New England Food Writing
August 28, 2017 7:27 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested in finding writing about New England food history, can you help me?

I've been getting in to food writing lately, especially stuff that focuses on food history and the people and cultures that brought food traditions to the US. A lot of what I've been reading has focused on the South - can you direct me towards similar writing that focuses on New England? Is there a Yankee version of the Southern Foodways Alliance?
posted by backseatpilot to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Fannie Farmer was based in Boston.
posted by brujita at 7:36 AM on August 28, 2017

Mark Kurlansky's Food of a Younger Land includes a lot of WPA-era food writing separated out by region - table of contents here.

Laura Shapiro's Perfection Salad goes into the history and importance of Fannie Farmer and the Boston Cooking School (if you like that one, Something From The Oven is also excellent). I had the luck of seeing Shapiro give a talk at the National Archives a few years ago, she's a brilliant storyteller and her books are a lot of fun.

Neither of those are entirely New England, but the former is helpfully divided into regional sections and the latter is largely Boston-centric.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 7:59 AM on August 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Check out the foodways department at Plimoth Plantation. They have a historian on staff who specializes in foodways. They have monthly lectures, like this one, that include food themes. Their main website doesn't seem to have a lot of scholarship, but their membership magazine often has historical food articles. If you contact the librarian, she can point you in the right direction. They have forgotten more about Pilgrim foodways than I'll ever know.
posted by Melismata at 8:00 AM on August 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sturbridge Villiage and Mystic Seaport are also possible sources of information, e.g. The Old Sturbridge Village Cookbook and the Mystic Seaport Cookbook.

When today's foodies talk about New England food, they usually go for seafood, especially lobster. But lobster as a desirable food is a fairly recent innovation. And not everyone lived on the coast, and it was an intensely agricultural economy. Which is to say, most people lived on farms and lived off what a farm produced (along with store-bought things like spices and sugar). There were lots of egg-heavy dishes like puddings.

When I was in the "farm house" at OSV, there was a demonstration of how to make cheese, they explained it was something the farm wife could make that could be sold for cash money. They had made and tasted some, and said it was a bit like Parmesan.

Events on topics like Hearth Cooking probably leave a footprint in the library.
posted by SemiSalt at 8:19 AM on August 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sandra Oliver
posted by Ideefixe at 8:33 AM on August 28, 2017

Christopher Kimball (founder of Cook's Illustrated) is a New England guy and most of what he writes is (fairly rhapsodically) about New England farm food culture.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:49 AM on August 28, 2017

UMass Amherst has a collection of New England cookbooks & ephemera - the McIntosh Cookery Collection. Some of the material is available digitally.

Christopher Kimball wrote about Fannie Farmer in Fannie's Last Summer: Recreating One Amazing Meal from Fannie Farmer's 1896 Cookbook.

Local Delectables by Andrea Davis was written as part of her undergrad thesis and focuses on crops that can be and are grown in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. Recipes, though, not history.

This 2015 History Conference, Chew on This: Presenting the history of food in Massachusetts, would be a good jumping off point for more in depth research.

Keepers of Tradition, supported by The Mass Cultural Council, has a (very) small Foodways section from their 2008 exhibit at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, MA. The exhibition catalog may have more.

On the non-book side of things, there is a Heritage Grain CSA that supports New England Farms growing grains & beans, including Plymouth Flint corn. There is (was?) also a grassroots (ha!) movement to have wheat grown in New England as it was in the 19th century.
posted by carrioncomfort at 9:22 AM on August 28, 2017

Ayuh, you need to read about Brownie Schrumpf
posted by lobstah at 9:58 AM on August 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

You might want to look into Yankee or Down East. I'm sure they've had some good food writing over the years.
posted by rdnnyc at 10:33 AM on August 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

I would urge you to make yourself acquainted with the food writing of John Thorne. Though his writing sometimes concerns non-Yankee foods, he is certainly a genuine New Englander, who devotes plenty of attention to the region's foods. And he's just so good! Here's a profile of him and his writing.
posted by reren at 11:06 AM on August 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

Durgin-Park put out a cookbook as part of a Roadfood series about 15 years ago.
posted by brujita at 12:40 PM on August 28, 2017

Yeah, I came here to say Yankee Magazine. See if you can get access to a library with a back catalog, they're super into New England history and culture (including food) and have been at it for a long time. I'm sure a perusal of their old issues would be very fruitful.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:25 PM on August 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Saltwater Foodways is the book Sandy Oliver put together based on her research at Mystic Seaport, and it's fantastic.

Another resource to check out is the Culinary Historians of Boston. They meet monthly at the Schlesinger Library on the Radcliffe campus, and meetings are free and interesting, usually featuring an accomplished writer/researcher as speaker. And that library also has a formidable collection of culinary books.

A lot of the best New England food history is covered in journal papers, particularly in the fields of social history and archaeology. I can send you a bibliography via MeMail if you drop me a line (and allow me some response time!)
posted by Miko at 7:21 PM on August 28, 2017

And just beware of the Yankee Magazine content. It's really fun to read but isn't always rigorous - their main goal is to be quaint and entertaining, and the farther back you go, the truer that is.
posted by Miko at 7:22 PM on August 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yes, John Thorne is the geeky obsessive that you want to read.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:41 AM on July 17, 2018

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