“Dried, Frozen and Rotted: Food Preservation in Northern Eurasia” by Charles Perry
We’re kicking off 2016 with “Dried, Frozen and Rotted: Food Preservation in Northern Eurasia” by Charles Perry on January 9th!
Once you head inland from the great Eurasian civilizations — Europe, the Middle East, India and China — you are in a vast, empty land where agriculture is impossible: the dry grasslands of the steppe, the pine forests and lichen barrens of the subarctic tundra and the bitterly cold arctic. Apart from some favored areas where large fish spawns make it possible to live in year-round villages, most people here have been obliged to follow a nomadic way of life.
So they have had to develop preservation methods which mostly involve drying, freezing or fermenting (in tubs, sacks or pits in the ground). For instance, both freezing and fermenting are used for preserving blood and fat (essential to survival in this climate; the average Mongol eats a pound of butter a day). On the tundra, vegetables are in particularly short supply, so inhabitants dry or freeze roots (in some places stolen from field mouse burrows) or partially digested moss from reindeer stomachs.
Because nomads are obliged to live on a low level of material culture, great ingenuity was expended on food preservation. This was not often appreciated by 18th- and 19th-century visitors, who complained about the leathery texture of dried fish, reported that fishing villages could be smelled miles away and speculated gravely on the reasons for the prevalence of tapeworm in Siberia.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER:
Charles Perry is a well-known food historian. He wrote the chapter on the Middle East for Food in Time and Place, the American Historical Association’s textbook on food history, has translated four medieval cookbooks from Arabic and is at work on a fifth, which will be published by NYU Press. A great-grandson of Gold Rush pioneers, he has studied California food history and is the president and a co-founder of the Culinary Historians of Southern California.
Free and open to the public.