New Mexico History Museum’s small business project featured on KRQE

Museum curator Alicia Romero spoke with KRQE news about the research project about small independent businesses serving communities throughout New Mexico. We are seeking input from the public about their experience and memories of these small businesses which will help inform a future exhibit.

For more details and how to submit your own suggestion, check out this recent blogpost.

Kitchen Counterculture

An illustration from The Munchies Eatbook by Alice and Eliot Hess. From the author’s collection

In conjunction with the release of the virtual version of the museum’s 2017-2018 exhibit Voices of the Counterculture in the Southwest, museum educator, Melanie LaBorwit looks into how the counterculture had a hand in changing how Americans eat. You can visit the online version of Voices of the Counterculture in the Southwest here.

“The Flavor of Cultural Change:   The Evolution of Countercultural Cookbooks and Their Legacy”                                         

Melanie LaBorwit, Museum Educator

In an article on a course at Macalester College, called “From Counterculture to Digital Culture”, one of the students, Rosa Durst, reflected on her research and the intersection between cookbooks and radical movements. “Food is one vehicle of cultural significance,…which allows cookbooks to become not just manuals for eating but manuals for performing activism, creating art, or finding new ways of living.“ (Macalester News, June 2017) .

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, culture writer Cynthia Bertelsen muses about the legacy of what she calls “the hippie era’, (Gherkins and Tomatoes food blog, July 2010). She notes that the 1960’s and 1970‘s marked a turning point in culinary literature. Before this time, vegetarianism was perceived as only the interest of Seventh Day Adventists and around the world most people ate vegetarian food not out of choice but from poverty.

Betty Crocker’s Dinner In A Dish. About as mainstream as it got at the time. From the collection of the author.

Too often, food preparation in the United States, mostly deemed as historically women’s work, is overlooked in history; but the advent of a new style of cookbook in the 1960‘s  is incredibly revealing, reflecting not only culinary changes, but changing gender roles,  working lives, trends in publishing, and a concern for the environment and environmental activism.

Another mainstream example from the author’s collection.

There are many books that have been added to the canon, but there were five main titles that were almost ubiquitous on the kitchen shelves in the Age of Aquarius.

Diet for a Small Planet (1971) by Francis  Moore Lappe’ was among the first and most popular of this revolutionary genre. Part political diatribe, part recipes, Lappe’s work introduced many new ingredients which would soon become staples at food co-ops which were opening  up around the country.  With an emphasis on legumes and fresh vegetables, she also reintroduced traditional foods from different cultures and ingredients once perceived as esoteric. While in retrospect, her recipes are not considered the most flavorful, her perspective on sustainability, home grown foods, nutrition, and feeding the world looking into the future has proven to have been prescient for the time.

Vegetarian Epicure (1972), by Anna Thomas came soon thereafter and included more tasty and aesthetically pleasing recipes from around the world accompanied by lovely hand drawn illustrations printed on gold colored papers.  In 1974 came Tassajara Cooking from Edward Espe Brown, which was an overnight success.  Tassajara introduced new ideas for intriguing meals and nutritional information accompanied by Zen insights and meditative thoughts for one’s kitchen and daily life.  Laurel’s Kitchen(1976) by Laurel Robertson with Carol Flinders and Bronwen Godfrey became de rigueur  among college students and others cooking  on their own for the first time, and was followed quickly on its heels by the immensely popular Moosewood Cookbook (1977) by Mollie Katzen, hand written and illustrated in homey fashion.  The demand for these books, as well as other sequels that followed, has never abated.  Individually, each of these publications gained huge followings and widened the audience for what had once been considered well outside the norm of American-style foods. Collectively, their influence on American foodways must be perceived as truly revolutionary.  

In contrast to these counterculture cookbooks, most mass marketed cookbooks in this era reflected the idyll of a nuclear family home, represented women in the kitchen whose primary role was coming up with innovative meals for her husband and children and occupied themselves with ideas for incorporating new foods as an occasional novelty, and with a narrative that encouraged the busy cook and housewife to  focus on her important role as a hostess for all occasions.  On the remarkable blog “The Historical Cooking Project”, Dr. Alex Ketchum observed recently that the countercultural cookbooks that came out of the 1970’s and even the 1980’s were “ responding to the over-processed foods and strict gender roles in the post-war period.” ( May 2019)  Out of the war came manufacturing of new highly processed food products to aid the housewives of America with convenient shortcuts for their elaborate dinners.  Instant soups, cake mix, powdered potatoes and meal kits were filling the shelves of new supermarkets.  Mainstream cookbooks began adding in these prepared foods as main ingredients for expedient meal preparation, but still emphasizing set gender roles for the lady in the kitchen.

Countercultural cookbooks do not seem to address gender at all ( though interestingly they paved their way for a new crop of women writers and feminist chefs)  but call attention to environmental issues, industrial farming practices and the risk of pesticides. Rodale press had long been publishing the magazine, “Organic Farming and Gardening”, begun in 1942. Their writing was originally  addressed to farmers  to promote chemical-free growing in traditional agriculture, but their audience in this era would also change and grow in unanticipated ways. The counterculture community was looking for new resources and new authority to support their back to the land endeavors. Recipe collections that were published to a younger audience of consumers increased attention to, and normalized the term “ natural foods”, beyond the commune communities scattered in rural enclaves through the nation or newly developed food cooperatives in urban areas. They  began to create a new demand among consumers for purchase of and development of a market for these natural foods. 

