On the Radar: When Everyone Had Stoves, But Not Ovens

In Le Val-d’Ajol, Vosges, France, 1934.

Called a four banal (common oven, sometimes called four à pain), the history of this oven’s practice spanned from medieval times until as recently as World War II. French seigneurs provided their serfs with a communal oven, run by a fournier, to meet their baking needs. Every house could build a fire over which they could cook “stove-top,” but this did not allow them to bake the important staple in every Frenchman’s diet–bread. After feudalism came to an end, this practice continued, as the many rural areas of the country did not have the access or necessarily the funds to frequent large boulangeries.

Delivery of bread via bread bags on the door or hung outside the window helped bring this practice to an end, as did an increase in population, public transportation, and further access roads (often as a result of war to help troop movements). Many fours banals still exist, sometimes used during communal celebrations. These ovens also helped reduced the risk of fires in a village by containing one very large portion of cooking to one place removed from the many thatched-roof houses in a town.


Source: Image by Jacques Boyer.

Rattan, the Mai Tai, and Blue Hawaii: A History in “Exotic” Escapism

Source: Tiki Central.

Polynesian pop and Tiki culture have always been about escapism. The trend got its beginnings in the 20s, though social and artistic obsessions with tropical climes have existed for as long as Europeans and Americans have been around to “discover” them. Escapism, however, is not a uniquely “Western” obsession; most everyone finds joy in a culture not their own, since they don’t have to live it every day. And that’s why people like to be tourists, as well as “pretend” to be locals for a time–which is still tourism, because the stay doesn’t last. So visitors buy contrived souvenirs, dress like cowboys or Harajuku girls, ride in rickshaws or double-decker buses, and take pictures, to live it all over again. But this particular history of an escapist culture is more than an exploration of kitschy shirts and fruity drinks, because it’s not about escaping a 9 to 5. Continue reading

The Gilded Age Woman Who Put the Original “Joy” in American Cooking

Fannie Farmer with a student. Original source unknown.

In the days where many average home cooks rely heavily on cook book recipes and Youtube tutorials, one shudders to think there existed a time without them. Before the amazing preponderance of TV chefs, Buzzfeed’s Tasty, and the like, people in America cooked without standardized measurements and without recipes until the last few decades of the 19th century. One particular woman, not letting her health issues keep her from sharing her culinary skills, changed a great deal for American cooking and even for the medical field.

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On the Radar: Barbecue Back in the Day, North Carolina


Modern methods for making pulled pork did not always exist, of course. Back before large pig roasters and custom-made grills, North Carolinians made do with pots, trenches, some sticks, and some sort of utensil to baste on that glorious BBQ sauce.


Source: State Archives of North Carolina Flickr

Be sure to check out the entire album on NC barbecue on the State Archives Flickr.