On “redacting”

In studying and trying to parse food as it was made, stored, and eaten by a culture we cannot communicate with, we come up against assumptions, presumptions, and confusions all the time. Do we whisk a sauce? Do we coddle the eggs? There’s a lot of guesswork.

A few weeks ago, I was reminded of a modern illustration of the kinds of misapprehensions we can trip over so easily.

Living in the US, I grew up with pancakes. We knew them as pancakes, but also that they could be called flapjacks, johnnycakes, and myriad other names.

Visiting the UK, we needed snacks, and found granola bars, called “flapjacks.”  I do not know how the good cooks of the UK began making granola bars and calling them flapjacks, but for some reason, they do.

Both items are “grains and liquid, placed in a pan, then cooked til done.” Very basic instructions might seem similar, but if you know you need a pancake you can make it happen, or if you don’t have a solid perception of the intended result, it might be all to easy to make a granola bar.

We are in the hobby of making good food to try to get to know our history better, but we must keep in mind that we have no corroboration on our best guesses.


2 Replies to “On “redacting””

  1. I absolutely agree! I think that is part of what makes things interesting and makes the study of period food an endless journey.

    Something I tend to do to “help” with the misconceptions is to see if there is a modern dish from the same region that resembles the period dish is ingredients and execution. This works better sometimes than it does others but it gives me an idea of how people in that region eat now and how the dishes may have evolved. I still don’t know for sure if my understanding of the recipe brings me to a dish that they would recognize if they traveled forward in time but it is my best guess.

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