27.01.2015

PURO MOOD... for FOOD: The Blackest Thing

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Documents have it that hardish crispy biscuits emerged simultaneously with the advent of baking. Cookies packed in metal tins have been great travelers and since the 7th century, when the Persians had been eating them heartily, cookies had been edging their way to Europe to finally conquest Spain along with the Arabs. Freely nibbled by Europeans as early as the 14th century, biscuits reached American palates only in 1620 after being brought by Dutchmen. I have managed to count over a hundred of types of cookies listed in Larousse Gastronomique: The World's Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia. There are crispy bar cookies, drop cookies, molded cookies, pressed cookies, and rolled cookies, all of them systematized according to their shape, relations to one another, recipes, syrups, fillings, sprinkles and texture. Some of the types I have read about I found in a culinary book from the court of the Polish noble Radziwiłł family and in Czerniecki’s Compendium Ferculorum which is the oldest (of the ones that remained) Polish culinary book. My life, being devoid of appetite for sweets, have acquainted me directly with only a few of these types.

I have wanted to say a few words about just one type of biscuits, namely Oreo. It is a sandwich cookie that hit the American market in 1913 after going through numerous tests. A Polish term for the English “sandwich cookie” is “markiza” which awakens the connotations with the French word “la marquise”. However, in France the word “la marquise” is used in regard to a completely different type of biscuits as well as to a marquise’s wife. I am neither amused nor touched by the “twist, lick, dunk in milk” ad, I’d rather say I feel ill at ease because I don’t like milk and I have a smattering of the subject of sociological manipulations which, in this case, are to transform the process of eating a biscuit into a characteristic rite and game that give the feeling of joint participation. What I like about the cookie, though, is the fact that it’s so curiously black and, in my opinion, carefully designed.

 

 

OREO. The moment you say ‘oreo’ your imagination creates a picture opposite to the real one, the one which has two black and crispy wafers with a cream filling in between. Both Os with empty insides filled with air remind lips ready to take a bite. The Os softly embrace the cREamy substance.  Spell it slowly and check for yourself.

The origins of the very name remain unclear and spark controversy. For some it comes from Greek, for some it’s Peruvian, while according to Jewish mysticism where every letter matters (Os stand for lips, R stands for a bend elbow, E for hands and fingers) the name would encourage to eat one biscuit after another. Oreos don’t smell like chocolate at all, and taste, absurdly, like nothing; or maybe a little bit like butter. Nevertheless, blunt sweetness takes the lead. The curious and eerie sensations one would expect by looking at the stark contrast of black and white are not there. Something resists the teeth, sweetly surrenders, resists once again. One, two, three – we know these alluring flirting games. 90 ornaments on the edges and 12 Maltese crosses. What is in the middle? Is it a Chinese sign of luck or a remnant of a stamp that belonged to the Medieval guild of printers who represented the radical separation of the wheat and the chaff? Or is it rather an alchemic symbol of an amalgam: the connection of the unholy trinity dissolved in saliva instead of mercury; the combination of black and white, hard and soft.

 

 

 

The Oreo cookies made in the US are vegan and on the European list of ingredients the type of cocoa bean is listed at the very end,  hence, I cannot say whether it determines the cookie’s unique color. Undeniably, the black color of the unknown origin is an intriguing issue. I could take it less seriously and go as far as to connect it with alchemy because the color reminds me of Caput Corvi (the raven’s head). This name was used to describe the blackening of a substance and I’ve been reading about it the Polish treatise from the 16th century on turning lead into gold. I’ve discovered as many as four contemporary Internet forums where people discuss the issues of the cookies’ black color and the addiction to the amount of fat and sugar cookies contain. I’ve also watched a pretty serious documentary in which a group of venerable scientists compares the addiction to these best selling cookies with the addiction to one of the best selling drugs I’ve only heard about and never used. Mom, I mean it. I cannot understand the reason standing behind the success of these cookies, the most popular cookies in the US. For the company that produces them,  it’s definitely magic that has been turning the mixture of molasses, cocoa and flour into gold. It’s a fiendishly mysterious matter no philosopher has dreamt of.

 
 
 
Text and photos: Anna Królikiewicz
 

Artist, teacher, author of numerous exhibitions and installations. She works as the Associate Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk where she teaches drawing and at School of Form in Poznań where she gives classes titled The shape of taste. In her drawings and objects she deals with a broadly defined corporeality of a body and the fragility of memory. Her latest works touch upon the issues related to the physiology of taste and the phenomenon of synesthesia.

 

 

 
 
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