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Posts Tagged ‘culture’

A Father, a Son, and an African Horse: William and Samuel Miles

Visiting Writers’ at WSU – Second Installment (October 7, 2010)

Cover of My African Horse ProblemTraveling many miles across the United States from the east coast, William F.S. Miles and Samuel Benjamin Miles, a father and son duo, agreed to come to Pullman for the second presentation of the Visiting Writers’ Series on October 7 and read from their memoir My African Horse Problem (2008).  William is a political science professor at Northeastern University in Boston, volunteered in Niger with the Peace Corps from 1977-1979, and has written nine books.  He is a Fulbright Scholar and also received an American Philosophical Society grant in 2001.

Samuel, who is of Franco-American ancestry, is a senior who is studying in the Ethics, Politics and Economics program at Yale.  He speaks French and spent his early life studying in Martinique, Mauritius and the Lycée Français de Jerusalem.

The memoir tells of the trip that William and Sam (only ten years old at the time) made to West Africa in 2000 to resolve a dispute concerning who should inherit a particular horse.  It weaves the voices of father and son together, and this is exactly how they read from it during their performance.  Before they begin reading, however, William starts things off on a humorous note by completely changing his clothes from a normal suit into a traditional African-style outfit.

Samuel Miles

Samuel Miles

But then the two get down to business, and William narrates the more complex, adult perspective of the story, and Samuel, staying true to his ten-year-old self, reads the entries that he made as a fifth grader in a foreign country.  To accompany their reading, Sam and William have put together a PowerPoint presentation with photos. The two work well together, and procure many a chuckle from the attentive audience.  The performance is unique in that the two authors alternate between reading their work and responding to questions asked by WSU English professor Peter Chilson.  At the end of the reading, members in the audience ask more questions, and I follow up with the two authors afterwards, asking them each a few questions separately.

Reading by Samuel and William Miles

Peter Chilson (to Samuel): Do you consider yourself an author?

Samuel Miles: I like to think that I’m half-way there.  There’s also a question of intent.  Was I writing to be published?  Was I hoping to reach an audience? The nature of the things I wrote were a bit more personal at the time.  I wasn’t planning on having this talk right now, ten years later.  What it did do was start me on a writing path, showing me the importance of writing, and the power of it. So, I kind of do [consider myself an author], not necessarily because of this book but because what this book gave me was a mentality of someone who writes to be read and the knowledge that when I write it’s powerful.  It’s something to be taken seriously for myself.

William Miles

William Miles

Peter Chilson: How [did] you work this out collaborating with your father?

Sam: [The writing of the book] was done mostly when I was in high school. So it would happen late at night. I would come home and lay it on the ground and have all these different pieces of paper with all my notes from current memories and writings from my journal. And we would piece together the things that we thought would flow.  There wasn’t exactly an equivalency—I was in high school, and he (William) had published six or seven books at the time, so there was a power imbalance there. My version would’ve included a lot more pictures with dinosaurs or something.  It was actually kind of easy and fun because it’s my dad, and we were doing a really good project together.  The tension was mostly that I was tired and didn’t want to do it.  But the writing process itself was unique, nothing I had ever seen anyone do before.  In that respect it was more fun than anything.

Peter Chilson: Whose idea was this? How did this idea come about? Did Dad just come home one day and say “you’re writing a book with me”?

Sam: Well actually it started with Mr. Foley [Sam’s fifth grade teacher]. I was a ten-year old at the time, in fifth grade in Massachusetts.  I was being pulled out of class, my dad called me and said, “Listen, we’re going to Niger” and I said, “I have school.” So I went to my teacher, Mr. Foley, and I said, “So, I want to go to Africa. Can I not do my math homework for awhile?” I don’t know what kind of process went through his head but he said, “Sure, keep a journal, and that will count for your homework.” [This] was awesome for me, because it really started me off on a process of writing in general, and I [continued] keeping a journal after that. To this day, I still do. It’s a lot of fun, actually.  That was my assignment.  That was how I got out of doing math problems: [by] recording my thoughts and [a] perspective my father couldn’t get.  When I came back, I showed it to my teacher and that was how I got away with skipping school to go ride a horse in Africa.

