It's the first full spring weekend of the year, so we're obliged to link you to at least one Easter related history — that of the elusive jelly bean. Also: A look at food writing, as a personal exercise and as a theme that spans centuries; Southern stories on gumbo and Gullah, and, on the other side of the globe, the deal on the Cambodian Kampot pepper, which currently surpasses all the other peppercorns in the shaker. Here, now, six great articles you may have missed this week.
A Bowl Full of Jelly Bean History
While the Civil War connection is in doubt — it's more likely that the Yanks got Necco Wafers — we do know that jelly beans were a popular penny candy by the late 19th century, and were common enough by 1905 for the word "jelly bean" to have made it into Webster's dictionary. By 1915, it had even made it into slang, as a pejorative term for a weak and worthless male.
All You Have Eaten
Reading the entries from 2008, that first year, does something else to me: It suffuses me with the same mortification as if I'd written down my most private thoughts (that reaction is what keeps me from maintaining a more conventional journal). There's nothing particularly incriminating about my diet, except maybe that I ate tortilla chips with unusual frequency, but the fact that it's just food doesn't spare me from the horror and head-shaking that comes with reading old diaries.
The New Inquiry
The mention of such elaborate dishes reminds us just how privileged these writers were compared to the rest of society, who, as historian H.S. Bennett has noted, lived on bread, ale or cider, and pottage (a type of porridge usually consisting of peas, beans, or whatever was on hand). The dishes described in cookbooks of the time were truly fantastic, surreal events, as possible to realize for most people as the feasts of the mythical land of Cockaigne.
Everyday Sacred: A Personal Path to Gumbo
Gumbo was always on the menu, and as the event gained traction, we found ourselves feeding upwards of 20, 40 — then 60 people. But no matter how big the crowds grew, it seemed that a gumbo could always feed everyone. All we had to do was add another chicken, or make some extra rice. That's the beauty of large-format Louisiana cooking.
While these ingredients do represent a centuries-old shared bounty — Gullah cooks at home and downtown chefs are grabbing for the same locally available staples — it's important to note how they came to be associated with Gullah cooking and increasingly with Charleston restaurant cooking: the enslavement and forced diaspora of West African people, and the continuation of the long-held culinary traditions they brought with them to South Carolina.
The King of Spice
Roads and Kingdoms
When the red begins to emerge, the pepper is removed from the stem by hand and left in the sun to dry. The green peppers turn brown in two days, Klein says. The red ones are separated out and dropped into boiling water, which produces both red pepper and white pepper, which appears if the red skin sloughs off in the water. Two women sit separating the colors by hand in the shade.