Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Food for Thought

This post brings me to the third and final stage in the Prownian method of material culture: speculation. Speculation, asking questions and weaving hypotheses about the social and symbolic worlds of the beloved object, gives rise to observations about its cultural context

Intuiting cultural context in this case involves a paradigm shift. I'd homed in on Catalina's stew pan, her cardero, as the subject of the two earlier phases of my foray into material culture: description and deduction. In seeking to place the pan into cultural context, I've arrived at the conviction that it's about what is contained, not its container.

So, this week's post takes up the role of sancocho in the culture of the Dominican Republic. Why the stew and not the stewpot?

Well, for one reason, I found a far greater range of popular and scholarly interest in sancocho than in cardero. But I'm making the switch not just because the scarcity of material was complicating my efforts to do homework, but because it's the right thing to do. 

Before moving forward, let's take a step or two back to recap. I've recently seen Catalina's written story, entitled "My Family Cardero," that will accompany the exhibit of her pan in the First Person Museum.  It functions on at least two levels.

In one respect, it is story, an emotion-laden narrative about the pan's personal significance to her.  It symbolizes her native country, and the continuation of the female family line through four generations. In another respect, Catalina's personal story is the only documentary history we have of this pan's origin, composition and use.

My inability so far to view and touch the physical pan augments the importance of this written history in contextualizing the pan.  The cardero first owned by Catalina's grandmother is made of aluminum, has four handles, and is used to cook sancocho, which Catalina describes as the "national dish of the Dominican Republic." 

Pictures of carderos supplement this physical description, showing a large, basin-like cooking vessel. Little information is available on the history of the cardero, but several accounts describe sancocho as a potpourri of what is at hand that is transmuted into more than the sum of its ingredients, reflecting the rich ethnic mix of the Dominican Republic, its poverty, and its legacy of slavery.

Which brings us to speculation. Four handled pot, large capacity, composed of aluminum, a good conductor of heat, and used by generations of women to make a stew of root vegetables and several meats that is an iconic national dish. What does this speak of Dominican culture?

Some educated guesses: Food is important, as is family. They are sources of identity. Cooking and eating are communal, not individual, activities. And it is likely that women do most of the cooking. 

But Nelly Rosario's "meditation" on sancocho  says it more eloquently. "Panama and DR are so fractured by conquest, counter-conquest, and re-conquest that their giant sancochos may betray subconscous desire to heal, to reintegrate....," she writes in "Feasting on Sancocho Before Night Falls."

"Dominicans are allergic to solitude and isolation. We immigrate en masse, bringing along family members, even entire neighborhoods. Those who live and eat alone are looked upon with vague suspicion (i.e., a come solo, or 'lone eater' is a pejorative)." 

Buen provecho!

DSCN1484 (scholz) Tags: food cooking recipe dominicanrepublic pot sancocho loscalabazos tagcow

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