Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Food History: An Experiment in Online Pedagogy
Organizing the groups was difficult, as was dealing with students as far ranged as Paris and Utah. And as I feared, over 9 groups was not possible so one team never got on until one team went off. Worst of all, the google hangout is designed to pick up sound and broadcasts whoever happens to be talking. Now, when everyone starts to chop and pots begin to clang, there is not only cacaphony, but it switches speaker every second or two. It was like John Cage composing for kitchen on computer. I had to make a sign, backwards of course, to say PLEASE MUTE.
Despite these odd disconnects, I think this worked quite well. And nearly everyone said what they cooked tasted good. These were recipes 3,500 years old. The oldest on earth. Cuneiform. We tried as hard as possible to follow the vague directions, and we thank Laura Kelley for glossing many terms that are not translated in Bottero, which has grave shortcomings for cooks. But on the whole, there was nothing odd at all. In fact I think we all learned something about flavor and technique. Most recipes were described as broth. I think a bad translation from Akkadian to French to English. But there are no measurements, so who knows? Mine looks more like a stew.
It's a lamb stew with crushed leek, onion, garlic. And fat, plus flour. Just boiled nothing browned first. Yoghurt (maybe, or sour milk) added at the end. It thickened beautifully. And actually it tasted better after cooking 40 minutes, not after simmering a couple of hours, when I had dinner later. I always thought you couldn't cook yoghurt long, but it was fine.
Most importantly, I think every team liked what they cooked. None were right or wrong per se, but very different interpretations of the recipes. Some were thin soups, some thick black sauces on meat. Which is right, who knows? Maybe none, maybe all. But we all now have an idea of what people liked millennia ago.