Bookmarks–October 12, 2022

In this edition of Bookmarks, Indigneous agricultural knowledge, making pasta by hand, critiquing baking shows, and a very large cast iron skillet.

The true history of farming on the Prairies

This is not the first time I’ve shared an article about the knowledge held by Indigenous peoples regarding farming and environmental stewardship. The subtext here, as ever, is the importance of recording this knowledge, as was done in 1917 when an anthropologist had the foresight to interview Hidatsa “expert farmer” Maxidiwiac.

“Maxidiwiac knew every detail about crop production, harvest and storage. She even knew about pollen drift and selective breeding. Maxidiwiac was not just a farmer, she was an expert farmer. ‘Corn planted in hills too close together would have small ears and fewer of them,’ she told Wilson. Farmers plant corn in wide rows to this day. She also filled the space between corn plants with beans that fix their own nitrogen — an essential nutrient for plant growth — from the air, and with squash that provided ground cover to limit weed growth. Weeds use up moisture and nutrients from the soil, reducing crop yield.” The Narwhal

How chef Evan Funke became a master pasta-maker

Kitchen shortcuts are necessary at times, but there is something so satisfying about making things totally by hand. For bread, I once used a mixer but gave that up long ago and instead do everything by hand. I’ve never made pasta, but loved watching this pasta dough come together through the repetitions of mixing then rolling. Although the filling is not for me, I bet the finished product tastes divine.

“Funke credits his time in Bologna, Italy for starting his journey into handmade pasta. ‘I only made machine pasta, all yolks, with very little understanding of the architecture of how things work or the history for that matter of all the shapes,’ he says. ‘When I moved to Bologna, and studied under maestra Alesandra, she was the one to open the door for me to start seeking out other pasta-makers that still make it all by hand.’” Eater

Great British Bake Off accused of cultural appropriation in Mexican week

I enjoy The Great British Baking Show, as it is called on this side of the pond, but have not seen the episode in question here, owing to Canada’s broadcaster always being months behind. It does seem that Mexican cuisine was not served at all well in this edition of the program, being reduced to stereotypes, tacos, and tres leches cake with no nod to the diversity of the culture that supposedly inspired the show. As with The Narwhal article above, this critique references Indigenous knowledge, particularly of plant-based diets.

“’When I talk about Mexican food, I talk about a country that’s mega-biodiverse, which is a technical term for a country that has so much diversity of flora and fauna’…This is to counter the view rooted in tacky 90s and 00s restaurants that Mexican food is ‘naff, cheap, unhealthy’. ‘The indigenous Mexican diet is incredible for the planet, because it’s rich in pulses, beans, tomatillos and corn, it’s a complex diet with very little meat and it’s the perfect example of the way we should all be eating now.’” The Guardian

The Great Canadian Baking Show is a pile of wet dough

I assume that the writer of this article in The Walrus had not seen the debacle of Mexican Week in the British baking show he lauds here. This is an opinion piece, of course, and he does raise some valid points–judges Bruno and Kyla are extremely nice and the hosts do sometimes miss the mark with their humour–but I think he is putting too much pressure on a show that is intended to be a light confection, not a detailed culinary history of our country. As for the “cringe” of making a Canadian version of a British show, that’s exactly what they did in the Kenyan and French versions he cites, so I’m not entirely sure why it is a problem here. (My defensiveness has proven another point that he makes–many of us do, indeed, have an absurd passion for reality shows about baking!)

“Ultimately, The Great Canadian Baking Show is neither great nor—in a meaningful sense—Canadian. We need more shows that speak specifically to the histories and identities that make up our country—shows that help us develop and retain talent in our cultural industries and shows that cut through the ‘aw-shucks’ personality we’ve cultivated for ourselves. Until that happens, we are doomed to participate in a self-reinforcing cycle of hollow jingoism and maple cookies, listening to the diminishing echoes of our founding myths.” The Walrus

The world’s largest cast iron skillet is finally on display

I hadn’t heard of this giant skillet, but as someone who visited a few giant roadside attractions on my recent trip to Canada’s Maritime provinces, I can understand the appeal. Equally appealing, to me at least, is the Lodge Cast Iron Museum which combines technology and culinary history.

“The museum promises ‘a number of interactive exhibits’ including How It’s Made, which is ‘a recreation of the foundry experience;’ The Lodge History & Legacy, ‘which walks visitors through the story of Lodge Cast Iron over multiple generations;’ and Cast Iron in Culture, ‘where the versatility of cast iron is put on display,’ a section that also highlights Southern food and culinary figures in partnership with the Southern Foodways Alliance.” Food & Wine

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