Darra Goldstein Brings Classic Nordic Cooking to Life with Fire + Ice

By Amanda Balagur

Reindeer StewAlthough she’s best known as the Founding Editor of Gastronomica and Professor of Russian at Williams College, Darra Goldstein has a long-standing history with Scandinavian cooking. She first ventured to that part of the world in 1972, when she flew to Finland and took a weekend bus from Helsinki to Leningrad (she was studying Russian then). In 1980, she had plans to go to Moscow to research her dissertation, but unforeseen circumstances related to the U.S. boycott of the Summer Olympics resulted in a change of plans — she and her husband, newly married, ended up going to Stockholm, Sweden instead. Goldstein describes herself as being quite taken by Scandinavia, calling her latest cookbook, Fire + Ice, a “cultural excursion into the way people actually eat there” in contrast to the often innovative and highly conceptual New Nordic cuisine.

The cookbook focuses on four core countries: Finland, Sweden, Denmark Fisherwomanand Norway. The name Fire + Ice reflects the two key elements that define the region. Photos of snowy landscapes, silvery architecture and windows glowing with amber warmth gave the Pepin Lecture audience a feel for Goldstein’s inspiration as she described the local cuisine. Cold and warmth are reflected in traditional beverages such as glug, which is mulled wine spiced with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom served warm in the wintertime, and schnapps or aquavit, a distilled liquor made from grain and flavored with caraway, ginger, cardamom or even young birch leaves.

SmorgasbordGoldstein explained the evolution of one of the most familiar Scandinavian offerings, the Smörgåsbord. It started out as a table displaying an array of schnapps, to which food was added until it became institutionalized as the feast we think of today. According to Goldstein, there is a certain way to eat at a Smorgasbord, which is broken up into five courses: his majesty the herring (a fish so important to local cuisine it’s admired in isolation like royalty!), other fish and seafood, cold meats and salads, hot dishes and desserts. After the Smörgåsbord was introduced to the U.S. at the 1939 World’s Fair, it became all the rage and eventually turned into the all-you-can eat buffets and salad bars that pepper the American landscape to this day.

Other items of importance in Scandinavian cuisine include brown bread, Dried Fishmade from grains like barley, oats and rye, which ranges from chewy sourdough to delicate crispbread, and pickled, salted and fermented fish, which range from mild (gravlax) to pungent (suströmming). Additional favorites include foraged greens, mushrooms and berries, and dairy products like cheese and butter. The region’s cuisine reflects seasonality, indigenous influences and Viking conquests – it’s no coincidence that spices like cinnamon, saffron and nutmeg, encountered centuries ago via the Silk Road, are now associated with Scandinavian cuisine. The art of preserving food, shaping anthropomorphic Christmas cookies and infusing liqueurs is as much a part of life in this realm as the extremes of light and dark. To learn more about Darra Goldstein and Fire + Ice, click here. Book Signing

 

 

 

Alumna Emily Contois Explores Icons of Australian Food Culture

By Amanda Balagur

Despite the wet and windy weather last Thursday evening, a lively crowd attended the third Pépin Lecture of the semester to learn about “Icons of Australian Food Culture: Vegemite, Kangaroo & the Flat White”. Emily Contois, who graduated from the MLA in Gastronomy program at BU in 2013 and is in her third year as a PhD student in American Studies at Brown University, greeted the audience warmly and dove into her topic with enthusiasm.

Emily standing title slideWhile she grew up in Montana, Emily’s father is Australian, and she and her sister were born Down Under. So it should come as no surprise that she feels a connection to the food and culture of her homeland. There are quite a few iconic dishes from Australia, including meat pies and desserts like pavlova and lamingtons. However, Emily chose to focus on three slightly polarizing foodstuffs: kangaroo, the flat white and Vegemite.

According to Emily, kangaroo is a lean gamey meat that has been eaten by Australia’s indigenous population for thousands of years. Since it’s considered to be ecologically friendly and nutritious, there has been a recent (and mostly unsuccessful) effort to get more Australians to incorporate it into their diet. However, kangaroo meat is often associated with road kill and pet food (it’s largely exported to Europe as an ingredient for the latter), and the trend has been slow to catch on. But creative marketing, such as 2008’s Taste of Kangaroo/Roocipes campaign, may be making a dent in the Australian market — kangaroo is now more widely available, and sales may be increasing.

While Aussies may be slow to embrace eating kangaroo meat, the same can’t be said for the iconic treat Emily spoke Emily talking about Vegemiteabout next. The flat white was described as “Australia’s greatest contribution to global gastronomy” by Australian food history scholar Michael Symons. Stemming from European coffee culture, this popular hot drink is a product of 20th century immigration. It consists of a double shot of espresso and micro-foamed milk, resulting in a coffee drink that’s velvety sweet without the fluffiness of a latte or cappuccino. Traditionally served in a 165ml tulip cup, it’s also enjoyed at a slightly colder temperature than other coffee/milk specialties. From Emily’s point of view, the flat white is uniquely global, created as something new in Australia based on Italian coffee culture. Members of the audience at the lecture who had enjoyed the flat white while visiting Australia agreed it was a truly enjoyable part of their daily ritual while traveling there.

TheVegemite crackers last featured food of the evening seemed to spark the most interest from the crowd: Vegemite. Developed in 1923 due to the decreased availability of Marmite from England during World War I, Vegemite is made from yeast extract left over from the beer brewing process and is seasoned with salt and vegetable extracts. From the start, it has been promoted as a health food that is “packed with B vitamins”. Emily shared some impressive statistics, including that Vegemite can be found in 80% of Australian kitchens. It’s also rumored to be many Australian babies’ first solid food, and many Australians don’t leave home without it (because, of course, it comes in convenient Crowd sampling Vegemitetravel-size tubes). She pointed out the culinary tie to the British Empire and explored marketing campaigns in Australia and the U.S., noting the correlation between the first successful sales of Vegemite in America and the Aussie pop culture wave that occurred here in the 80s.

The evening ended with a Vegemite tasting; each audience member received two Ritz crackers with a thin coating of the inky spread, which garnered some spirited reactions. Overall, it was a fun and informative presentation, and the audience was keen to participate. For more information on Emily’s work in food studies, visit her website or follow her on Twitter @emilycontois.