Going into a new area today; I made poppy seed, berry, black treacle pie and discussing it on Facebook started me wondering about Steampunk and food. Reading more on the topic of Steampunk and food moved me toward a concept, not a clear path yet, just something I am exploring. Some people discus Steampunk food by means of use the of technology, others focus on appearance, and some delve into the use of traditional recipes but with variations and adaptations making use of new technology. these are all valid ideas but don’t really work for me and the concept I am considering. Start with Captain Nemo or Dr. Moreau and their innovation and food development as portrayed in the stories and you begin to see where I am going.
Steampunk is in the details and the innovation but with a distinct style and elegance to the harsh, cold edginess of ingredients, methodology, and presentation. To see what I mean, consider the elegance of a full Victorian meal with the etiquette and setting to go with it but with a sense of experimentation and drama. This is where my idea starts.
Technology improves availability and variety as much as it speeds processes. Long tedious hand prepared meals that keep you in the kitchen all day seem very out of place in this setting. The same is true of super quick, incomplete, and unimaginative meals. Where to go from there however?
Technology is important and the innovation inherent in the steampunk genre must be a foundation. Does innovation and drama counter Victorian style meals? When you think about it, there was huge innovation in every area during that period, even when dealing with food. So no, I think it rather fits if it can be seamlessly blended in.
Okay, so what kind of innovation are we talking about? At what point does innovation leave the realm of Steampunk creativity and reach into a more cyberpunk region when you are discussing food? Nemo used what was available in dramatic and nourishing ways as well as extensively using hydroponics and other technological innovations.
Molecular gastronomy is not something I have explored a great deal so I am unsure about its place in a Steampunk discussion. I see the reasoning for wanting to use it and envision some wonderful possibilities. The concept is very much at home in the steampunk setting. To fit the steampunk genre they must have a visual appeal in the high aesthetic or formal setting rather than the supper modern settings you often see in molecular gastronomy eateries. But should we use only English aesthetic or etiquette?
Asian cultures and many others frequently prepare food at the table with great drama and presentation. This is a perfect fit to the setting and the period it is based on. As an example, I have a very practical set of metal chopsticks that break down and fit into a small metal case you can stick in a pen pocket or glasses pocket. Another travel set I have is an origami dish set that could be made out of a number of interesting materials and used anywhere. Mine are silicon but they could be of many materials. Something you see often in steampunk characters and settings is a propensity to be prepared for anything, and be able to do it in style. Think a tea set on your belt and a travel apothecary on your sleeve, with a cartography set on your leg, and an armory on your hip or back.
Steaming things is almost too obvious and I just don’t see it as a major component despite the propensity of steam technology in steampunk settings. Flame is good but I am not sure if it is the method that is the best focus.
Ingredients and concept are important so it should focus on using ingredients or showcasing them. One idea is the, meal in a jar, type preparations I have seen in the disaster prepper groups and off the grid living groups. This method of preparing and storing complete meals for extended time ready to be simply cooked at a moment’s notice is an interesting combination with Steampunk innovation and lifestyles. The major point I see as relevant is the modification of traditional recipes to travel, to adapt to storage, and to make use of substitutions for location or special circumstances. Return to Nemo and you see the types of substitutions we mean. This use of available ingredients to alter traditional recipes being my preferred method of cooking, I may be a bit biased, but it fits so many aspects of Steampunk.
Adventurer meals and travel preparations from Victorian times updated in some ways and prepared to be enjoyed in style anywhere are a perfect example of where I am going with this. Food to be prepped for the lab and finished anywhere is another idea. I remember cooking a meal on the engine as we drove across country; it was a fairly traditional chicken, potatoes, carrots, onions in foil or iron pan type meal (could be clay too).
You are beginning to see the many other directions this idea could go. Formal Victorian meals with innovative twists are another. This is something I will need to explore further and experiment with but there are so many sources of ideas it will take some time and consideration.
Returning for a moment to the meal in a jar thoughts I want to look at the aspect of planning and preparation for quick use and quality presentation that fills a need in Steampunk. As the author of Design Artketing shows an example. Her plan for each week is to get all the ingredients together, prepare the jars for dinner, and maybe lunch. Each is stored as required by ingredients, most are pre-cooked. Each day, she just pulls one and spends her time on presentation or other things rather than preparation and stress after work. Another site uses them for picnics and work lunches, so they use mostly fresh ingredients. Still others use dehydrated, freeze dried, or other long term storable ingredients. Oh, the possibilities and the changes in container, ingredients, methodology, style, and concept this brings up.
I will quote Four Pounds Flour and Sarah Lohman’s exploration of Steampunk cooking:
“I think steampunk embraces the innovative and transformative, the implications of a super science without limits. Food that has those aspects in preparation, presentation, or taste seems to fit. Surprises, doing something completely unexpected with the available tools and parts. The more impossible seeming the better. I chose popcorn since it’s transformation is itself so remarkable. Toast actually has that kind of feel, bread slices vanishing into a metal box with two narrow slots to be returned with a new texture and taste.”
Where this leaves us is with many aspects and ideas for many situations and regions. As with any other aspect of Steampunk I think it is important not to limit ourselves too heavily and lose the innovation and creativity that draws us in.
(Image, ideas) http://www.toquemag.com/food-drink/steampunk-cuisine
(Image, Ideas) http://sharehomedesign.com/20-vertical-garden-ideas/