Ravioli, Pierniki & Authenticity: Thoughts for a New Year

Posted on: January 1st, 2008 by Barbara Campagna 1 Comment

 

Pierniki

Before last week I would never have imagined that I would use these three words in the same sentence – ravioli, pierniki and authenticity – let alone that they would have a connection. Last weekend I decided to bake cut-out cookies for Christmas – something I had Cut out cookies known as “Pierniki”not done in a few years. For me, baking Christmas cookies is a way to hearken back to my childhood and contribute to a traditional holiday season, as well as completely ignore my usual diet! I am not an inherent baker, I can improvise any kind of sauce or appetizer, but when it comes to baking I need to follow a recipe with no deviations. So I went in search of my Polish grandmother’s recipe for “pierniki” – the classic Polish Christmas cookies my mother, sister and I used to make together every Christmas. Having moved across the continent twice in the past 5 years, that was no easy task. I could not find the recipe anywhere – in my file cabinet, in any of my cookbooks, in any of my drawers. So I did what any normal person would do, and called my mother. Of course she would have or know the recipe by heart. But my mother moved for the first time in 30 years this year, and guess what, she couldn’t find the recipe either. And she couldn’t remember it either. Between the two of us we remembered all of the ingredients, but not the amounts…what to do?

Well, I did the next thing any normal person would do, I googled “pierniki”. And this is when it got really weird. Ten different postings for pierniki came up, including one in Wikipedia. All ten were similar, but not one of them was even vaguely similar to what I remembered as our classic Polish pierniki recipe. There were barely any of the same ingredients. It was not my grandmother’s recipe. So why did she call it “pierniki”? I briefly thought about trying the recipe anyhow, but it sounded horrible! I wanted the moist, sugar-filled cookie of my youth, regardless of what it really was. After ranting to my mother that we had lost this last tradition forever, she suggested that I google the main ingredients we remembered and see what came up. So, in went “sour cream, Crisco, anise oil, cutout cookie”. And voila!! Up came the recipe immediately – exactly as we remembered it, only one odd thing happened – it was listed as a traditional Christmas cookie under “Southern Cooking”. Southern cooking? The furthest south my grandmother had ever been was Erie, Pennsylvania. Did they mean “southern Poland”? I briefly thought about looking at a map of Poland to see if Warsaw was in southern Poland, but in looking at the webpage again I realized, no, this was definitely listed under Southern American cooking. I decided to file this in the back of my mind while I actually got to work baking the cookies. Twelve hours and 130 cookies later, I took the first bite and indeed was transported back to my early Christmases.

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Barbara Campagna

Barbara A. Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C was formerly the Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust in the Stewardship of Historic Sites office. She is currently a sustainability consultant to the National Trust and can be reached at bcampagna@bcampagna.com.

Best & Worst of 2007

Posted on: December 28th, 2007 by Preservation magazine 1 Comment

 

Is Brooklyn Under Siege?Is preservation becoming more hip? This year, celebrities like Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, and Darryl Hannah showed their support of historic architecture and wide open spaces. Longtime building buffs like Diane Keaton, who likes to restore Los Angeles houses, were joined by fellow showbiz types like director Michael Moore, who has promised to rehab a historic Michigan theater.

Here's the best and worst in the world of historic preservation news of 2007, compiled by our magazine editors.

Best

Floodwaters Spare Farnsworth House

A few weeks after Brad Pitt's August visit to the iconic Farnsworth House, floodwaters reached the front steps of the Plano, Ill., house designed by Mies van der Rohe in 1951. Miraculously, only the landscape suffered damage.... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Notes from the Field: New Orleans

Posted on: December 28th, 2007 by Walter Gallas 1 Comment

 

Last week I was summoned to appear in Federal District Court on behalf of the plaintiffs in a suit against the city seeking damages as well as a halt to demolitions of properties under the city’s beleaguered imminent health threat ordinance. I was being asked to testify about the recommendations made by Bob Brown of the PRC and me in an August op-ed piece in the Times-Picayune regarding the demolition program.

