Memorial to the 2nd Air Division, 8th Air Force, United States Army Air Forces.
A public library and war memorial in Norwich, England, UK.
Commemorating those members of the 2nd Air Division lost in action flying from these parts during World War Two. A public hub for the exchange of ideas, offering learning and engagement opportunities, books, archives and research services. Funded by the Memorial Trust of the 2nd Air Division USAAF, registered UK Charity No. 269047. Managed by the Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service.
“Once alone, it is impossible to believe that one could ever have been otherwise. Loneliness is an absolute discovery.”
Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping
I first read Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping when I was studying as an undergraduate. The novel, set predominantly in the fictional town of Fingerbone, Idaho, was non-required reading. Despite this, I found myself completely absorbed in the book, reading it while I should have been taking notes for Organic Chemistry, say, or during another, non-literary lecture.
Robinson, for me, captures an ethereal beauty on nearly every page. Her prose is like reading a moonbeam describing the very world it illuminates, from a glacial lake to the fascinating women that take care of Ruth and her younger sister, Lucille. Some might call Robinson’s writing prose-poetry, which I think is an apt description – it is certainly musical, the cadence languid at times, more plucking an old guitar on a porch than sitting down at the symphony, the way paragraphs “slish and moil”. If that sounds lovely, great. That wonderful prose carries over in her other work, such as Gilead, as well. Here’s an example:
“To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savours of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it?”
Personally, I find this style of prose highly enjoyable, though, I believe it can be quite difficult to pull off. Heavy with metaphor and simile, the novel, in my opinion, manages to capture themes of loneliness and transience, the harsh beauty of survival, without becoming overly saturated. That could just be my taste and the time I read it, of course. But, I think it’s well worth a read, especially if you have interest in transcendentalism, the invisible, all-absorbing eye of Melville and Emerson and Thoreau, whose influence is heavily felt throughout.
Overall, Housekeeping is full of the beauty of melancholy, the pain and aching of separation as manifestations of love. It’s a relatively quick read, so maybe you’d like to join Reading America, a monthly book group that will be meeting on June 7th, 2023, from 5:30 PM to 6:30 PM in the American Library. In addition, July’s reading will be Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, another great read.
Even if you can’t drop by, give Robinson a try! If you end up liking the book, you can always dig deeper into her other writings. You might also like these titles as well, more or less set in the same neck of the woods: Demon Copperhead, Barbara Kingsolver; Train Dreams, Denis Johnson; The Book of the Dead, Muriel Rukeyser; Educated, Tara Westover; Idaho, Emily Ruskovich; Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner.
May you find a book that challenges, uplifts, inspires and delights!
Ah, forcemeats in America. Not a commercial product released to promote the latest Star Wars franchise installment, but rather a food that has a long history, dating back thousands of years, even mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey. From the French, farcir, to stuff, this family of meaty morsels is made by grinding and sieving meat and fat, and sometimes binders and other ignominious ingredients, into various forms common in a charcuterie: pâtés, roulades, terrines, and importantly for the jump-off on today’s discussion, sausages.
While delectable and present in cultures spanning the globe, for today, the sausages and other meaty composite dishes we will be looking at will be of the American variety – delicious, arguable – processed, most definitely – historically interesting, I think so.
Let’s begin with the mighty hot dog. Is it a sandwich? Is it its own thing? Is it an abomination that dogs are sold in packages of ten and buns by the eights? Maybe, possibly, absolutely.
Directly descended from the frankfurter, the spiritual predecessor of the American variant, the hot dog has come a long way from its Germanic roots. While there are arguments in Germany over the origination being in the city of the frankfurter’s namesake, or in Coburg, among other claimants, it is widely believed that the hot dog in America arrived with German immigrants in the 1860’s.
The scene: New York, the Bowery, lunch break on an autumn afternoon. Workers flock towards a pushcart where a native Frankfurter peddles non-native frankfurters to the hungry masses. Soon after, dogs would be devoured in Coney Island, then all across the country. In 1893 they made their first appearance in a ballpark, at the St. Louis Browns stadium. The next year, dog wagons were rolling around Yale campus, fueling the freshman fifteen over a century ago.
But what about the name, hot dog? And eating it on a bun? Well, there is a whole mythos surrounding the appellation, and widespread origin stories for sliding the link in a bun. Some believe the ‘hot’ comes from vendors selling their wares, shouting to crowds that they had hot wieners (ahem), straight out of tanks of recently boiling water, while the ‘dog’ portion has connections to the German nickname for Dachshund sausages, little-dogs. Finally, the German tradition of eating sausages with bread probably influenced the bunning of the dog. Some more convoluted beliefs state that the hot dog was given with a pair of white gloves so customer hands wouldn’t get burned or covered with grease until glove supplies ran low, and the man selling the hot dogs asked his baker brother for a solution. Right. Regardless, the American obsession with eating fast and on the go, already a part of the culture in certain cities by the 19th century, surely had an influence.
