Pewterware beer mug.
Volker Bach examines what Renaissance German beer culture can teach us about an elusive concept
In 1575, the German lawyer and beer connoisseur Heinrich Knaust published Five Books on the Divine and Noble Gift, the Philosophical, Precious and Wonderful Art of Brewing Beer . In it, he writes:
“Regarding flavour, there is very great difference among beers, for above the common flavour of all beers, some are sweet, some slightly bitter, some partly sharp, some have a wine-like (weinlich) taste, …” (p. 67)
This book comes from a beer culture that thought of the origin of beers in terms very similar to the modern idea of terroir. Beers were traded as distinctive local products that connoisseurs understood intimately, certain varieties were chosen for specific occasions, and even illicit copying was a problem.
On 21 January 2017 millions of people across the globe marched on behalf of women’s rights and, by extension, all forms of discrimination. Now, many wonder what tangible steps they can take to actually forward this ideology. A simple but meaningful way to do so is by adding responsible material to Wikipedia, the world’s most consulted encyclopedia, that can redress the imbalances of its current content.
Over the last 18 months, in collaboration with the British Library and Wikimedia, the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery has hosted three Wikieditathons. These events, held at the British Library, have provided training and support for Wikiediting with the aim of increasing (and improving) the volume of wiki entries about food, especially entries about women’s contributions to food and cooking culture (statistically 90% of wiki editors are men and this gender bias is reflected in Wiki content).
So far our Wikiedits have attracted MA students, historians and cookery writers as well as amateur food enthusiasts. The project has contributed a number of new and diverse entries on Wikipedia including information about the early twentieth century cookery writer Florence White, post-partum practices on feeding practices in modern-day China, a translation from German to English of an entry about the 16th-century cookbook author Anna Wecker and a page about the writer and hostess Mrs C. F. Leyel. A OFS Wiki webpage containing details of entries edited and added so far and a list of suggested entries still missing on Wikipedia will be available soon. In addition to the Wikiedits taking place in London, satellite events have taken place at the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute and NYU Food Studies and there are plans for events to take place in Istanbul, Texas, Australia and Paris in 2017.
The next Wikiedit will be held at the British Library on: 28th April from 10.00 – 17.00
Anyone interested to learn how to Wikiedit or wanting to improve their editing skills or just to edit in a friendly environment with a group of food enthusiasts is more than welcome to attend. We would also love to hear from people with Wiki editing skills who might be able to help with training and assistance. The British Library OSFC Wikiedits include lunch and refreshments, training from experienced Wikimedia staff and a brief but brilliant lunchtime talk – at the last event in July attendees were lucky enough hear from Barbara Ketcham Wheaton about her incredible cookery book database.
Please contact Carolin Young if you would like to attend the training event on the 28th April: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please contact Polly Russell if you are an experienced Wikieditor and able to offer assistance on the day: email@example.com.
More information about the Wiki project can be found here.
Naomi Kelsey. Photo credit: Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir
Naomi Kelsey, one of the 2016 Young Chefs, reflects on her experience at the Symposium
My passion for food began at a young age: baking cakes with my mum and making fresh pasta with my dad and siblings; hanging fettuccine from horizontal broom handles set up all around the conservatory. I spent my first week in an industrial kitchen at 15 on a school arranged work experience at Lincoln College in Oxford, soon followed by part-time work at 16 in the kitchen at St Catherine’s College. I started on the Sunday shift making 9lbs of pizza dough, roasting over 50kg of potatoes and vast amounts of veg for the students’ Sunday lunch. Over summer holidays this became more of a full-time vocation and I would help in the pastry, larder and vegetarian sections. After finishing A levels and being utterly confused and unconvinced about following my peers and school expectations on going to university, I decided to spend a year doing a Diploma in Cookery at City of Oxford College. Two years and a couple of stints at charity dinners with locally esteemed chefs later, I finished my course and was free to explore the wonders of the professional kitchen, full time.
During my 4 years at St Catherine’s, and being the daughter of the head chef, Tim Kelsey, I was well aware of the Symposium and had heard about the wonders of the food and (occasionally eccentric) chefs that came in to the kitchen over the weekend. I think that the way catering is taught in college is highly focused on the practical aspect and less on the ethics, source and history behind food so feeling like this theoretic domain was lacking in my knowledge and awareness, I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to try and attend some lectures from prestigious food experts and enthusiasts at the Oxford Symposium.
In the weeks and days running up to the Symposium there is a buzz and an impending sense of organisation and logistics being manufactured behind the scenes. As the weekend nears, an increasing amount of specialised ingredients and recipes turn up and are somehow found a home in the ever busy kitchen. Unfamiliar faces start to appear and start to burrow away at their food preparation, requiring a few hands from the St Catherine’s team to help cater for the 200 Symposiasts. This year Oleg (the other recipient of the Young Chef Award) and I were helping with the preparation for Fergus Henderson’s offal offerings under his watchful eye and carried out by his team. I was in charge of creating vegetarian alternatives for each of the 5 courses in case there were any queasy Symposiasts who didn’t fancy the deep fried tripe.