A page from the Moosewood Cookbook. From the author’s collection.

Have you recently enjoyed a meal with tabbouleh?  herbal tea?  free range chicken? Curried lentils? or a sandwich with whole wheat bread? Arugula?  Avocado?  Several varieties of mushrooms? Organic cheeses? Heirloom tomatoes? Bean sprouts? We owe the enormous diversity of our culinary options in the 21st century to the intrepid hippie cooks in our late 20th century kitchens.

Some more food for thought:

Warren Belasco, Appetite for Change: How the Counterculture Took on the Food Industry, Cornell University Press, 2007

Edward Espe Brown, Tassajara Cooking, Shambala Press, 1974

Mollie Katzen,Moosewood Cookbook, Ten Speed Press, 1977

Frances Moore Lappe, Diet for a  Small Planet, Ballantine books, 1971

Maria McGrath Food for Dissent:  Natural Foods and the Consumer Counterculture since the 1960’s.   University of Massachusetts, 2019

Laurel Robertson with Carol Flinders and Bronwen Godfrey Laurel’s Kitchen: A Handbook for Vegetarian Cooking and Nutrition, Nilgiri Press,1976

Anna Thomas, Vegetarian Epicure, Knopf ( later Vintage reprint) 1972.

http://www.historicalcookingproject.com/  Historical Cooking Project, ed. Dr. Alex Ketchum

http://www.thefeministrestaurantproject.com/  A public history project begun with Dr. Ketchum’s doctoral dissertation research and newer contributions to research on the subject.

Working On the Railroad – The Virtual Exhibition

A view of the entrance of the Working on the Railroad exhibition

When the railroad came to New Mexico in 1879, it brought thousands of job opportunities for local people from rural villages, reservations, and larger towns. In addition to the homegrown workforce, the railroad also brought immigrant Chinese, European, and Mexican laborers to our state. The workforce included women and people of color, immigrants and Native Americans, young and old.

Told through historic and contemporary images from the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives and the The Library of Congress, “Working on the Railroad” fosters appreciation for these people—the steel gangs and machinists, car cleaners and conductors—included in the story of how the railroad changed New Mexico. Along with the photographs, artifacts such as oversized machinist’s wrenches, early twentieth-century railroad lanterns, brass locks, and railroad tie dating nails help the visitor imagine what it was like working on the railroad.

While we remain closed, please enjoy this virtual tour of NMHM’s “Working on the Railroad.” You can watch the New Mexico PBS ¡Colores! episode, “Albuquerque’s Historic Railroad Shops” from within the exhibition.
https://my.matterport.com/show/?m=z9uNNHsiPED

From the Collection

NMHM/DCA 01542.45 Gift of Josefita Manderfield Otero

Spanish Playing Cards, late 1800s
This deck of Spanish playing cards was donated to the New Mexico History Museum by Josefita Manderfield Otero.

Originally of Chinese origin, playing cards were adopted in Mamluk Egypt by the 14th century and then spread to the Iberian Peninsula in the latter part of that century. By 1380 naipero (card-maker), was a recognized profession. The four suits are bastos (clubs), oros (gold coins), copas (cups), and espadas (swords). Spanish suited cards are used in Spain, Southern Italy, France, Latin America, North Africa and the Philippines. Unlike the suits found in Northern Italy, the swords on Spanish cards are straight, and the clubs are knotty instead of being depicted as ceremonial batons. Several of the cards from this deck can be seen in the History Museum’s exhibition, Telling New Mexico.

From the Collection

Slim Green saddle, History Collections NMHM/DCA 2012.023.005

Did you know?
The New Mexico History Museum has seventy saddles in our collection that range from the 17th through the 20th century. Some of them were pack saddles meant to carry heavy loads, while some of them were made for show. We have saddles made in the colonial Mexican tradition, some made by Native people, and some created by well-known saddle makers, such as this one by Austin “Slim” Green (1916-2008).

This hand-tooled leather stock saddle was made in the 1970s for John Egan of the Rancho Encantado (previously Rancho del Monte) area near Santa Fe.

Originally from Oklahoma, Slim Green moved to northern New Mexico following World War II and further refined his talents working with leather. Slim Green was a co-founder of the Rodeo de Santa Fe, taught Tesuque elementary kids leather craft, and produced custom-made saddles for people all over the country. We’re lucky to have one of his saddles!

You can see more of Slim Green’s work at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces, where his workshop and tools permanently reside.

Check out this 2012 post on Slim Green and our beloved Cowboys exhibition. 

From the Collection

awl case (1990.414.010a), bone awl (1990.414.010b)

This Mescalero Apache beaded hide awl case, ca. 1880, was used to store the bone awl. The awl was used as a tool to weave basketry, and or sew glass trade beads on hide. It was owned by the Southwest photographer, Ben Wittick, who used objects such as this one, as props in his studio where he photographed Native Americans in the late 19th century. Visit this artifact at the New Mexico History Museum’s exhibition Looking Back, when it reopens to the public and in the meantime, stay safe.