One of the definitive American foods, in stereotypes of Muricans gnoshing on street corners while spilling XXXL sized soft drinks down their gullets, to their actual prevalence in Costco food courts and the roller grills of 7-11’s all around the country, the hot dog is beloved stateside. Regionally, it has received a plethora of love letters in the form of interesting variations, from the boiled New York style, only two acceptable condiments, yellow mustard and hot dog flavored water, or, maybe, with sauerkraut and deli mustard and onions, to Chicago’s poppy seed bun with mustard and fresh tomatoes and onions and sport peppers and relish, and the crown of a crisp dill pickle and celery salt.
Other styles include Detroit’s Coney Island all-beef hot dogs with chili, New Jersey’s Italian hot dogs, deep-fried and covered with sauteed bell peppers and onions and potatoes, the white hots in upstate New York, signature dogs at baseball stadiums around the country, from Dodger Stadium to Wrigley to Fenway, spicy Texas hot dogs in Pennsylvania, half-smokes in DC, half-pork, half-beef, with chili, cheese, onions, and mustard, county fair favorites, the corndog, and on. In 2014, there was even a $150 California Capitol City Dawg in Sacramento, at the eponymous restaurant, Capitol Dawg: 18 inches of all beef natural casing hot dog from Chicago, served on a fresh herb-and-oil focaccia roll, spread with white truffle butter before being grilled.
The gaudy dog was then topped with French whole-grain mustard, garlic and herb aioli, chopped and sauteed shallots, mixed baby greens, organic, of course, maple syrup-marinated and fruitwood-smoked, uncured bacon from the hills of New Hampshire, chopped tomatoes, moose cheese from Sweden (!/?), dried cranberries, basil olive oil, and a pear-cranberry-coconut balsamic vinaigrette, plus ground peppercorn. So, if you find the idea of hot dogs reminds you of a certain scene from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, or you are a hot dog fanatic that wants to eat them all, Pokémon style, there is surely a local variant that will satisfy. Go on, grab one, or a sickening seventy-five in ten minutes, like current world record holder Joey Chestnut.
Now, while the hot dog has its admirers, there are certainly other American forcemeats that are more controversial, to say the least. Shall we talk about Vienna Sausages?
Dating back to 1903, these canned fingers of faux-meat fun also have origins, though somewhat tentative, to central European traditions. Far departed from actual, thin, parboiled Viennese sausages, the Vienna Sausage is a beef, pork, chicken composite, served in little cans, cut down to size, all slathered in an aspic like jelly. There are other flavor varieties, or so I have heard.
These little canned nightmares/delicacies, depending on who you ask and how desperate they were at time of consumption, have the consistency of modeling clay mixed with foie gras. Salt, vaguely meat-like, despite being made of 100% meat, the American Vienna Sausage has traveled around the world on the coattails of war and colonialism, so that a large number of global citizens have now had the (mis)fortune of sampling their unique texture, flavor combo. Maybe you have tried them yourself.
And if you haven’t, then you certainly have tried SPAM! If you haven’t, well, perhaps congratulations of some sort are in order. Like Vienna Sausage, this rectangular slab of pork paste found its way to nearly every corner of the globe during World War II.
But what exactly is SPAM? You mean, what does it stand for? Is it an acronym, an onomatopoeia? An inside joke? The debate might not rage, but soldiers certainly did about the canned brick of pork, water, salt, potato starch (this was not added until 2009. Before then a gelatinous lid of sorts topped the salty concoction (lower sodium varieties, which are still high in sodium content, are available) as a result of cooking the piggy puree in the can, hence the starch to soak up the ectoplasmic remains of the once living porcine soul), sugar and sweet, sweet sodium nitrate.
Hormel, the company responsible for spamming us with SPAM, had a “Scurrilous File” for the hordes of adoring fan mail they received from GI’s during WWII. Perhaps Jay Hormel felt some residual guilt himself, as Brendan Gill, interviewing Mr. Hormel in 1945 for a “Talk of the Town” profile in The New Yorker, got the “distinct impression that [Hormel felt] being responsible for SPAM might be too great a burden on any one man.” While it isn’t the finest product of the culinary arts, it isn’t that bad. It’s not like when you walk by a wall of SPAM in the grocery store, it emits special SPAM-radioactive SPAM-particles that accelerate aging and increase the risk of cancer. That I know of. But I digress. More to the point, SPAM did prove essential in delivering needed protein to troops and allies and civilians during the conflict, with its long shelf-life and ease of preparation – just pop the lid and SPAM! The grease from SPAM was also used to grease guns, and the tins were used for scrap metal. There were those that took to the name as well, as Uncle SPAM’s European invasion fleet was often called the SPAM fleet, a perfectly salty alias for the American troops of the friendly invasion and beyond.
