Saturday, May 22, 2010

Saturday in the Park


We should have awarded a prize for the best food-and-family history story at our potluck picnic. It would, without question,  have gone to Glenn Mack. Glenn is President of Le Cordon Bleu of Atlanta. He's also a world traveler and has studied food and cooking in some unexpected places. One of those places is Uzbekistan. You see, Glenn told us, his lovely, sparkling wife is half-Russian, half-Uzbek. One summer they visited the Uzbek side of the family. Glenn took it as an opportunity to learn to cook Uzbek-style. After a few days of cooking together, Glenn's in-laws sat him down and said they had a confession to make. Glenn got concerned, "What is it?" he asked. They answered, "We're not really Uzbek. We're Tatars!"  Glenn responded,  "Then let's cook Tatar food!" And so they did, and that's why Glenn brought a Tatar eggplant dish to the picnic. (Accompanying thumbnail is Glenn)

All the food at the potluck was fantastic. We're a diverse group, and it showed.  A few examples: we had Caribbean-style pigeon peas and rice, Korean rice noodles, Pennsylvania-style ham salad, Polish goulash, Italian antipasto, Swedish-style filled cookies, and Midwestern-style oatmeal-coconut cake with a mysterious past.  Everyone wants all the recipes, and so we are collecting them to bind into a little publication for our members. But more about membership later. Watch this blog for more information in the next few days.

Twenty-five culinary historians and one Irish wolfhound met up on this perfect day in May on the tranquil banks of the Etowah River to share food, fun, and family stories. It was hard to imagine that this was the site of a terrible battle and weird, but exciting locomotive chase during the Civil War. What is now a picnic ground was once the town of Etowah, Georgia, home of Coopers Iron Works, where pig iron was fabricated for sale to munitions manufacturers working in service of the Confederacy.  All that remains is the giant stone chimney that was the heart of the factory, now known as Coopers Furnace.

Chef Christy Seelye-King helped bring the images of the past alive in a spirited presentation on the town and General Sherman's destruction of it. She told us that another venture in Etowah was the manufacture of hand-made knives that were carried by Confederate soldiers. The knives were kind of big and bulky, not well suited for combat. More soldiers deployed them for culinary purposes. In another link to culinary history, as part of the Great Locomotive Chase, the trains had to stop for meals. One of the trains was actually commandeered while it was stopped to allow troops to have breakfast. There are no historical documents describing the breakfast, so we conjectured on that for a few minutes. Were the soldiers chomping on hardtack or hard boiled eggs?
(photo:  Chef Christy)

After the meal, we dispersed to the many corners of the park. Some folks went fishing, others hiking and geocaching (or at least attempting to - the cache was never found), and a few just relaxed in the picnic shelter, socializing and listening to the birds, the river, and the laughter of children.

Cover photo by Roger Dickerson

No comments: