The Cookbook Project: Artist Recipes


Hello, and welcome to another installment of The Cookbook Project! It was my intention, when I started this project back in September, to make this a twice-weekly series, but my teaching schedule made life pretty much catch-as-catch can. That said, now that it’s the new year and my teaching schedule involves a LOT less time spent shuttling between campuses on the extreme north and south ends of the city, I plan to post here more regularly, with fun new features in addition to this one.

So, in my last post about Sampler, I told y’all about the cookbook’s “starring artist,” LuAnn Barrow. The next few installments will center on the recipes themselves. The Table of Contents is divided into discrete categories: Artist Recipes, Appetizers, Beverages, Soups, and so on through every conceivable course through “Miscellaneous Desserts.” I have personally divided the Artist Recipes section into the following two categories: Legitimate (as in, “I can see myself making this”) and Jokey-Joke/WTF?!?

While I am tempted to start with the WTF?!? category, I think I’ll start with the Legitimate ones because I think they do some interesting work, the first being that they are pretty well gendered (all of the WTF?!? recipes were contributed by men) and they also reflect the food trends of the era.

Naccios

Let’s start with Gay Fay‘s recipe, the first in the book, for “Naccios,” an “Italo/Yuppie version of nachos,” which placed second in the Second Annual Pesto Cook-Off in Austin. A couple of tries with the Google machine yields no information about this alleged pesto cook-off, but those of you who were alive and cognizant of food trends 20-30 years ago will recall that pesto was HUGE in the yuppiefied ’80s and well into the ’90s, so it doesn’t surprise me that the same generation of Austinites responsible for SPAMARAMA also yielded a pesto cook-off. (These days we like to make pesto out of anything that stands still long enough to get tossed into the food processor; I reckon the pesto mentioned here is the bright-green, basil-pine nut-parmesan variety.)

Another recipe, “Autumn Soup,” contributed by Peggy Byars and which “loses no nerve when ‘too busy too cook’ times arrive,” calls for “brown bouquet sauce,” something I’ve not heard of before. Have you? It is apparently a sauce you use sparingly to add brown color to gravies and the like. Wikipedia tells me that bouquet sauce (Kitchen Bouquet) was advertising in the 1903 Boston Cooking School magazine (what’s up, Fanny Farmer!), so it’s been around for a good, long time. It’s also basically caramel coloring and sodium, so it’s no surprise that it has fallen out of favor by now. In fact, I can’t find any other recipes in this cookbook that calls for bouquet sauce (but I do see soy sauce and tamari creeping in), so it may have even been in very limited use by 1986. Side note: Byars describes herself as “coming of age” in her career in 1986, but I will reflect more on the artists’ biographies in a later entry.

Finally, I’d like to talk about “Chicken Paprika,” contributed by Annette Morris. This recipe stands out to me because of the “granny story” attached to it, providing a personal etymology of the recipe and tracing it through a matrilineal line.

chickenpaprika

I’m also intrigued and thrilled to see that the granny in question is described as “German-Texas,” because I’m guessing that, based on speculation on Ms. Morris’ age in 1986, her grandmother might have been a first- or second-generation German Texan. Unless, of course, this particular line of German-Texans arrived in 1830. Then she’d just be a regular old German-Texan. But the reason this thrills me is that I feel like so much of the discussion around ethnic Texan foodways centers primarily on the cultural influences of Mexico, leaving the Czech and German influences holed in their little Hill Country enclaves; does anyone beyond Central/Southeast Texas know about the Czechs and Germans in Texas? I know I never heard of, not to mention eaten a kolache until moving to Houston. Anyway, German-Texas grandmother. Yes. I am a bit befuddled by the connection to Syria, though, as it seems like this dish more closely resembles paprikash (all that cream and butter!) than any of the Syrian chicken dishes floating around out there. I’m also charmed by the fact that Morris shares the components/sides that make this the “perfect meal,” probably because I’m sort of obsessed with compiling all the “perfect meals” I’m able to pull off at my house (they are few and far between, trust).

On the whole, I see that many of the Legitimate recipes come with descriptions of feeding families, references to how successful a recipe is in terms of feeding a busy family (regardless of the sex/gender of the contributor), and even how the recipes fit into the artist’s/contributor’s sense of community (see: “Roberta’s Ratatouille,” which is described as the perfect dish for dinner party guests to contribute because “a pound of zucchini or a small onion or eggplant was not too much to ask of a friend,” particularly when feeding a passel of starving artists).

Up next: Chicken fried rattlesnake and bologna cups, or WTF?!? recipes that suggest a few artists might be poking fun at the audience for this particular cookbook.

The Cookbook Project: Lu Ann Barrow


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As I mentioned in the inaugural post for this project, the artist whose work graces the cover of Sampler is Lu Ann Barrow. I find Mrs. Barrow’s story to be quite intriguing indeed.

When Sampler was published in 1986, Barrow was 52 years old. Despite having completed her BFA at UT-Austin under the supervision of William Lester 30 years prior, her biography in the cookbook claims that her art took a backseat to marriage (to architect David Barrow, Jr.) and raising two sons (David III and Thomas). The copy reads, “When one sees her works one may wonder why they have not seen a Barrow original or heard of her previously. She has a limited amount of time available for painting, and numbers of finished canvases are not her goal.”

This closing sentiment scans as a bit defensive, does it not? Barrow was either fed up with being asked why she didn’t produce more art or she was heading off such inquiries at the pass. She is quoted in her biography as preferring to stay close to home, rather than traveling to show her work in places like Oklahoma and New Mexico. Against the backdrop of 1980s power feminism, Barrow stakes a position that privileges the home, family, and domestic duties over a high-flying career (but there are no recipes attributed to her in the Artist Recipes section, either).

By all appearances, Barrow has been quite prolific over the past couple of decades, and her work, which is decidedly in the folk-art school and depicts domestic and rural concerns, has appeared in some high-profile contexts. The Austin Museum of Art hosted an exhibit of her work in 2006, and as recently as 2011, Barrow has headlined shows in Fort Worth and Dallas.

This background information about Barrow is what makes her role as “starring” artist in Sampler (the section dividers in the cookbook are thick pages with reproductions of paintings by individual Texas artists, with their biographies on the backs of the pages) so interesting. Here is a woman who earned a BFA, deliberately training for an art career but backseating it in favor of being a wife and mother (no judgment here, y’all), and whose subjects are largely women engaging in some sort of domestic activity. Her work adorns the cover of a cookbook composed of recipes attributed mostly to women identified as Mrs. Husband’s Name (Her First Name in Parentheses).

I am tempted to argue that Sampler reflects some vestigial conservatism among certain segments of Austin society in the mid-1980s. I wonder what a community cookbook compiled by the Art Alliance Austin would look like today; I reckon that Mrs. Husband’s Name trope would be absent.

The Cookbook Project: An Introduction


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.

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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.