Debuting in 1937, SPAM is now available, as we speak, in 44 countries. I find it fascinating that the history of United States military occupation and extended colonialism in the 20th and 21st centuries can be partially traced by the genealogy of unique SPAM dishes, such as SPAM musubi in Hawaii, Budae Jjigae in South Korea, Sandwich de Mezcla in Puerto Rico. While some have stated that SPAM is a luxury product, a kind of delicacy in these regions of the world, that would be a bit like saying a twelve pack of Guinness is a rare and treasured delicacy in South Boston, ignorant, a little misinformed, and possibly worse. But again, digressions. I think SPAM really isn’t that bad, but there is a family history of SPAM cooking from my childhood: my Dad used it in his self-proclaimed, world famous fried rice, much to my Mom’s chagrin – he loved the flavor, she feared the staggering amount of sodium might somehow taint every other dish that flashed through the family wok, if it didn’t send our blood pressure through our craniums before then. So it goes.
Amidst infamy and general distaste, SPAM also has its devotees. In the 1990’s, statistically, supposedly, nearly four cans of SPAM were quaffed every second. There is the SPAM Jam festival in Waikiki, the SPAM Games in Guam, and SPAMarama in Austin, which includes the SPAMalympics, a SPAM toss, and a SPAM eating contest. Minnesota might be the heart of SPAM fandom, affectionately known as SPAMdom, where SPAM itself is made. Regrettably, there is a now defunct restaurant in Minnesota with a menu that was exclusively devoted to SPAM, named Johnny’s SPAMarama Menu. Yum. However, one can still visit the SPAM museum, praise be.
Of course, if there is any doubting the terrible reign of SPAM, we need not look further than our daily parlance, with junk mail sharing the SPAM moniker due to its generally low quality, unwanted nature. Thank you, SPAM.
And now, an ode to SPAM:
An Ode to SPAM
Your name is grace upon my lips
SPAM, SPAM, SPAM!
Whisper it quietly, I cannot
SPAM, sweet SPAM!
Forget your flavor, my tongue shall not
Oh you square of blended meats
SPAM, fair SPAM!
Nitrate spiced, salt soaked, sugar kissed,
SPAM! SPAM! SPAM!
Raw ooze inside a can, cooked where you were sealed
Which leads us to our penultimate entry: deviled ham. Deviled ham, like SPAM (I swear, that is the last time you will see that word in this post), is a tinned meat product. Unlike the Salty Product AforeMentioned (help me), deviled ham has been around since the 19th century.
While deviled ham wasn’t produced until 1868, The William Underwood Company, founded in Boston in 1822, had made a name for itself by supplying canned foods to the US Army during the American Civil War. Some say that canned food itself goes back slightly earlier even, to Napoleon Bonaparte, and his need for long-lasting provisions during protracted military campaigns. See a theme much? But as we are looking at the United States, we’ll stay on that side of the Atlantic, where in addition to feeding soldiers, The William Underwood Company also supplied those pursuing the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, spreading all over the North American continent with the urgent need of food that would last the duration of their journeys.
Fittingly, the devil logo on the little cans of deviled ham – ham ground into paste with cayenne peppers and mustard – is the oldest trademark for a food product still in use by an American company. Sadly, the devil has evolved and now offers a smile with your purchase of spreadable hamminess, in place of the soul-tearing talons and fiendish mustachios.
We end this episode of American Foodz with something a little more traditional, if not wholesome. A common question regarding scrapple: what is it? Delicious, basically, and that’s all you really need to know, but let’s dip in a bit more in case you’re still interested.
Of Dutch and German origin, from the word Pannhaas, pan tenderloin, in Pennsylvania Dutch, scrapple is widely eaten in Pennsylvania, Delaware, South Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and the greater DC area. You can find it fresh or frozen in supermarkets in that neck of the woods. Outside of the region, it can be hard to find, but if you want to do a little digging into the Mennonite staple, the Amish delight, a fine loaf of scrapple can be scrounged up at home with ingredients from your local grocer and stop by the butcher.
