". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Monday, August 23, 2010

Maryland, Land of Superb Eating

This is Maryland's reputation since at least the 1600's. It is based in very real resources and the achievements of what the region's variety of people accomplished with these resources.  You find salivating descriptions of how people ate there in novels like Defoe's Moll Flanders (1722), for instance.*

When we made our farewell-for-now visit uptown one of our friends made me a housewarming gift for our 1735 house in C'town: Eat, Drink & Be Merry: An Anthology From A Great Tradition, compiled by Frederick Philip Stieff, illustrated by Edwin Tunis, published in 1932 by G.P. Putnam's Sons, is an historical compilation of Maryland cookery. The b&3w illos are of the state's great families' great houses where these foods were eaten. It has quotes from a variety of Maryland's favorite sons, such as Oliver Wendell Holmes. Funny, though, since the recipes come from women, and women of color staffed so many, if not all, of the kitchens, there are no quotations about Maryland's food by women of color or otherwise. The colored illos, however, are all of men and women of color, and, to be charitable in description, lean toward the all too common caricature of until very recent times, and that in certain quarters has been enthusiastically resurrected with Barack Obama's residence in the Oval Office.

C understands me well -- this volume is a window that reveals a vivid display of history that until relatively recently hasn't been written into the historical narratives of the state.

For instance, the official Maryland Historical Society history of Maryland (in association with the Johns Hopkins University Press) still remains the 1988 Maryland: A Middle Temperament 1634 - 1980. As the title indicates, the approach is that Maryland and her history are the mediating history of the United States, more balanced and less extreme than either the "North or the South." Funny that. Because you have to read hundreds of pages to find even a single oblique reference to the historical fact that Maryland provided, with the port of Baltimore as their point of departure,  large numbers of slaves to the interstate slave trade, whose labor was demanded for opening the the fertile, virgin regions of the Louisiana Territory to the plantation form of agricultural economy.

IOW, the presentation of this cookery anthology is idyllic, a rich land filled with slow moving, happy co-inhabitants of white and black, where everyone ate well and enjoyed each other's company in gracious hospitality and convivality. The illustrations tell a different story, but the illustrator, the author and the publisher didn't realize they were displaying a disregard and contempt for the very people who did so much to bring this good eating to the tables.  Rather they are devising a sentimental, fairytale of historical nostalgia  by leaving out the foundation of the foods' raising and preparation and what that meant. It's perceived through the gauzy sheer curtains of the white folks' summer living room or the screens on their columned verandas.

I'm fascinated by the juxtaposition of documented historicl fact and gauzy nostalgia in terms of historical study. Without it, you can't get to the full truth of things -- not that it's ever 100% possible of course. The past is the past and the amount that is forgotten and the rapidity with which that happens has always been the case, even before the acceleration of the process by the digital technology era switch.

Thus the ever growing historical value of artifacts like Eat, Drink & Be Merry in Maryland.

We are looking forward to our culinary adventures in the next 10 months in Maryland, Land of the Best Eating.


* The detailed, enthusiastic listing of what Moll and her family ate on their plantations in and Maryland -- with 50 'servants' to do the work -- is my most vivid memory of the novel, which is interesting in light of how my life turned out. She ends the book in Maryland. I haven't read Moll Flanders for at least 30 years, and I still recall this.


K. said...

I remember Moll placing a pecuniary value on literally everything.

Those women made the food -- they didn't eat it.

Maryland is also this.

Foxessa said...

The days of Hogarth. Early capitalism and industrialization.

The women got to eat some of the food, sometimes. They also smuggled some it for their children.

Also they could be whipped for it. It all depended on their owners, or, later, who employed them. Some employers to this day are determined not a mouthful goes to the people who do the work of preparation.

Love, C.