The Digest

Porridge Wars & Other News

31st March 2017

Words: James Hansen

In this week’s food writing survey: gluttonous lunches, expensive melons and the culinary diversity of Los Angeles

While bleary-eyed squabbles over the communal cornflakes might be familiar, The Great Norwegian Porridge Feud is probably a new – and bemusing – concept. Terje Birkedal breaks it down over at The Norwegian American with an insightful analysis of a feud concerning “the cultural soul of Norway”. The grain of contention is whether or not to add raw flour right at the end; the feuding parties Eilert Sundt (the founder of Norwegian sociology) and Peter Christen Asbjørnsen (perhaps the original Nordic exponent of Bad Science). Everyday food dovetails with national identity for a compelling piece, ripe for pairing with from The Great Lutefisk Mystery, which provides further intrigue: why exactly did someone decide to produce caustic fermented fish?

Hopping from Scandinavian dispute to American gluttony, we find Peter Nowogrodzki reflecting on a really, really big lunch with Jim Harrison for LitHub. The lunch in question is Harrison’s “37 courses drawn from 17 cookbooks published between 1654 and 1823, plus 14 bottles of wine”, taken at L’Esperance, France – if “culinary tour de force” needed a new definition, they can call off the search. Talking over a modest enchilada plate, Harrison (who died last year) reflects on the “aggressive, assertive, macho style of eating” that earned him both acclaim and ignominy; Nowogrodzki’s eye for surrounding detail builds a figure of a man out of accumulated fragments. Pair with an archive piece from Pamela Hyne from the same site: the secrets of kitchen design, according to culinary personality Julia Child.

From lives and times to Life & Thyme, with their five-part documentary series The Migrant Kitchen. Each episode dedicated to a culinary heritage, the thrust of the series is clear: the culinary landscape of Los Angeles evolves in concert with its diversity, both geographical and economic. The unapologetic fracturing of “American” cuisine into distinct nationalities celebrates their disparities; the episodic format articulates the need to prize culinary difference as much as togetherness. Pair with one of their articles: a rollicking history of the Sazerac from Stef Ferrari, punctuated with images from Antonio Diaz.

The community continues at NPR, where we find Becky Harlan charting a food-writing collaboration between a Washington DC non-profit and the city’s Public Charter School. From Janet’s nuegados (El Salvadorian dumplings) to José’s Atole de Elote (a warm corn drink) the premise is simple: 81 graduating students are asked to write up a family recipe with a backstory. Harlan’s outline is succinct and generous for being so: the recipes and their stories are the heartbeat of the piece, favourite dishes served with the clamour of edible nostalgia; kitchen memories; feeling at home. This would sit well alongside another probing piece from The Cleaver Quarterly, reflecting on the “Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy” exhibition currently running at New York’s Museum of Chinese in America.

We finish this week with a surely ubiquitous question: “Why should a melon cost as much as a car?”  Fear not: Bianca Bosker has the answer at Roads & Kingdoms, elegantly moving from bemused observer – including feeling aghast at a single strawberry – to seasoned documenter of mollycoddled melons – “champion farmers hand-pollinate the flowers, using a tiny paintbrush to move pollen between the blooms, like overgrown humanoid bees”. The inevitable encounter with the aforementioned melon is the seed of the piece; it grows into a knowing exploration of the fine line between quality and obsession. Best read alongside a piece from Craig Ballinger – also for R&Kon the fate of forced rhubarb after Brexit. Or, perhaps, with the priciest melon you can find.

Image: Detail from “Netherlandish Proverbs” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Posted 31st March 2017

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen

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