Made commonly of hog offal, the head, the heart, the liver, the trimmings, the bits that go into scrapple are boiled, bone-on. Bone bits and fat are removed, meat set aside, and cornmeal is then added and boiled, again, into a broth that makes the mush. That meat that got set aside? Mince it, finely, add it back in, and flavor with sage, thyme, black pepper, and other seasonings to your taste. The mush is finally formed into loaves and allowed to cool so it can then be fried up in a pan and served for a hearty breakfast.
Scrapple was, and is, a means of using up all the hog, everything but the oink, as they say in Philly and elsewhere. It is a tasty way of making sure nothing goes to waste, and as such, has been celebrated widely, from the first recipes jotted down by German colonists near Philadelphia to Charlie Parker’s Scrapple from the Apple, named after the loaf of leftovers. You can even grab some kosher scrapple, made from chicken instead of pork, if you mosey over to the Poconos.
And there we have it, folks! Thanks for reading along through this brief, pre-cooked taster. And Happy Fourth, and on the other Fourth, if you decide to honor tradition or to use it as an excuse to crack out the BBQ, remember to be vigilant at the grill so your dog doesn’t go full Anakin.
This week, Norwich was lucky to be the only UK city to host a reading event with famed American writer Hanya Yanagihara. As part of the UEA Live reading series, Yanagihara came to talk about her latest book To Paradise and the on-stage adaptation of her second and most popular novel, A Little Life.
Yanagihara is one of my favourite authors, so you can imagine my surprise and excitement to see that she would speak at my university. She spoke in conversation with Georgina Godwin about her work, her own background, and the balance of working as a magazine editor while writing fiction. Born in Los Angeles and raised in Hawaii, Yanagihara is of Japanese and Korean heritage. Her first novel The People in the Trees and her most recent To Paradise both involve the theme of American imperialism in South Pacific islands. While not of Hawaiian heritage herself, Yanagihara spoke of how her upbringing on the islands gave her a sense of what this history meant to the island and how, as someone of Asian heritage, she was part of a majority population.
The talk then segued into elements of craft in Yanagihara’s famously long books. In To Paradise she wrote about a dystopian future telling the audience that when writing a dystopia the writer needs to answer two questions: 1) is there more or less technology than in the present and 2) is it hot or cold. This made me think that many of the dystopian novels that we’ve seen in recent years fall neatly into these categories, even though as readers we often get lost in all the details that make the dystopian world appear different than our own. I was struck by the simplicity with which Yanigihara discussed her approach to writing given that I admire her books for the manner in which she weaves together complicated characters and social issues.
Finally the discussion ended on the American nature of Yanagihara’s work. As an American writing about my home country while living and working in England, it was great to hear how Yanagihara explained her view of Americana in her work to a foreign audience. I often find that I need to remember some parts of American history and culture that I reference in my work are not common knowledge to someone who did not grow up in the States. Godwin shared a quote from the Guardian in which American novelist Edmund White said Yanagihara ‘is chronicling her country just as panoramically as Tolstoy did his.’ I understood this to refer to the way in which Yanagihara writes about the ideas of identity, nationalism, imperialism, gender, sexuality, class, property, and social mobility across her novels while focusing on individuals who bring these broad topics into view through a compelling character. Yanagihara went on to talk about her own interest in writing American stories as they reflect the youth of the nation and the ideal of the American Dream, which offers rich context for her characters.
Having read all three of Yanagihara’s novels, it was an absolute treat to hear her discuss these texts. Now I can look forward to her next work with anticipation of how these themes will be reinvented again with her lyric prose and engrossing narratives.
February marks Black History Month in the United States, so we are proud to celebrate this heritage month and honour African American history at AML. All year we feature a collection of books by African American authors, biographies about African American figures, and non-fiction texts detailing African American history. This includes history dating back to enslavement of Africans in the United States, the end of slavery and beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, and the continued efforts for racial equality as seen in the Black Lives Matter movement today.
This year, we were lucky to host an event that looked at the history of African American service members in WWII stationed right here in Norfolk. UEA graduate of American Studies Joel Young presented a talk titled The Forgotten Chorus which told the story of an African American gospel choir that began in England during WWII. Joel detailed how the chorus began, the prominence they achieved, and the experiences of African American troops in a still segregated military service.
It was great to hear this lesser known history that took place in Norfolk and impacted the lives of so many. These ‘hidden histories’ offer an insight into the experiences of WWII that have not been popularised on the big screen or taught as part of the school curriculum. A highlight of Joel’s talk was the extent of primary documents he was able to find to tell this story. His presentation included many photographs from service records as well as an audio clip of a performance by the choir at Prince Albert Hall.
Please take the time to enjoy Joel’s talk yourself by watching a recording available on YouTube. You can view the recording here.
This post was written by American Scholar Lauren Cortese