I did not testify, because the case was continued. The city convinced the judge that it had a solution to the problem—it would create a system whereby a citizen could appeal to an independent hearing officer. By January 25, the city and the plaintiffs must come up with the system and an ordinance for City Council consideration. Between now and then anyone who wishes to appeal a threatened demolition can do so, and the demolition will be set aside, according to the attorneys. It’s not clear what one needs to do to file an appeal.

Under the current ordinance the city can threaten demolition of a property if the home owner does not clean out and seal up their property, if it is still vacant. They must also tend to the yard. Thirty days notice in the newspaper and a written mailed notice are required. The ordinance, though well-intentioned, is poorly conceived and poorly executed. A number of property owners in the suit have seen their houses demolished by the city, when they intended to repair them. It is noteworthy that the ordinance contemplates demolition as the only way to eliminate the problem of unremediated property.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Notes from the Field: New Orleans

Posted on: December 26th, 2007 by Walter Gallas

 

I have been spending considerable time reflecting on what happened last week with that vote of the New Orleans City Council to demolish about 4,500 units of 1930s/1940s-era public housing. Any arguments I tried to make for the retention and continued long-term use of any of the buildings on the basis of historic preservation, architectural merit, structural soundness or sustainability were fruitless in a public arena filled with rhetoric about the evil nature of the buildings, their dilapidated appearance, the alleged high cost to remediate and repair, and the success of national developers at showing examples of their work in other communities.

Council members were eager to state that they had visited redeveloped communities in Atlanta and St. Louis—all based on new construction. We never succeeded in getting enough information on anyone’s radar screen about the redevelopment and continued use of buildings of the same era by the Chicago Housing Authority, and so rehabilitation was never a consideration by the Council or the local media.

The Times-Picayune discounted any claims that the loss of the buildings now would create a shortage of affordable housing, pointing to the hundreds of apartments HUD and HANO say are available but unoccupied. I had joined a number of anti-demolition advocates earlier in the week in a meeting with the Times-Picayune editorial board trying to get them to understand some of the reasons against wholesale demolition, but it was clearly impossible. Sunday’s paper carried an editorial headlined “A vote for a better life.”

It continues to intrigue me that taking a position in favor of rehabilitation and modernization of these old structures—even a position that includes calls for selective demolition to reconnect buildings with neighborhoods by restoring street grids—is automatically seen as favoring a return to the bad old days of public housing mismanagement.

There is clearly a visceral reaction to these inanimate structures, which is so strong that people want them eliminated. A leader of the local Unitarian congregation put his finger on it, when at the Council meeting he observed that the passion to destroy the buildings seemed to emerge out of bad theology and a mystical belief in atonement—that the buildings’ destruction would somehow wash away the sins of the past.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Notes from the Field: New Orleans

Posted on: December 21st, 2007 by Walter Gallas

 

I wanted to take a moment to share the comments I made before the City Council yesterday, which reflect both my and the National Trust for Historic Preservation's position on the planned demolitions in New Orleans.

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A few years ago Bill Borah, local preservationist and planner, coined the term “planning by surprise.” It referred to the practice in New Orleans of keeping plans out of the public eye until they are revealed full-blown in the local paper, where citizens learn about the plans for the first time.

Today, I would like to add a new term to the local dialogue in post-Katrina New Orleans—“planning by demolition.”

  • We see “planning by demolition” in the city’s response to homeowners whose buildings are cited as imminent health threats. Buildings, many of which are structurally sound, are threatened with demolition.
  • We see “planning by demolition” in the state’s and Veterans Administration’s plans to build a new medical complex in a National Register historic district that has been repopulated by homeowners and local institutions like Deutsches Haus.
  • We see it in the Recovery School District’s application to demolish Lockett elementary school in the Upper 9th Ward, a community anchor which local neighborhood association members desperately want to retain.
  • And now, of course, we see “planning by demolition” in the plans which bring us here again today—the redevelopment of the B. W. Cooper, Lafitte, C. J. Peete, and St. Bernard housing developments.

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.