Over the weekend I attended many interesting and engaging lectures on submitted papers, notably Paul Rozin’s talk on disgust. I managed to sneak back into the kitchen for Jacob Kenedy’s Saturday night dinner which was offal from an Italian perspective using some incredible ingredients, in particular infant calf stomach which still held the residue of the mother’s milk. After dinner the evening moves into the JCR bar with more talks and a chance to mingle with the other food enthusiasts. This is prime time for networking and introducing yourself to as many people as you can – you never know who you may meet and what it could lead to. For me I met semi-retired food journalist Cherry Ripe who offered me one months’ free accommodation in Sydney and contacts to arrange a few stages at celebrated restaurants. So in November I spent my time in Sydney and had a great experience working at Sean’s Panaroma on Bondi Beach and Yellow, a fine dining vegetarian restaurant.
My advice to the next Young Chefs is to take every opportunity you can to meet the people who attend and get stuck into the work in the kitchen at St Catz. It will be an experience you will never forget and will hopefully get many more out of it!
Find out more about the Young Chef programme here. Details of how to apply are here. The deadline for applications is 1st March 2017.
Máirtín Mac Con Iomaire introduces a new oral history project
On becoming a Trustee two years ago I was asked to develop an oral history project relating to the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery. This is an ongoing project that will grow over time and hopefully help capture some of the backgrounds, stories, philosophies and memories of various symposiasts over the years, be they former trustees, organisers, or general attendees who are willing to share their experiences publicly.
The first nine interviews have been transcribed and both the audio and the transcription are available at the link here
Volker Bach looks at branded foods as guideposts and guarantors of quality
A traditional sweet stall, oversized gingerbread hearts and all.
Christmas fairs have a long tradition in Germany. Originally, they existed to provide markets for rural buyers when their pockets were at their fullest. Christmas, then as now, was a religious holiday, but not very. The markets were there to shop, but also to have fun, to enjoy small luxuries and to make money from people who didn’t know any better. They still are.
Andrew Dalby introduces Symposiast Pelin Dumanlı
Today we have naming of parts … Pelin Dumanlı at her culinary workshop in Bodrum
All images: Pelin Dumanlı
Pelin reached Oxford in 2016… at last. She first proposed a paper back in 2012 (‘pushing her luck’, as she says), soon after beginning her master’s at Bilgi University in İstanbul. That proposal wasn’t accepted, but she doesn’t give up easily and found that the topic in July 2016, ‘Offal’, was what she wanted: exactly the theme of her research, and just the kind of food she loves to work with.
A portrait of Nanna (c. Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir)
We continue our ‘Symposiasts at Work’ series by introducing Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir, our reigning maven of Icelandic cookery.
Nanna, would you tell us a bit about your background, and how you became interested in food and food history?
My name, Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir, means ‘Nanna, daughter of Rögnvaldur’. I was born in the Skagafjörður region of northern Iceland in 1957 and grew up on a farm called Djúpidalur, where my family had lived since 1733. As a child, I took part in the work on the farm, and learned age-old food and cooking traditions from my mother and other relatives. Resources were limited, for instance there were almost no vegetables and we got apples and oranges only at Christmas, but I was always reading about exotic things I had never seen, like asparagus or eggplants or fresh pineapple, and trying to imagine what they looked and tasted like. My parents later moved to a fishing village in the region, and I worked as a teenager there in a fish processing plant. I can’t ever remember not being interested in food and cooking and often did cooking experiments at home. Many of them were spectacular failures, frequently because I was trying to recreate dishes I had only read about and had neither a recipe nor the correct ingredients.
The caul fat, kept in vinegary water, is unwrapped
Symposiast Aglaia Kremezi on the most sought after Greek Easter delicacy
The mass slaughtering of Easter lamb reaches its peak the week before Greek Easter and not just vegetarians but even meat-loving Americans, and Europeans express shock at the site of whole, head-on carcasses of young animals spit-roasted over charcoal fire. They are even more appalled seeing the animal’s entrails – the liver, lung, and sweetbreads – meticulously threaded and enclosed in the caul fat, wrapped tightly with the intestines in order to make kokoretsi, the most sought after Greek Easter delicacy.
Peter Hertzmann introduces his offal overview video ‘It’s All Edible: Four Views of Offal’ from his short but rich plenary at the Symposium in July
On the Sunday morning of the 2016 Symposium, I had the pleasure of presenting information about offal from the classic meat-based point of view. As I began to put together the presentation, I quickly realized that there wouldn’t be sufficient time to cover the topic in a presentation. My solution was to write a paper about the subject. Once I had the paper written, I realized that even it was quite incomplete, but I was too lazy to write a book! When I started converting the paper into a presentation, it was still too long so I decided to make it into a video. (In my experience, I can present the same information much faster as a video than a live presentation.)