food. I think the most interesting part of this cookbook is the section of recipes contributed by artists in the Austin/Central Texas community. There is everything from ratatouille to bologna cups with peas to fried rattlesnake. These, paired with the artists’ stories of themselves, make for compelling reading, especially when juxtaposed with the stories told by and within the recipes contributed by Guild members.
I want to start with a discussion of the cover art. The piece is a reproduction of an oil painting by LuAnn Barrow called “Cooks Gathering.” I think it speaks beautifully to the title of the cookbook, Sampler, in that it evokes quilting, at least in my mind. The women are gathering with their contributions to the table: one assembles a salad, one sets down a pie, while still others converge with their creations. A sampler quilt is one in which each block consists of a different pattern. In hand-stitching and embroidery, a sampler is a way to display your skill with various techniques. Along these same lines, an art-guild cookbook entitled Sampler suggests that everyone brings a different skill to the table, whether it be facility with pies or crab dips, or prowess in oil paintings or pottery.
Up next: A profile of LuAnn Barrow and a snapshot of artists’ lives, as seen in the pages of the cookbook.