Following on from my post a couple of weeks ago, I have indeed received, read, and reflected on my ILL copy of William Dunmire’s extraordinary Gardens of New Spain: How Mediterranean Plants and Foods Changed America.
People, this is a treasure of a book. It’s a tome of phenomenal original scholarship, incredibly detailed – a literally year-by-year tracing of the spread of Old World foods through the Spanish colonies from Columbus to the missions of Alta California – that is not just readable but actually lovely, conversational writing, generously illustrated with drawings by the author’s wife, and a collection of short pieces on individual plants at the end of each chapter. It’s just delightful.
The big takeaway for the feast was this: by the end of the SCA period, every single food plant cultivated in Spain was being grown somewhere in the New World colonies. There were things that didn’t succeed in some areas – wheat never got established in the Carribean; the Spanish adoption of native foods there was a matter of survival, but they turned central Mexico into a breadbasket within a decade of their arrival; a combination of climate and European growers’ lobbying the Crown for monopoly rights held back olives and grapes in Mexico, although there was some success with those crops on Cortez’ properties in the central highlands, but once they reached Texas and California there was no containing them – but there was nothing that the Spanish didn’t find a niche for somewhere, so determined were they to hold on to the culinary identity and lifestyle of the mother country. If anything, hidalgo culture in the colonies adopted New World foods less quickly than Europe did*, because of their resistance to anything identified with Indian cultural practices. This was the dominant paradigm in the upper and middle classes for two hundred years.
All of which means I’m on the right track as far as the feast is concerned, with its precious imported ingredients and elite court-style recipes, but it makes me feel a little uncomfortable with the underlying premise. I’m not sure how I feel about raising up a set of cultural practices that would, within a very short time after the time period I’m working in, hone the worst of medieval conquer-and-resettle practices into fully articulated modern colonialism.
But this is history. History is what we do. We can’t recreate the arts, the food, the music, the pageantry, the beauty of the premodern world in any kind of meaningful way without also getting our hands dirty and having serious conversations about the context, the darkness, the cruelty and suffering and moral complexity of the people whose clothes and lives we wear. We give voice to the past; we have to do it with honor and honesty. I think I know the direction that the Kingdom A&S project based on this feast will take, now.
I have learned so much from this research. I have so much more to learn.
And on this Thanksgiving eve, from my house to yours, a recipe:
PERDIGARAS las Alcachofas con agua y sal, cortandolas primero cerca la mitad házia las puntas, y esprimelas del agua, y echalas a cozer en caldo que ténga buena grasa, o en agua, y sal, y harta manteca de vacas, y ponlas en un hornillo, los pecones házia abaxo sobre unos pedacillos de masa, y echales détro por las puntas un poco de sal, pimienta, y azeite que sea bueno, y dales lũbre que sea moderada abaxo y arriba, y iranse calando: y quando esten asadas, sacalas, y assientalas enel plato, y echales çumo de naranja por encima: aunque parezcá que estan secas, por dedentro estaran muy tiernas y muy gustosas.
Blanch the artichokes in salted water, cutting close the first half of the tips, and squeeze the water, and throw them to cook in broth that has good fat, or water, and salt, and butter from well-fed cows, and put them in a stove , nipples down [stems up] on little pieces of dough, and throw into the ends of them a little salt, pepper, and oil as well, and give it moderate rubbing down and up: and when they are roasted, remove them, and seat on the plate, and throw orange juice on top: although it seems they are dry, for inside are very tender and very tasty.
*although they were all about Indian agricultural practices, because they worked for the climate and the land. They used Indian agricultural practices – and Indian slaves – to raise European foods for European consumption. This is as pure a definition of exploitation and as you could ask for.