The night before Lucille Brown of Wakefield, Mich., was to fly to Washington and demonstrate her Cornish pasties, heavy cake, saffron buns and Cousin Jack cookies at the Smithsonian Institution's Festival of American Folklife, she lost her airline ticket.
She was so upset that she couldn't sleep; so, being Lucille Brown, she baked and baked through the night. About 4 a.m. she found her airline ticket. Then she was so happy that, being Lucille Brown, she just baked and baked for the rest of the night.
At the festival, though, she was stymied. The first day of the 21st annual festival, this year featuring the folkways of Michigan, the meat for her Cornish pasties didn't show up. Lucille Brown couldn't bake.
Helen Mohammed Atwell of Dearborn, Mich., had her tribulations, too: a recalcitrant oven. So she traded demonstration times with Eustacio Flores, Jr., of Grand Rapids, whose tripe soup and chicken with salsa didn't require an oven. Then when the oven was fixed she traded times with Lucille Brown, whose meat hadn't yet arrived.
At the Folklife Festival, everyone becomes neighbors.
After Atwell finished demonstrating her kibbe and sat down to recover from the infamous Washington heat, one of the audience, a black woman from Washington, came up to her. Like Atwood, she loves to use pine nuts in her stuffed grape leaves, the woman said; but she also adds apples and sausage. Lebanese cooking and American soul food joined forces.
While they were talking, on the other side of the Mall, which serves as the front yard for the Smithsonian, eight storekeepers were in the midst of a panel discussion of The Family Store. A Jamaican shopkeeper described the Easter buns and sorrel she stocks, and an Oriental grocer told of the holiday decorations he feels compelled to put up even when it is not his holiday. This being America, both of them and their six fellow panelists talked about the problems of finding space for new products in their small stores.
And just down the Mall was a demonstration of Mexican tortilla making. Still to come were muskrat cookery, sidewalk markets and vendors, fish smoking and river guide cooking.
Of course all that was making people hungry. So the watermelon vendor was selling hunks as fast as he could cut them, and people were lined up to buy Cornish pasties, honey-barbecued chicken and Jamaican jerk chicken, washing them down with plenty of lime fizzes, lemonades and orange juice.
Helen Mohammed Atwell was giving out a recipe for her green beans and tomatoes, the dish that is specially hers among her specialties. "I don't know how to cook small," she explained, as she tried to figure out the proportions for one pound of meat. Atwell, for eight years director of the Southeast Dearborn Community Council, raised eight children, and "we always had a few strays," she said. Twenty for dinner was an everyday occurrence, and often she cooked for all kinds of events in what she said is the largest Arab-Muslim community outside the Middle East. Atwell went on to tell the story of her parents immigrating to Michigan and the forming of the community center in a bank building that became available after the crash of '29.
And all over the Mall the cooks, weavers, carvers and musicians of America were telling their stories, for the better part of two weeks, as they have done for 20 years to the 16 million visitors who over the decades have come to this annual national neighborhood get-together.
Tabletalk Everyone talks health and diet, but Americans spent an estimated $3.3 billion on potato chips last year, which is a 75 percent increase since 1980, according to Fancy Food, the newsletter of the specialty food trade.
No sooner is "The Silver Palate Cookbook" translated into French, than the Silver Palate shop is translated into Japanese. The New York retail shop and catering company has opened a Tokyo branch. It added a cafe and a party space, but sells smaller containers of packaged foods than those prepared in New York (purportedly because Japanese storage space is at a premium).
Added to my collection of most intriguing food festivals is the 11th Annual Strange Seafood Exhibition by the North Carolina Maritime Museum (315 Front St., Beaufort, N.C. 28516. Telephone 919-728-7317). It is also one of the shortest food festivals, since it's being held on Aug. 20, from 2 to 4 p.m. ; and since it's limited to 1,000 ticket holders, one of the most exclusive. Tickets are $5, and include sample-sized portions of nearly 50 different seafoods -- including stingray casserole, herring roe and eggs, shark creole, yaupon tea, marinated octopus, squid salad, mole crab soup and mullet pluck. Cleaning and preparation will be demonstrated, as well. The question is, after 10 annual strange seafood exhibitions, how many strange seafoods can be left to exhibit?
A dream job has opened up: The Dreyer's and Edy's Grand Ice Cream Company is accepting applications for assistant ice cream tasters. It will select 25 to fly (or limousine) to the company's headquarters in Oakland Sept. 11. The one-day "job" will include a training session and plant tour, plus three kinds of tastings: quality control, competitive and new flavor. The pay, if such is needed for this work, is a finale dinner and a year's supply of ice cream. Qualifications are discriminating palates and the ability to consume large quantities of ice cream in a single day. Tasters will be chosen for their creativity and/or tasting experience, from either a resume detailing lifelong interest in ice cream or a letter of 150 words or less. Send to Dreyer's/Edy's Grand Ice Cream, 5929 College Ave., Oakland, Calif. 94618. Winners will be announced Aug. 28. HELEN MOHAMMED ATWELL'S LEBANESE GREEN BEANS (4 servings)
1 pound cubed lamb or beef
1 onion, chopped
1 pound fresh green beans, cut in 1 to 1 1/2-inch lengths
20-ounce can tomatoes, with juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
Rice or rice pilaf for serving
In a large pan, saute' meat ("I don't use oils," says Atwell) until it is gray. Add onion and stir; cook until onion is tender. Cut beans into pieces "kind of like they come out of the can" and add them to the meat along with the tomatoes and seasonings. Cover and simmer for an hour. Serve hot over rice pilaf or plain rice.