Bagging a Pheasant for Class

by Keith Duhamel

Student Keith Duhamel shares his experience in hunting and preparing a pheasant, 16th century style, for the Food History course as part of the MLA in Gastronomy core curriculum.

IMG_1601Autumn in New England evokes images of trees ablaze. Reds, oranges and yellows seem to light the horizon against a clear blue sky; crisp cool air in the morning balanced with warm gentle breezes as the day progresses; heading to the apple orchard, though the orchards of yesteryear are replaced today with neat ,orderly rows, manicured and pristine, like soldiers awaiting inspection; and heading to the pumpkin patch for that perfect orange sphere to carve out your jack-o-lantern.

Autumn also means, to many a native New Englander, the start of hunting season. For me, donning the orange (so that I’m recognizable to other hunters) and loading the century old double barrel shotgun once used by my grandmother on her honeymoon (no, not that type of shotgun wedding) means the hope of getting a pheasant or two.

IMG_1746This year, in particular, hunting season coincided with our Food History class studying the medieval period, and my desire to “bag” a pheasant was only magnified. Dr. Ken Albala’s class has taken us on a journey through time and this period in food evolution intrigued me the most thus far. The ostentatious displays of food by the wealthy of the late 15th and early 16th century certainly lend one to imagine dishes in excess.

My first endeavor out into the fields, however, resulted in nil, unless we count the ticks. Luckily, on my second trip I bagged me-self a beautiful rooster, the name for a male pheasant. The iridescent coloring of his plumage sparkled in the sunshine, and I knew this guy would make a meal fit for the King.

IMG_1749In respect of the period, preparation and accompaniments were lavish. After dismemberment, the breast was roasted briefly over a wood fire. As this was occurring, I prepared a stuffing of short grain rice seasoned with dates, homemade almond milk, cinnamon, ginger, garlic and a splash of verjus. I stuffed the breast, wrapped it in bacon and swaddled the entirety in a simple pastry of flour and water. Once baked, the head, wings, tail and feet were re-attached, if you will, and served on a bed of autumn leaves and a sprig of bittersweet (a modern touch).

My guests that night were indulged in a meal that was nothing short of spectacular, if I do say so myself. In true fashion of Medieval times, and at the recommendation of Dr. Albala, I stuffed his beak with a cotton ball soaked in alcohol and lit him ablaze. Autumn’s breath of fire collided in all aspects of this dish. Phineas, as we named him, was succulent and moist, tasting of smoky bacon balanced with the spiced sweetness of the stuffing. Autumn is a time of preparation, a time to reflect and prepare for the winter ahead. Phineas graciously gave of himself, so that I, and my guests may do just that.

Dr. Ken Albala will be teaching the Food History class again for the Spring 2015 semester.

Cover photo credit: innyangling.net

Garden Time: It’s Spring!

IMG_81143551818378by Kimi Ceridon

Just when it seemed winter wasn’t going to give up without a fight, the thermometer finally bounced above the freezing mark.  After a few false starts, it looks like it is going to finally stay there too.  The days are getting longer and the sun is reaching higher in the sky.  As if I needed another sign that spring has arrived, my yard is finally littered with white, purple and yellow crocuses. That means it is time to start thinking about the garden.  Actually, I started thinking about starting my garden since ordering my seeds back in January, but it’s time to put those seeds to use.

I used to wait until the May rush and buy all my seedlings from the garden store. However, I’ve been seduced by the January seed catalogs into starting my own plants from seeds.  They offer not only an irresistible tug of springtime hope in the middle of winter, but also so many more varieties of plants.  Just try to find 71 varieties of tomatoes or 22 varieties of pumpkins or multiple varieties of most crops in your local garden store or home improvement mega box.  You can’t, it isn’t cost effective to carry more than a few ‘favorite’ varieties.  IMG_81260204578379

I start my garden from seeds in soil blocks using full spectrum lightbulbs in my basement.  To take advantage of the short growing season here in New England, now is the time to get started.  Don’t let my set up intimidate you, it has evolved over several years of trial and error.  All you need is a sunny window, a few small pots, some soilless seed starting mix and a few choice seeds.  All of which can be had at your neighborhood hardware and garden store.  Some grocery stores even care basic supplies.  

904229_10200868736497540_324741037_oStarting plants from seed can seem kind of intimidating.  Admittedly, it doesn’t always go well.  Sometimes you forget to water them and they dry out.  Sometimes they don’t get a good start and end up spindly and weak.  Yet, sometimes they work wonderfully and produce beautiful robust plants.  This is part of the fun of planting a garden.  It is also why so many gardeners exhibit calmness and patience; two traits I am personally trying to cultivate from my garden.  For many years, I would start a few of the more interesting crops from seed with plans to purchase some plants from the garden store.  This way, if things didn’t work out with my seeds, I had a backup plan.  Besides, if you start early enough, you will know what is going well and what is not before the garden stores start stocking vegetable plants.  

