12 September 2017
Food is a cultural anchor and means of communication. The food we share is one of the primary ways in which we relate to one another, our communities, and the environment.
On September 12, E.A.T. came to the Fredericksburg Area Museum to explore food’s narrative quality, and to ask the question “how is cultural identity woven into the food we share?” Our menu served as the springboard for exploring answers to this question. The courses were comprised of Independence Day foods, and nationally celebrated dishes from around the world prepared by one of the best chefs in the region, Chef Joy Crump (Foode & Mercantile, Fredericksburg, VA).
Taking a closer look at these food items and the stories they tell, we sought to understand how food can serve as a communication tool, and how flavor, taste, and aroma are woven through cultural narratives across the globe.
As our evening began, guests gathered in historic Town Hall/ Market House’s council chambers. Town Hall/Market House , built in 1816, served as the City’s government, civic, and community building. Walking around on the beautiful hardwood floors, guests took in views of the old Market Square down below. It was easy to imagine some of the conversations and debates that would have occurred in this building more than a century ago.
What discussions led up to the construction of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad in 1837, which became so crucial for connecting Fredericksburg to the state capital? What deliberations surrounded the council in the heat of the Civil War, as Fredericksburg’s strategic import as a midway point between Washington and Richmond became apparent? What was served to eat during the reception for Marquis de Lafayette on his final tour of the United States?
These questions and more seemed to float alongside the guests as they explored the council chambers and the other exhibition floors of the museum. Carrying a Cuba Libre Old Fashioned in hand, guests mingled with one another before sitting around the table in the historic council chambers to begin our edible investigation of cultural identity.
Chef Joy Crump (Foode & Mercantile, Fredericksburg, VA) used her menu to fuse her personal culinary style with influences from all over the world, taking diners on a virtual tour, as they explored some of the foods most closely connected to identity, nationality, and cultural independence.
December 26, 1990 – Slovenia – Ričet
Ham & Barley Bisque, Black Eyed Peas, Field Greens, Dried Tomato
Ričet is a traditional Slovenian soup enjoyed throughout the mountainous country. Hearty and earthy, it provides a warm, comforting counterpoint to the sharp and sometimes cold Slovenian landscape.
Like most foods of national significance, ričet is enjoyed at all levels of society, and finds regional variations as one makes their way across the country. Chef Joy brought these regional variations out of Slovenia and across the Atlantic, using Virginia Ham as the critical cured pork element in the dish. In this way, we got a sense of the original Slovenian recipe, while maintaining a commitment to local products and produce, a commitment, which Joy carries through each of her restaurants. The soup itself was earthy and rich, with slight acidity from the dried tomato cutting through the salt and fat of the ham. Balance between richness and tartness, saltiness and the slight sweetness of the ham, even between the excitement of trying new food and easy contentment of a hearty homemade soup were folded into the dish.
August 15, 1947 – India – Raita
Braised Brussels, Currants, Blood Orange, Pistachio, Smoked Yogurt
Raita is an Indian condiment that is traditionally made with dahi (yogurt), and a combination of raw or cooked vegetables and fruits. Contrary to the use of most condiments, raita is not used to add spice to food, but instead to cool and tame spicier foods.
In a way, it provides a delicious metaphor for unity. Raita’s embrace brings spices and “high energy” flavors together, joining them in a smooth, cooling presence. It provides a calm contrast to competing tastes, and gives the palate a clean slate from which to begin again after each flavorful bite. It comes in myriad varieties, representing individuality within the common group. It’s a great symbol for diversity of thought, and unity of purpose.
Chef Joy’s particular preparation blended smokiness with the distinct tang of blood orange, yogurt, and Brussels sprouts. With each bite one could focus on a different individual flavor, like understanding a new point of view, every ingredient unified within the smoked yogurt.
June 12, 1898 – Philippines – Halabos ha Hipon, Camote, & Lechon
Gulf White Shrimp, Shaved Citrus Fennel, Pink Peppercorn Pork Belly, Sweet Potato Butter, Pomegranate Gastrique
The Philippines occupy a completely unique space in world cuisine, presenting a hybrid of Southeast Asian and Spanish influences that continues to grow and develop even today. As an island nation, proximity to land and sea is a crucial part of the national identity, with many local dishes emphasizing both elements.
In this dish, Chef Joy paid homage to many Filipino staples, while stamping her own interpretations onto those recipes. Halabos ha Hipon, a sweet shrimp recipe from the Philippines, was reinterpreted through cooking them with shaved citrus fennel instead of the more traditional soda-braise. The pink peppercorn pork belly was reminiscent of Lechón, the suckling pig that is common throughout Spain and all of Spain’s prior colonial possessions, including the Philippines. With a sweet potato butter hinting at the sweetly earthy flavors of camote, the dish brought together a pronounced heat from the peppercorns with the silky fragrant butter.
Notable of many Filipino recipes are the quantities in which they are prepared, from whole suckling pig, to adobo chicken that is cooked in vinegar to preserve as well as add flavor through the cooking process. The larger quantities of these preparations suggest a kind of community dining, as opposed to individual meals, or even single family dining. This emphasizes perhaps the most notable quality of food across all cuisines: its propensity for bringing people together.
December 9, 1961 – Tanzania – Sukuma Wiki & Meat Stew
Bourbon Braised Beef, Collard Green Slaw, Horseradish Cream, Portobello-Sage Jam
Collard greens are available year round in Tanzania, and are a staple of daily life. The Swahili name, sukuma wiki, literally means, “stretch the week,” as collards are an affordable and nutrient-dense ingredient. Time of year affects nutrient content and flavor as well, with the winter months bringing about tastier, more nutritious collards. Stews are popular in Tanzania as well, and are another great example of a dish that can be made to serve a single family, or an entire community.
Braising the beef in bourbon was a flavorful reminder of the fact that this culinary world tour was taking place in Virginia. The crisp heat of the horseradish cream, and full-bodied nature of the Portobello and sage melted around the tender beef.
May 1, 1707 – United Kingdom – Tea & Crumpets
Lemon Curd, Ginger Cookie, Black Cherry Gelee
For dessert, rather than declaring independence, we taste the founding of a nation. Just as dessert is the sweet foil to savory antecedents, the U.K. is the colonizing power from which many nations would eventually emerge independent.
Baking culture is extremely popular in Britain, with few more iconic pastries than scones and lemon curd spread – a sweet “snack” of the masses. Ending the meal on this sweet note, guests were given leave once again to explore the museum and check out the exhibits, as they reflected on the flavors and influences that came throughout the meal.
All in all, it was a fantastic event, and E.A.T. looks forward to coming back to FAM as they continue to connect people through sharing ideas, experiences, and fostering community.
Our evening would not have been possible without the help of The Fredericksburg Area Museum, who graciously opened their space to us for our evening of edible inquiry.
To learn more about their ongoing rotation of exhibitions, and plan a trip to view their outstanding permanent collection of Fredericksburg-native and regional artifacts, visit FAM’s website: famva.org.
We strongly encourage you to sign up for the FAM newsletter to receive information about their upcoming special exhibitions, and community events! – And follow them on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date with FAM at home and abroad!
Also, special thanks to Joy Crump, whose willingness to share with us her culinary talents made for an evening of delicious discovery and excitement. If you haven’t had a chance to visit her at FoodĒ or Mercantile, in Fredericksburg, VA, we can’t recommend strongly enough that you do so. Her cooking is as welcoming as the chef herself, the comforts of home encapsulated in her food.
And keep up with FoodĒ’s sister restaurant, Mercantile, to see how Joy and her team are putting their own twists on Southern flavors and classics.