Happy Thanksgiving to all from the Field Book Project
SIA2011-0660. Menu cover from William and Lucile Mann’s expedition to South America, 1940.
When I started in this job, I expected to find a lot of details in field books, but I was surprised by one trend in particular. A lot of collectors write about what they eat. Scientists often collect in remote locations, with few comforts. Things taken for granted at home (like dessert) become high points in a day in the field.
Still, for some, it seems a bit of an obsession. Journal entries sometimes start with date, weather, and food consumed. Botanist, Mary Agnes Chase (Smithsonian Institution Archives Record Unit 229) commented in her correspondence that she did not understand the fascination herself until she was in the field climbing Caparaó in Brazil in 1929, which proved to be an exceedingly wet and exhausting trip, made worse by undercooked beans and rice. In the field, collectors have few luxuries; food, whether good or bad, becomes an important moment in the day. Hitchcock, a botanist specializing in grasses, recounted efforts to defend his bacon while collecting in rural Florida.
“The third night I was obliged to sleep on the ground. I had kept my piece of bacon in one of the bags along with my hammock. Now Florida ants are intensely fond of bacon. They stung me viciously when I attempted to swing the hammock and could not be shaken off. So I allowed them to sleep in the hammock while I slept on the ground.”
This attention to food can extend throughout entire collections. Waldo Schmitt (Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7231), an Invertebrate Zoologist, would often list each item consumed for each meal. When he was in charge of provisions for expeditions in the Caribbean, his lists of groceries once specified three different kinds of cheese. He was also fond of including cocktail recipes in notes written to his colleagues.
Some entries demonstrate how food allows for connecting with new acquaintances. While in French Polynesia, Waldo Schmitt attended a local dance competition. Subsequently, one group of dancers from Bora Bora came to the expedition vessel to share a meal. Waldo cooked a portion of lobster originally purchased to be specimens.
In the Mann collection (Smithsonian Institution Archives Record Unit 7293), references to food exemplify how collecting events are also chances to strengthen relationships with official partners and professional contacts. Mann’s scrapbooks contain photographs and menus from official dinners around the world.
Sometimes collectors’ field notes document food in local cultures and ways they prepare ingredients or recipes for local dishes. When Hitchcock traveled to collect in China, for example, he photographed inhabitants processing brine to table salt (as seen below).
In another collection, a recipe was found for Monkey a la Mocitana from the Mocitana Indians on the Ribert Bopi in Bolivia.
“Spider Monkeys are preferred. Build a fire under a grid made of green saplings. Place the monkeys whole on top of this. Cook till half burned, half roasted. When the arms stiffen into a protesting attitude, and the long tail is curled like a watch spring, the monkeys should be cleaned and such hairs as have not been burned off, scraped.” (Mann Collection Record Unit 7293)