William: I should explain at this point why it was that I had a horse in Africa in the first place.  That makes me have to go back to my last year in college, when I was a senior and I had the good fortune to be rejected by every law school that I applied to, because I didn’t really want to go to law school. That’s what the parents said I should do; what any social science major would be doing.  I didn’t get into any of those elite schools, [but] I did get into the Peace Corps. I didn’t even know that Niger existed as a completely different place from Nigeria.  It shares five rivers [and] it does share part of a river that flows through called the Niger River.  It’s a former French colony, it’s got a tenth of the population of Nigeria, and it was fortunate that there was a civil war that weekend in the second choice [of country] that they were giving me, which was Zaire.  I chose Niger, instead.

My biggest obstacle was this lady (referring to the picture of his mother on the slideshow).  To say that I had an overprotective Jewish mother would be an understatement.

(reading from memoir)

Mine (his mother) was absolutely horrified that, instead of going to medical or law school after college, I would join the Peace Corps and go off to live in the middle of Africa.  (For that matter, I ought also to thank those half dozen élite law schools that, by rejecting me, rescued me from a post-Vassar life of jurisprudence.)  When she could no longer resist my ultimate expression in youthful rebellion, Mother implored me to heed three warnings.  Remember that my leaving for Muslim Black Africa, in 1977, coincided with seemingly frequent Palestinian hijacking of U.S. and Israeli airplanes as well as an upsurge in other anti-American and anti-Semitic terrorism.

“When you’re over there,” my mother intoned, “do not say you are an American.”

“Yes mother.”

“And do not,” she continued, “reveal that you are Jewish.”

“Yes, mother.”

“And lastly,” my mother implored, “never tell them that you are white!”

[Audience laughter] (more…)

WSU 19 – The secret to Cougar Gold

We could tell you what’s in WSU 19, but then we’d have to shoot you.

Cougar Gold cheese. Photo Robert Hubner

Cougar Gold cheese. Photo by Robert Hubner.

WSU 19 is the adjunct culture added to Cougar Gold cheese that gives it its more-than-cheddar taste. It was developed by N.S. Golding (hence Cougar Gold) at WSU in the early 1940s and has been used ever since.

“WSU 19 is our secret ingredient,” says Russ Salvadalena, manager of the WSU Creamery. “We are willing to share all of our other experiences and ingredients, but we don’t share WSU 19.”

On a recent Tuesday morning he took me through two chlorine foot baths, past the ice cream flavor vats and into the culture room where WSU 19 is stored and incubated.

“We keep this pretty much under lock and key when no one is around,” he says, removing a small plastic bottle from inside a “refrigerator” set to an internal temperature of 100 degrees.

Every day or two, for the past nearly 70 years a WSU student has transferred a portion of WSU 19 to a new nutrient bath in preparation for a new batch of cheese. The process is similar to how bakers will sometimes use the same sourdough starter for generations, Salvadalena said.

The subject of WSU 19 surfaced recently because Salvadalena got a call from a couple, Al and Susie Howell, who had a can of unopened Cougar Gold dated Oct. 1987. Their daughter, Teresa Howell Hoffman  ’80, had given it to them and they’d never gotten around to opening it. When they finally opened it earlier this month at the creamery, it tasted great.

And for that, we can thank WSU 19.

Cougar Gold is created with two cultures, a lactic starter and WSU 19. Some cheddars leave a bitter aftertaste, but not Cougar Gold, not even after two decades or more in a tin can.

Making cheese at the WSU Creamery. Photo by Robert Hubner.

Making cheese at the WSU Creamery. Photo by Robert Hubner.

Golding, a professor of dairy husbandry, began working on the problem of how to can cheese in the 1930s. At that time, the problem was a buildup of carbon dioxide over time, causing the cans to explode. When WWII started, the government got interested in food packaging as well, and, along with the American Can Company, gave Golding a grant to further his research.

Golding asked cheese-making colleagues from around the world to send him their bacteria cultures, Salvadalena said, and ended up making a “bacteria cocktail” that did indeed limit the production of carbon dioxide in the can. He named it WSU 19.

John Haugen, assistant creamery manager, says WSU 19 is no longer necessary to prevent explosions. The lactic starter WSU uses now will create a cheese that can ripen in a can. But, without WSU 19, it would be just another cheddar.

And for that, we can thank Dr. Golding.

Links

Alumnus has stash of aged Cougar Gold (WSU Today, Sept. 13, 2007)

How Cougar Gold Made the World a Better Place (Washington State Magazine, Winter 2004)

Oldest Cougar Gold cracked opened, still tasty (WSU Today, Aug. 14, 2010)

WSU Creamery

Gallery :: The Cheesemaking Process at WSU (Washington State Magazine)