The student news site of Moravian University

The Comenian

The student news site of Moravian University

The Comenian

The student news site of Moravian University

The Comenian

Hungry for History: History Department Cookout

Photo courtesy of Fatimah Bouri.
Photo courtesy of Fatimah Bouri.

On Oct. 18, 2023, the History department hosted its semesterly cookout. 

Students and professors prepared culturally eclectic meals for everyone to try and even offered historical tidbits about each meal for a tasteful learning experience. 

Although I sadly didn’t get to try every food at the cookout, the ones I did try were so flavorsome that I even got some friends to try the different diverse delicacies I had the pleasure of tasting. 

One of the first meals I tried was the venison stew. 

Since I wasn’t able to try last semester’s venison stew, I made it my main mission to try it this semester, and I wasn’t disappointed. The stew had a thicker consistency than what I was used to, but the venison meat was superbly rich. It’s not a dish for everyone, especially those who have texture sensitivities like myself, but the meat really made the rest of the stew appetizing. 

Venison stew, or m8wikisoan, is a ceremonial end-of-the-year dish from the Pennacook-Abenaki natives of New Hampshire and Vermont. Invented pre-colonial contact, it usually was served during the end of the Abenaki calendar year, around March or April. Since the natives ran out of food reserves by the end of the year, or macigaben, they developed a dish from leftovers of venison, bones, meat scraps, dry beans, corn, and wild rice. 

Next, I ventured to try chicken al-pastor, a Mediterranean-Mexican fusion of Lebanese cooking styles with Mexican spices. 

Photo courtesy of Fatimah Bouri.

The dish originated in the early 20th century during the Lebanese migration to America. From the 1870s, Lebanese masses migrated to countries like Mexico due to oppressive pressures from the Ottoman Empire. By the 1930s, their vast cultural identity influenced Mexican cuisine, and chicken al-pastor became a popular dish in cities such as Puebla. 

The dish was inspired by the Middle Eastern shawarma dish  “consisting of [spit-roasted] meat cut into thin slices.” Ultimately, the most savory aspect of the dish is the spiced al-pastor marinade consisting of chipotle pepper, vinegar, chili powder, cumin, and achiote paste. 

Another delectable delicacy that I was pleased to try was Asopao de Pollo, a Caribbean stew made of chicken broth, corn, sofrito (seasoned mixture of onions and tomatoes), cilantro, and plantain. In 16th century Puerto Rico, the Spanish brought a version of the stew, which was refined by other Caribbean locales like the Dominican Republic. I would absolutely recommend this dish as a hearty comfort food, especially for the chilly fall days that are upon us. 

As a Colombian, I was thrilled to try chocolate con queso (hot chocolate with cheese). 

Not everyone is a fan of the natural yet bitter taste of semi-sweet chocolate with campesino cheese, cloves, and cinnamon, but I personally enjoyed it as a staple of my childhood and heritage. In the Andean regions during the early 16th century, the drink became a specialty just as the Spanish arrived in Colombia. By the 17th and 18th centuries, the drink, now including cheese, reached Europe with different culinary variations. 

Continuing with the streak of sweetness, I had a tender helping of marble cake. 

This cake originated in Germany with one of its earliest versions called kugelhopf, or sweet yeast bread. Shortly before the Civil War, the dish was brought to the U.S., where it underwent a transformation from using molasses to using chocolate and was eventually claimed by Jewish Americans. A simple but rich blend of cocoa, cinnamon, chocolate, vanilla, and lemon, it was a nice treat to pair with the chocolate con queso. 

Arguably, one of the most popular treats for students is the “mocktails,” a non-alcoholic alternative that maintains the socializing aspect of cocktail parties.

One of the first mocktails was the Shirley Temple, a drink with ginger, grenadine, and maraschino cherries and based on the Depression-era child star. Also offered as mocktails were Jello, Cheetos, Cheezits, deviled eggs, empanadas, and non-alcoholic “gin and sin.” During the Prohibition era, mocktails were concocted as a crafty alternative, using syrups to mimic the punch of cocktails. 

Photo courtesy of Fatimah Bouri.

Finally, another Hispanic dish that I found particularly exquisite was the Birria tacos. These tacos are made with birria, a spiced beef (or lamb) stew that can be mixed with melty Oaxacan cheese (quesillo), cilantro, lime, and white onion. I talked with Manny Barragan, a sophomore psychology major, about the process of making Birria tacos. “I made it for my Food History class,” he said. “Basically, I started the night before the cookout. I cut the meat into reasonably sized one-inch chunks. I put it into a pan with oil, seared it on all sides of every piece, and then added seasonings on top. That’s when I add water and vinegar and also a base made of guajillo chiles.” 

Additionally, the history “goes back to 1800s Mexico,” where the dish has been cooked for parties and has “historically been hands-off, which was good for families at the time that were incredibly busy.” 

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