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Old school

(article, Liz Crain)

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Plenty of food bloggers stock their sites with breaking news about food and food politics, but here’s one who perpetually digs up the past without throwing dirt in your face. 

p(blue). Blog: 18thC Cuisine
Average posts per month: 5
Blogger: Carolyn Smith-Kizer
Age: 58
Blog place of origin: on the shores of Lake Huron, Michigan

Since 2004, Carolyn Smith-Kizer of 18thC Cuisine has been regularly cooking over fire, gathering 18th-century cooking tools and replicas, and sussing out wines similar in tannic structure and flavor to those of the 1700s. 


h1. Liz's faves


1. Cooking the Old Fashioned Way
2. Cooking or McCooking
3. Verjus
4. Tourtiere


Celebrating what Kizer calls Nouvelle French peasant fare (for the region of North America known in the 1600s and 1700s as New France, not the 1980s cooking craze), 18thC Cuisine — with plenty of bilingual French/English recipes from the era — is a delicious feat of period reenactment and living history. 

Fanatical and arcane, yes. But also fun, intriguing, and unique. 

When and why did you begin cooking/reenacting 18th-century French cuisine?
I remarried at mid-life and my husband was a muzzle-loading rifle builder, artist, writer, and greasy mountain man. The consorts of mountain men were usually Native American women, and I couldn't see squeezing my body into a leather dress — Oscar Mayer is not my middle name — so I began searching on the Net for other living-history scenarios of the era.  

[%image carolyn float=right caption="Carolyn Smith-Kizer" credit="Photo courtesy Carolyn Smith-Kizer"]

I discovered that the French had been all through Middle America and into the Intermountain region (I lived in Idaho at the time), and since my ancestry was French, 18th-century French was a perfect fit.

You frequently cook over a fire?
Yes. I can make everything from custards to roasts and breads in cast iron or ceramics over the fire or in the coals. I recently spent a year in a house built in 1800 cooking over and in a fireplace. I loved it; I even have a hole burned into my favorite linen petticoat from spitting sparks!

What is your readership like?
In addition to some scholars, as well as ordinary foodies, my readers seem to cross all cultural lines. Many French readers are regulars. 

What do readers most value in your blog?
My strict adherence to authenticity and the fact the there is truly nothing new under the sun. In New France, the techniques of French cooking were pretty well established by the mid-18th century.

What was cooking like in New France?
If one were cooking in Quebec City or Montreal or Louisbourg in the 18th century, one would have a large variety of cooking stuffs — imports and delicacies such as preserved lemons, chocolate, sugar, brandies, and wines — in addition to the native trade goods of the countryside and farms.  

The large seigneuries — landholdings or manors — would have had cooks who cooked like those in France. Habitante (peasant) food would have been more one-dish affairs, whereas sauces and layered flavors had been the norm in manorial cooking in France since 1663 in the manner of La Varenne.  

[%image faience float=left caption="Hot chocolate in a faience pot." credit="Photo courtesy Carolyn Smith-Kizer"]

As an example, white bread was prized by habitantes because the exclusion of the bran signified richness. They also considered it a sign of poverty to leave natural wood showing, hence painted furniture and woodwork.

How do you go about amending recipes for modern-day cooks?
Recipes of the time were usually only lists of ingredients; seldom were notations of "how to do" included. Knowledge of most techniques was assumed, so adapting a recipe for today would be to first determine what the ingredients were, for some are no longer known by names then common, then to add techniques as I know and understand them.

Do you cook every recipe that you include on the blog?
Not every recipe has been cooked in 18th-century conditions, but most recipes have been cooked in authentic — reproduction or antique — vessels and pots under fairly primitive conditions. So I can say yes, but there are times when dishes have been prepared during historical reenactments where no modern anachronisms (cameras) were allowed.

[%image teapot float=right caption="An 18th-century teapot discussed on Smith-Kizer's blog." credit="Photo courtesy Carolyn Smith-Kizer"]

How many food-reference books do you have from this era that you regularly refer to? 
I have nine books and various journal entries, inventories, and letters that discuss cooking and techniques.

In one posting you write, "Even though I am a reenactor of 18thC New France where pork was a mainstay, I do not eat pork, so I will always be using a substitute." Are there any other foods of the period that you won't cook or preparations that you abstain from?
In Nouvelle France, oils were precious. Pork fat — lard and bacon grease — and the fat of blue catfish, bear, and beaver were all considered delicacies that did not fit into the diet of someone who was a "Crypto-Jew" (secret adherence to Judaism while pretending to be of another faith). I would have been a Crypto-Jew, and so I would have used, and do use, other oils and fats. 

This dietary restriction also excludes shellfish. It does not, however, necessitate a kosher kitchen, as in two sets of dishes/pans.

Many foods required smoked or cured meat. Therefore, since the flesh of turkey, chicken, and fish take the smoke flavoring better than venison or beef, I use them for bacon and ham.  

I use a graisse (grease) preparation, which is a combination of poultry fat and beef suet and aromatic vegetables melted down, in place of lard or drippings in stews and fried dishes. Butter is always used, as is imported olive oil — jugs of it were found in inventories in some of the larger settlements.

I also abstain from blood sausage or boudin noir_, which is considered a festival dish.

[%image asparagus float=right width=250 caption="Smith-Kizer's asparagus ice cream with strawberry sauce." credit="Photo courtesy Carolyn Smith-Kizer"] 

What's the most unusual Nouvelle French food you've prepared?
Asparagus ice cream.  

And did you like it?
I loved it!

Do you ever prepare modern recipes and foods?
Yes. Alas, my dear husband is only a meat-and-potatoes man. He grew up on the Oregon coast, where venison and salmon were eaten at every meal.

Why did you start this blog in particular?
When I became aware of food bloggers, my experience with 18th-century cooking seemed my way of adding to the mix of voices, while retaining individuality. Plus it gave me a means of preparing French cuisine my husband would not otherwise even consider tasting.

p(bio). Liz Crain is a writer in Portland, Oregon.

carolyn, l

faience, l

teapot, l

asparagus, l

reference-image, l