Rick Hellman
KU News Service

Digital scholarship rescues ethnographic cookbook from oblivion

Tue, 09/18/2018

LAWRENCE — Cultural anthropologist Laura Hobson Herlihy is from New Orleans, so she knew a thing or two about Caribbean cuisine and culture before she traveled to Honduras on an academic research trip in 1997.

Now, thanks to digital technology and KU Libraries’ open-access publishing program, Herlihy’s 20-year-old research on Honduran food, folkways and language has been saved from the ravages of time and nature.

Hauks, Chip, Grate, and Squeeze: Recipes of the Honduran Bay Islands,” a revised and expanded edition of Herlihy’s 1997 research, has just been digitally published in KU ScholarWorks, KU’s online institutional repository of work by faculty, staff and students. Anyone with an internet connection may download it free of charge for noncommercial use.

Herlihy, a lecturer in the Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies, did not travel to Honduras intent on writing an ethnographic cookbook. Rather, she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to do fieldwork there for her doctoral dissertation on gender, sexuality and money on the Miskito Coast. Herlihy had finished her research and was staying in Honduras with her husband and fellow KU faculty member, Peter Herlihy, professor of geography & atmospheric science, while he completed a mapping project. That’s when Laura Herlihy received a call from her mentor, Anita Herzfeld, professor of Latin American studies and KU’s specialist in Caribbean forms of English. Herzfeld asked if she would do some research for the Honduran Ministry of Education about bilingual education and Creole English in the country’s Bay Islands.

Laura Herlihy was tasked with searching out Bay Island cooks and recording them as they spoke in the local dialect about the foods they made for their families, including iguana, cow-foot soup, pop drink and more.

“The tapes were to go to linguists who would write it out in IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) style and then analyze it to understand more the structure of the language,” Laura Herlihy said.

By 1998, she had produced a written report and handed over it and her audio tapes to the ministry in Tegucigalpa. On Oct. 29 of that year, mega-storm Hurricane Mitch struck Honduras, causing widespread flooding. It destroyed the office where Herlihy’s report was stored. 

Laura Herlihy heard about the destruction, then mostly forgot about the project for 20 years. That’s when she began working with Josh Bolick, scholarly communications librarian, and Marianne Reed, digital initiatives coordinator in the KU Libraries, on the 2017 publication of two books: “Green Man, Blue Woman: A Miskitu Operetta Set in the Nicaraguan Rainforest” and “Yamni Balram (Welcome!): A Miskitu Grammar and Workbook,” both of which were made freely available through KU ScholarWorks.  

“Marianne Reed said, ‘Is there anything else you have (to publish)?’ and I thought of it,” Laura Herlihy said. “I had the only copy, but it was 90 to 100 pages, and I was not inclined to retype it. But now we could scan it automatically and start making a book out of it.”

Laura Herlihy obtained permission from the Honduran government to expand the report into a book. She then set to work with Reed and publishing specialist Pam LeRow, illustrating the book with related photographs taken by Herlihy and friends. Laura Herlihy wrote an introduction, added a glossary of Bay Island English words used in the recipes and their English translations, and indexed the recipes, grouping them by island.

Since the book was published in KU ScholarWorks, Laura Herlihy has been invited back to Honduras by the University Pedagógica in Tegucigalpa and Roatan to share copies of her book with the people of the Bay Islands, whose warm hospitality made the research possible. 

And while Laura Herlihy hesitates to compare herself to the late multimedia star Anthony Bourdain, she said that, like him and other “cultural geographers and anthropologists,” her ethnographic cookbook, with its descriptions of a people and their cuisine, is an attempt to “use food as a vehicle to learn about a culture.”

The title comes from the steps for processing raw coconut – one of the primary foodstuffs in coastal Honduras — into oil, milk or other forms.

Herlihy said her personal favorite recipe is the “rundown” stew — not so different from New Orleans gumbo.

“They say when it runs down ya arm, it’s so good ya lick it up,” Herlihy said.

Photo: Honduran women burn the husks off coconuts, a staple food source. Credit: Peter Herlihy


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