Talk rose with whiffs of garlic and ginger, and mobile phones held up to capture the scene in the Friend Center Convocation Room. The day was Monday, April 29, 2019, the time was lunch, and the annual cook-off and feast prepared by teams of students in the course “Literature, Food, and the American Racial Diet” was being served.
“This cake is our cake,” wrote seniors Emma Park, Paul Schorin, Lena Volpe and Alex Yablonski in the description of their Colony Cake, “an original recipe inspired by dozens of recipes from Europe and the United States for Baba au Rhum, or Rum Baba.” The team dubbed themselves Julia’s Childs. They noted that “traditional Rum Baba is from France but made with ingredients that cannot […] grow in France.”
Tables lined three sides of the room, crowded with steam trays, platters and casserole dishes. Each student team presented alongside its dish a statement relating the dish, and the thinking behind it, to the theme of the class. Professor of English Anne Cheng, director of the Program in American Studies, instructed the teams to think “historically, archivally, contemporarily, globally, creatively” in developing recipes, in direct engagement with texts from the syllabus, or with their own interests and research.
The Colony Cake team said that out of many possible ingredients for Rum Baba they chose to highlight cinnamon, coffee, and rum. They detailed how trade and conquest made the ingredients popular in Europe and North America as “luxury items” disassociated from their origins. They noted that the flavors “taste foreign and like home.”
Read the full story from the Program in American Studies.