It always amazes me how the simple act of preparing and sharing a meal brings people together in so many creative ways, especially when the experience includes live music and poetry. These moments are even more special when the artists are the dinner guests. This is how the Songwriter’s Café is run over in Birmingham, England. Host Paul Murphy is singer and songwriter in the Birmingham band, The Destroyers, a 15-member ensemble of very energetic musicians.
What started in 1996 at a local tavern as an open venue for musicians and poets to come together has morphed into a small, exclusive venue where artists share conversation over a home-cooked meal while music and performances are shared…over the internet. Each session of this fascinating event is streamed live during the season. The web site describes the venue well: “The intimate space crackles with firelight, conviviality and creativity. An invited audience for the live narrowcast savour a rich serving of songwriters, poets, musicians and wordsmiths. Online friends eavesdrop, send greetings and wish they could be there.” How true!
My friend Robin Valk of Radio To Go turned me on to Songwriter’s Café when he began recording interviews with the artists as a part of a documentary project on the Birmingham music scene. Robin is helping to archive the sessions at The Treehouse where Paul Murphy hosts Songwriter’s Café. He is an expert on Birmingham music history and my favorite radio guru: During his work at the Birmingham radio station BRMB, Robin helped launch the recording sessions that introduced the world to my favorite Birmingham band, UB40 (eternal gratitude, dear friend!).
Robin will be my first guest author at A Dash of Culture with a post on how the kitchen-side logistics are managed each week for Songwriter’s Café. I queried him on this after listening to a recent session in which Paul ruminated over the sheer quantity of aubergines that have gone into the all the homemade dinners this season. Robin had this to say about it:
“He cooks the same meal each week – Eggplant Parmesan, home-baked bread rolls, and salad from his garden, and feeds all the artist and helpers before the concert starts. A communal thing; it’s lovely. Valeria his trusty sidekick…is from Napoli and makes authentic tomato sauce that goes in the Eggplant Parm…” Talk about a nice gig.
Here’s the transcript from Paul Murphy’s aubergine considerations from Songwriter’s Café:
“…We are going to finish off now, and I can hardly believe that this is the end of week nine…week ten? It’s not week ten? [...] It’s week eleven! So, I kinda worked out…I was trying to work out how many aubergines, at the rate of an average of twelve aubergines per week, cut into approximately 6 slices each, put in flour, and then dipped in egg, and then deep fried…over thirteen weeks, I was figuring, how many pieces of aubergine? How much of my life has gone now in aubergine dip?… [asides and internet acknowledgement]…So, if anybody’s mathematically inclined…you can work out that and send it to me on a postcard, you will get a great reward…”
Of course, I felt compelled to do the math and send the postcard off to Great Britain:
12 aubergines X 13 weeks = 156 aubergines
12 aubergine X 6 slices = 72 slices per week
72 slices per week X 13 weeks = 936 slices of aubergine, dipped and deep fried lovingly by Paul and friends for the artists at the Songwriter’s Café this season. That’s quite a production line! I wonder what the “great reward” will be… Check back for Robin Valk’s post on dinner prep at Songwriter’s Café!
The earliest written record of aubergines dates from 59 BC (96 BCE). It was briefly mentioned in the Chinese text Tong Yue (An Indentured Servant’s Contract), by Wang Bao.
Aubergine (Solanum melongena), also known as eggplant or brinjal, is in the Solanaceae (Nightshade) family, along with tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes. These are pollinated most efficiently through buzz pollination by bumblebees, not honeybees. The pollen-bearing anthers of solanaceous flowers are tubular and hold the pollen inside. Bumblebees grasp the anthers with their legs, and then ‘buzz’ to shake the pollen free and onto their bodies, where they then scrape the pollen from to store in sacs on their legs. Honeybees do not buzz very much when foraging.
Aubergine has a strange etymology that jumped plant families as we know them today. It is a diminutive form of the French word “auberge”, meaning “a kind of peach”. This was derived from the Spanish alberchigo “apricot”, which has a long, fuzzy history from its Indo-European root form pek(w)-, to cook, ripen. It shares this root with precocious, which speaks to the antiquated belief that apricots were a variety of peach that ripened earlier than other peaches. Smaller, rounder, lighter-colored varieties of Solanum melongena may have been available throughout ancient trade routes on the way from its Southeast Asian origins to ancient Mediterranean countries, contributing to the odd fruit designations. Perhaps its American English name is a clue to this puzzling jump: Eggplant gained use in the United States in the 1800s based on the colors of lighter yellow and white heirloom varieties that were smaller and rounder than their purple oblong cousins and resembled chicken eggs.
More Links, Related and Tangential:
Newest release by The Destroyers, A Hole in the Universe (Click the main video link on their home page…And, yes, they use the word googolplex…)
I especially love their raucous tune, Red Tape.
Fun write-up on Paul Murphy on Facebook
Robin Valk’s 3-part documentary on Songwriter’s Café at The Treehouse
Ancient Chinese Literature Reveals Pathways of Eggplant Domestication, by Wang, Jin-Xiu; Gao, Tian-Gang; Knapp, Sandra; Annals of Botany (2008) 102 (6): 891-897. (Retrieved July 15, 2012)
Another interesting reference to the text Tong Yue at Google Books: The General History of Drugs, By Antonio Escohotado. (Retrieved July 15, 2012)
Eggplant is used in an interesting manner along with many foods and natural elements in the poems of Arthur Sze:
Odes to an Aubergine: Tom Payne reviews New Selected Poems by Douglas Dunn (from The Telegraph. Retrieved July 15, 2012)
– A Dash of Culture
Where Every Story Has Food and Every Food Has a Story.™