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Material culture classes cook a family feast

4:11 p.m., Dec. 15, 2005--Spread out on two connecting six-foot tables in 232 Gore Hall on Dec. 5 was a melting pot of foods prepared by students in a material culture senior seminar taught by Bernard Herman, Edward and Elizabeth Rosenberg Professor of Art History, and in an introductory material culture class taught by Lu Ann DeCunzo, professor of anthropology.

The feast--including dried beef balls, pancake biscuits, Texas chicken, lasagna, sweet potato pie, peanut butter clay, tangy cucumber delight, collard greens, butterscotch brownies, one-bowl-gold cake, peach cobbler and sweet potato biscuits--was a sampling of recipes shared by the cooks of New London Road in Newark and the families of DeCunzo’s class members, who are studying facets of material culture dealing with food, its preparation, serving, storing and documentation.

Herman, who is the director of the Center for American Material Culture Studies, and DeCunzo joined forces this semester to make DeCunzo’s annual foodways project and feast take on the theme of Herman’s New London Road community history project--“Food, Family and Community.”

The New London venture is a Center for Material Culture Studies public scholarship project. The senior seminar New London Road community cookbook is being prepared with the assistance of Raymond Nichols, professor of fine arts and visual communications.

Herman’s seniors are helping the New London Road African-American community compile and publish a cookbook of recipes representing the food traditions of the people who live in the neighborhood now and who formerly lived there.

The book, with the working title of Food, Poems and Stories, is a combination of recipes and history based on interviews with residents recorded by Herman’s seniors and is the second part of an oral history project that resulted in a 108-page book, People Were Close, a memoir of the New London Road community, that was published last year.

“So many of the stories that came up over and over again related to food,” Herman said. “When the people of the community saw People Were Close, they really became excited and more of them wanted to participate. This book came directly from them, and we’re getting more participation this time. Food, Poems and Stories will show the importance of food, hospitality and celebration in the lives of the people of New London Road.”

Gwen Stewart, senior art conservation major and American material culture minor in Herman’s seminar, made cucumber delight, a community recipe. “There were so many stories around the recipe,” Stewart said.

Reginald Quarles, a sophomore history major taking DeCunzo’s class, made collard greens from a New London Road recipe. “I learned a lot about the history of how the food came about and how they were able to take food not usually used and turn it into delicacies,” he said.

As an African American, Quarles said, he had learned a great deal about his own heritage.

Herman said the students have compiled and designed the book but they still need donations to have it printed.

The full-color, 120-page book on high-quality archival paper will cost approximately $12,000 to produce. If they can raise the money, Herman said, 500 copies of Food, Poems and Stories should be ready for distribution by May.

Anyone who would like to contribute to the book’s completion, can send a check, payable to the University of Delaware, to the Center for Material Culture, 207 Mechanical Hall, Newark, DE 19716. Contributors should write “cookbook” on the check.

Article by Barbara Garrison
Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

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