Preparation and cooking techniques for small-scale hunter-gatherers are relatively simple and are organized by the gendered division of labor.
Women doing the majority of daily food processing and cooking.
Men tended to butcher, and often cook, the larger animals, and also to cook for big social gatherings and rituals.
The resultant dishes of hunter-gatherer cuisines are more accurately represented as assemblages of foods to create a meal. They appear not to be named as distinct culinary artifacts; instead they are combinations of ingredients and flavors to create recognizable food.
Example: The mobile Mardudjara
Cooking involves impromptu fires and the use of hot charcoal and an earth oven, combining brief grilling, singeing, and baking.
Men hunt, butcher at the kill site and cook meat; then they bring the remainder back to the camp. This meat is distributed to kin, according to the degree of relationship.
Women and children also build small fires when out foraging, teaching cooking techniques, and enjoying ash-grilled small game as fast, convenient snacks.
The main processing of foodstuffs is women’s work, and the most arduous is that of grinding grass seeds into a paste to make seedcake damper.
Women carry a small grinding stone, but they will make use of naturally flat rocks or larger, long-used base-grinding stones that remain at campsites, also
Some foragers do not carry such heavy materials; depends of food base..
The dispersal, mobility, lack of storage, and availability of resources makes food processing and cooking an ongoing, as needed, part of people’s daily routines.
Cooking and Food-getting Strategies 2
Hunter-gatherers (foragers) (continued)
For complex hunter-gatherers, the semi-sedentary existence in permanent village sites meant people could accumulate a greater range of stored food and cooking equipment.
This allowed for the emergence of more involved and elaborate cooking techniques and recipes that were designed for specific occasions and guests.
Example: the Haida and Kwakwaka’wakw on the Pacific Northwest Coast.
The abundance of salmon and range of other wild resources, combined with storage techniques such as smoking, wind drying, and preserving in oolichan grease, enabled larger semi-sedentary populations to be supported.
Oolichan grease was produced from the candlefish (a form of smelt fish found along the Pacific Coast).
The resultant grease used as a flavorful condiment and was eaten in vast quantities at grease feasts.
In these ranked societies, food processing and cooking reflect the social order, with greater quantities and rarer qualities of ingredients shaping the preparation of meals and feasts.
Women were especially important in the processing of food ready for storage, and this is a significant part of the cooking techniques.
Many of these techniques were concerned with changing the water content of the animals and
The processing, often during the spring to fall months, is still an important part of many First Nations’ families’ food activities.
Cooking and Food-getting Strategies 3
Pastoral peoples are subject to the demands of mobility, which can reduce the accumulation of food processing and cooking equipment, and can place time constraints on cooking techniques.
Example: The Nuer
They are being seasonally mobile, do have a range of gourds, clay cooking pots, grinding stones, granaries, and brewing pots that are found at the permanent village sites.
This is where lengthier food preparation takes place, such as brewing millet beer and storing grains for use through the year.
Wood is limited for the Nuer, and it is used for cooking fires, while dung feeds all other fires.
The preparation of food, such as making millet porridge, milking, and cheese-making, are women’s responsibilities, and they feed their families—husband and children—in their own household, or camp, but sharing of food between households is common.
Cooking requires an efficient use of fuel, and consequently the staple food—milk—is drunk without cooking, although cheese-making involves a brief boiling of curds and porridge-making involves short boiling in clay pots.
Blood is also boiled in some cases.
Food preparation, cooking, and eating serve to differentiate the Nuer according to their gender, age, and initiated status, and thus reiterates the social order.
Initiated men, for instance, cannot milk cattle, nor can they drink milk in the presence of women.
Daily cooking is very definitely associated with women, and men distance themselves from engaging in such a domestic task. Other foods—such as blood, meat, and fish—are roasted on open fires, with men often taking the task of cooking them.
Cooking and Food-getting Strategies 4
Horticulturalists’ sedentary lifestyle, necessitated by tending their gardens, has created the conditions for more elaborate cooking techniques, such as the use of earth ovens.
Earth ovens are found across the world, from North America through the “jerk-pits” of the Caribbean, Polynesia, and into Melanesia and Australia.
This form of indirect heat, generated by hot ash or heated stones, bakes and steams a collection of foods placed in a hole in the ground.
It does require some preparation, but it offers a slow-cooking experience for meats, root crops, and some shellfish.
Example: The Wola, PNG
Anthropologist Paul Sillitoe offers instructions for building an earth oven as an alternative to the suburban barbecue, based upon his fieldwork with the Wola.
The basic principle is digging a pit, lining it with leaves; then heating stones in a fire, placing these at the bottom of the pit, and layering in foodstuffs according to cooking time; and finally closing off the oven with mounded earth (called an umu).
Again, the division between men’s prestigious cooking and women’s domestic, daily, and private cooking becomes more pronounced, and women’s work tends to be overlooked.
Cooking and Food-getting Strategies 5
As food-getting strategies settled down, cooking techniques became more elaborate.
We can consider cooking in Britain as indicative of an industrially based agricultural society.
As with any sedentary society, the cooking techniques of Britain use a greater range of equipment, demanding greater skills, more recipes, increasingly diverse ingredients, and a broad array of resultant dishes.
This is typical of cooking trends in any Western industrial nation, and it must be located within the broader context of the shared market economy and the global food and manufacturing industries.
Cooking in Britain, however, does reference earlier culinary preferences, with roasting accorded high status, and the “Sunday joint” being the legacy of this long-term liking for meat.
Overcooked vegetables are another trait of British cookery, a textural aesthetic that may be a throwback to the medieval theory of humors, which regarded raw vegetables as harmful and thus requiring thorough cooking. However, culinary attitudes do change through time, and the crispness of vegetables has become a more widely accepted texture.
The use of leftovers is another attribute of British cuisine, probably arising from the self-sufficiency of households which required the best use to be made of all ingredients.
The preservation techniques of British cookery include salting, smoking, brining, drying, and fermenting. The knowledge, however, of how to accomplish such tasks has had to be retaught and relearned, since the self-sufficiency of the household was gradually undermined by the industrialization of British society.