I’ve been busily researching for my book on Colonial foodways, but I’ve had an additional opportunity come along that works really well in tandem with it. Thankfully I can research both at the same time (because they both deal with some similar topic areas), so I’m interested to see how they build off each other!
My new book will be published as part of a series on the history of different meals. The series editor, Ken Albala, is someone who has inspired me professionally and as a cook, so when I had the chance to work with him on this project I jumped at it! My book will be on the history of afternoon tea, which is a staple in English culture. I’ll be going beyond describing the meal itself by discussing how tea came to England and how the light afternoon meal developed in English culture. I’ll also be focusing on England as a colonial power, by looking at how (or whether) afternoon tea became a part of different cultures during the Colonial period, and what it looks like in those cultures today.
It’s an ambitious project, but an exciting one! I’m especially excited as I’ve been building our culinary history holdings at the rare book museum, so I have two separate projects that are informing each other (which is always nice!)
When I initially planned this book, the goal was to write a book that adapted Markham’s soil amendment and other gardening techniques (from across several of his books) to a modern garden. This idea comes with a variety of challenges for an apartment dweller, having to do with the space to experiment in (apartments typically aren’t known for their sprawling gardens) as well as my desire to not incur my landlord’s wrath by digging up her yard. Another potential challenge for this project is the fact that I don’t live in England (or a similar climate), which is where Markham’s intended audience lived.
Then there’s the issue of sunlight, which is something I’m told is important to plants. My ‘garden’ (currently a few potted plants on a porch table) is far from being a sunny spot. My yard is filled with trees and bamboo plants, which makes it beautiful and cool in the summer, but not the greatest for growing lush planters full of fruits and veggies.
So why continue with the book with all these obstacles in the way? First, because a challenge is fun, but mostly because because it lets me explore a new direction for my work that ties in with the gardening theme. We’re in an interesting place as a culture at the moment, where eating locally is an option rather than the only option, and where it is actually cheaper in some instances to eat food produced elsewhere (there are many pieces on the politics of this and on its relationship to income inequality, which I’m sure I’ll explore at some point as a necessary part of writing about local food).