Monday, December 5, 2016

Wrap up from the December General Meeting

Victor Valle presentation of "A Curse of Tea and Potatoes: A Genealogy of Recipes" was well received by the many members and vistors alike.

V ictor Valle, a journalist, professor, and culinary researcher, was our featured speaker. He spoke about his book, Encarnacion’s Kitchen. His presentation focused on Encarnacion Pinedo who had come from an educated family. As a resident of San Francisco, California, Encarnacion worked with a local printer to get her cookbook to her supporters in 1898. He stated that Herbert Bolton and others had been quick to dismiss the contributions of women in the history of early California. (1) Cookbooks from the 19th century contained advice, important dates, opinions and other historical information often overlooked by traditional researchers, such as Bolton.
Valle noted that the cookbook documented what early Californios and others were eating from the region and how Encarnacion improvised when certain spices or items were unavailable or in short supply. We learned that San Francisco was a place with poor food options. English food, for example, was totally undesirable to Encarnacion and other locals who believed in using herbs, spices and local sources for healthy living, something missing in English and other cuisines. With the absence of refrigeration and the presence of a short growing season, Encarnacion and others learned how to pickle, dry and preserve foods
for appropriate events, including picnics, a favorite pastime of Californios who loved
Valle also noted that Encarnacion was a smart businesswoman who was proud of
publishing the cookbook in her native Spanish language AND getting people to
subscribe or pay in advance for the cookbook. Valle reminded us that paper was expensive and print
shop owners refused to lose money. For Encarnacion Pinedo to convince a printer to take a risk on her
cookbook venture perhaps says a lot about her confidence, character and motivation. While San
Francisco was changing rapidly, Encarnacion Pinedo stood firm in being proud of her culture, cuisine and
belief that good food could still change the world even as her culture was being pushed aside.
If Valle, too, is correct, food can change the world by promoting peace, love and community.
Food can bring people out from isolation and provide cheer in the worst of times. Victor Valle’s book,
Encarnacion’s Kitchen is available on Amazon. Valle, a Pulitzer-winning journalist, never disappoints.

(1) Herbert Bolton was an American historian who studied the Spanish American Colonial Period and later became the founding director of the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley.