The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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September 24, 2015

An epicurean interlude

If you ever have a day like mine was, I have some advice. {May I rant? I work for one of the world's greatest universities, but I seem to literally spend most of my time trying, emphasize trying, to work, I mean seriously multitask, to deadlines, with truly second-rate resources, like antiquated software that no one is investing in because it's going to be replaced someday. Thank goodness for those library privileges, is all I can say. End of rant. Thanks for listening.} My advice is to note nerdy things on your calendar, things only you might love, and whenever possible go do them right after work. It brings the day back where it should be.

My nerdy thing for today was to go to a talk about grocery shopping.  Even better, a talk about the history of grocery shopping. In the 1830s, two Bostonians founded a company called S.S. Pierce, which I've long heard of, but only learned tonight that it was pronounced Perce. (I loved this nugget: S.S. Pierce was born a Peerce, but his new wife decided that they should be the Perces, and the new pronunciation has continued down through the generations.  Something similar happened with my Ukrainian grandfather's name, the one I have, although it was an uncle who instigated it.}

The company he founded was very prominent in Boston into the 20th century.  I learned that S.S. Pierce was a place where you could find almost anything, from caviar and cigars to 40 kinds of cheese to canned pot roast.  They would create a tea blend for you and keep the recipe on file for when you ordered again, and they could suggest a dozen things to do with a tin of caviar {you could serve it — of course — on 'caviarettes,' or since you lived in Boston, blend some into your steamed brown bread. No, really.}.

S.S. Pierce produced a magazine or catalog, several times a year, called The Epicure, from which you could order your groceries by telegraph, or on your best stationery, and later by phone, or in person in their growing number of stores. If you lived in Boston, they would be delivered the next day, in a cart drawn by six horses (all part of their branding, as it were).

I was interested, not just because of the foodiness, but also because the building shown in the 1905 postcard above is a landmark in the neighborhood I lived in when I first moved here. It still says S.S. Pierce above the door, and I never really knew what that name signified until it was mentioned in Julia Child's letters as the place where an American friend tried to find some of the then-exotic ingredients, like shallots, that Julia used in her French cooking. Of course, after that, I had always wanted to know more.

Who knew?  A little bit of history is the perfect antidote to working in the dark ages. :)


JoAnn said...

I just love events like this and there are far too few of them in central New York. Wish I could have gone with you! Glad it turned your day around.

Terra said...

A nice bit of food history.

Lisa said...

I'd love to have gone to this too - local history and food history, two of my favorite topics. The six-horse wagon cracks me up.

I would never have guessed about the "Perce" pronunciation! I'm trying to remember if I ever came across anything about the stores when I lived in Massachusetts. I was in western Mass - maybe they weren't out that far?

Frances said...

I would have loved an event like that! The Julia connection would have been appreciated too, of course. Wishing you upgraded software and an end to multi-tasking!

Thank you for visiting!

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