Last week I attended the Peabody Awards in New York. No, I wasn’t being honored for my work in broadcasting since I don’t currently do any work in broadcasting. (I hope one of these days to offer podcasts and videos on this blog, but at the moment I’m still mastering the mechanics of putting printed words and still photographs up on the thing!)
Each year I am invited to the Peabodys by a man with a big brain and a big heart, my graduate-school professor Horace Newcomb. I studied with him at the University of Texas. Now he directs the Peabodys at the University of Georgia.
During my doctoral studies Horace taught me a lot about Magnum P.I., I Love Lucy, and Dallas—and a lot about Walt Whitman and Theodore Dreiser as well. Like me, he came to media studies with a humanities background. That background helped him appreciate the narrative qualities in television and radio.
Horace was also a wonderful source of calm advice whenever I felt as though I was NEVER going to pass my comps or finish my dissertation or survive my doctoral defense. I think he must have been a therapist in a past life.
As director of the Peabody Awards Horace shepherds a diverse and distinguished group of academicians and media professionals as they evaluate the hundreds of entries that come in each year. The awards don’t have set categories so what the board is looking for is excellence. It’s a hard quality to quantify, but through days of thought and discussion they always manage to come up with programs that exhibit it.
The resulting slate of radio, television, cable, and internet fare is always diverse. This year’s winners included national news programs like Washington Week, local news features like a Las Vegas station’s controversial series about the rerouting of rural water to Sin City, fictional programs like Breaking Bad, and a number of American and international radio and television documentaries.
Some awards went to traditional entities seeking new venues. The Peabodys recognized the Metropolitan Opera HD broadcasts that are thrilling opera lovers across the country, including those in my local metropolis of Shelburne Falls, and The New York Times web site. (Host Brian Williams mentioned that he had heard a rumor that the Times was thinking of launching a print edition as well.)
Others went to organizations for bodies of work; these included Turner Classic Movies, our TV cinematheque, and You Tube, our online video omnibus.
The clips from the honored programs and the speeches by the recipients were inspiring. We hear so much about the death of news in American radio and TV that it’s wonderful to hear people talk about the support their parent companies have given to strong investigative reporting.
For me as a writer it’s also wonderful to be in a room full of people who take their work seriously and spend the time it takes to get telling stories right—whether those stories are cartoons about an Asian Avatar, conversations about the financial crisis on This American Life, or the disparate election coverage of Saturday Night Live and CNN.
I go home every year with a renewed hope that I, too, will tell useful stories with heart and humor. I also go home with happy memories of Horace and his wife Sara—and with flowers from my table at the Waldorf Astoria, which my mother always appreciates.
For a full list of this year’s Peabody Award winners visit the Peabody web site.
Meanwhile here is a (vaguely) Peabody-related recipe. One of the honorees this year was the HBO miniseries John Adams, which I adored (although I had always pictured Abigail Adams as much less bleak than her portrayal by the talented Laura Linney would suggest).
I called the Adams House in Quincy, Massachusetts (technically Adams National Historic Park) and asked the curator there, Kelly Cobble, whether Abigail had any favorite recipes.
Kelly told me that Abigail Adams was known to be fond of Indian Pudding. She emailed me a quotation from Henry Bradshaw Fearon, an Englishman sent to the United States in 1817 by a group of families who wanted him to look for a place on this continent in which it might be suitable for them to settle.
On Sunday, September 17, of that year Fearon wrote:
In the afternoon of this day, young Mr. Adams came from Quincy to conduct me to his grandfather’s… The ex-President is a handsome old gentleman of eighty-four; his lady a seventy-six; -she has the reputation of superior talents, and great literary achievements.
…first course, a pudding made of Indian Corn, Molasses and butter; Second, veal, bacon, neck of mutton, potatoes, cabbage, carrots and Indian beans: maderia vine of which each drank two glasses. We sat down to dinner at one o’clock, at two, nearly all went a second time to church. For tea, we had pound-cake, sweet bread and butter, and bread made of Indian corn and rye…
In honor of Abigail Adams and the Peabody Awards, then, here is a recipe for Indian Pudding.
True to its name, this dish was a gift to New England settlers from Native Americans, a variation on their cornmeal mush. It was probably the most popular pudding in 18th-century America.
As Henry Bradshaw Fearon indicated, in our nation’s early decades pudding came at the beginning of the meal. You may eat this one for dessert if you like, however! It looks pretty pathetic when it first comes out of the oven (like a not very appetizing mud pie). It looks a lot better with a spot of whipped cream and is satisfying to eat—warm and filling as pudding should be.
Like most puddings, it is adaptable; feel free to omit (or add to) the apples and to experiment with spices!
5 cups milk
1/3 cup molasses
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons sweet butter
2 medium apples
Heat 4 cups of the milk in a saucepan and add the molasses, sugars, cornmeal, cinnamon, salt, and butter. Cook until the mixture thickens (between 10 and 20 minutes), stirring frequently.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Peel and core the apples; then slice them thinly onto the bottom of a 2- to 3-quart baking dish. Pour the cornmeal mixture into the dish on top of the apples. Pour the remaining milk on top, but do not stir it in.
Bake for 3 hours without stirring. Serve warm with cream, whipped cream, ice cream, or hard sauce. Serves 8.