IMG_81156379977378As I know many of you don’t have a lot of space, I also want to dispel the myth that you need a big backyard to get started.  A sunny balcony, stoop, windowsill or countertop is enough for growing a few container plants to bring a few fresh vegetables or herbs into your kitchen.  It is also a great opportunity to learn without a big investment.  For example, loose leaf salad greens are easy to grow from seed, easy to care for and will make it to a dinner plate in just a few weeks.  Fresh potted herbs are also the gift that keeps on giving.  If you keep a few shallow pots of salad greens in rotation, you can keep yourself in weekly greens throughout the year.

IMG_81104059567378There is such an amazing world of flavor hidden in a seed catalog, I suggest trying something new, something you won’t find in the grocery store or even in your farmer’s market. Without starting from seeds, I would have never tasted the meaty and creamy Good Mother Stallard dried beans or the sweet and tangy Lemon Cucumber or the sweetly tart Black Krim Tomato.  Sure, it may not feel like spring quite outside yet, but you can start getting into a springtime mood by getting your hands into some dirt.  My seeds have just started breaking ground.  

After 15 years in sustainable product design, Kimi Ceridon shifted focus from consumer products to food systems. Food is the most tangible, accessible way for individuals to reduce their impact on the planet and make a statement against an unsustainable industrial food system. She is active with NOFA/Mass Boston Ferments, Waltham Fields Community Farms and has led workshops on chicken keeping, backyard homesteading, fermentation, and brewing.  Follow her at noreturnticket.kceridon.com.

Getting Hands-On: Learning to Butcher Hogs

by Bethy Whalen

1890988_10152203830574568_563579801_nThe picture that I sent my mother and sister was captioned: “I made a new friend!”  It was a picture of me, holding up a massive hog’s head in a plastic bag.

On February 15th, I joined my friend Sarah and her family in Ruckersville, Virginia for their annual hog butchering.  Every year, they purchase whole hogs from Buffalo Creek Farm and carve them into delectable portions for the year to come.

Early that morning, Sarah’s parents arrived at the house with two massive hogs in the back of their pickup truck – both split down the middle with heads off and organs out.  We dragged the halves onto a tarp-covered table and got to work.  My first job was to process the heads.Nov 2013 035

It was amazing and strange to hold the head of a recently slaughtered animal in my hands.  This hog still had its eyes in its head, and the first time I looked at it, all I could think of was the terrifying animatronic pigs from the 1999 movie version of Animal Farm I had watched in my high school English class.  I had never been that up close and personal with a hog before.

Sarah’s family had decided not to make pon haus this year (known in different parts of America as scrapple – a loaf composed of, amongst other things, meat scraps from the boiled whole head), so my job was to take the hogs’ heads, cut out the jowls for bacon, and remove the rest of the head meat for grinding into sausage.  Step one of this process was to cut the heads in half – not the job for a dainty knife, but rather, a hefty axe.Nov 2013 033

I’m definitely no woodsman; trying to split a hog head down the middle with an axe is pretty difficult. Thankfully, I’m not squeamish either, because by the time I was done, there was pig brain splatter all down the front of my overalls.  Once the heads were processed, I helped trim the cuts which were being carved off the body.  It was incredibly fulfilling to take the large pieces and make them look like something you’d find in a grocery store.

All in all, it was an incredible day.  We started with two hogs and ended with an abundance of gorgeous meat cuts and plenty of sausage.  It was a great adventure to process these magnificent animals, and fascinating to see exactly how the other white meat goes from animal to food.1010107_609086520066_389161179_n

Bethy Whalen is a second year Gastronomy student concentrating on food policy. She is an enthusiastic food activist and avid supporter of the school breakfast and lunch programs.

Faculty Member Netta Davis Wins 2011 ASFS Pedagogy Award

The BU Gastronomy Program was out in full force at the Association for the Study of Food and Society conference last week in Missoula, MT. Faculty members Ellen Messer, Catherine Womack, Rachel Black, Ken Albala, Warren Belasco and Netta Davis presented papers and participated in a number of activities. MLA Candidate Erin Ross also presented a paper. Students, alumni and faculty came out to present the Gastronomy Program alongside other graduate degrees in Food Studies.

One of the highlights of the conference was when Netta Davis was awarded the ASFS Award for Food Studies Pedagogy for her course, Experiencing Food through the Senses. This course was developed by Netta and it represents the innovation and cutting edge pedagogy that sets our program apart. Sensory experience and experiential learning are central to the Gastronomy curriculum and Experiencing Food through the Senses is one of the core courses in the MLA in Gastronomy.