Editor's Note #5

Pictured: The exterior of Lisa Nelson-Haynes' grandmother's home. Check out the recipe for her grandmother Nina's Apple Brown Betty below.

Editor's Note #5
On Field Notes
by Lauren Bakst

Editor's Notes frame and weave together the narratives and practices emerging from Re-PLACE-ing Philadelphia, drawing connections among the projects of the three Artists/Thinkers, Communities-in-Residence, and field notes contributed by invited artists and community members.

Lauren Bakst contextualizes the notion of Field Notes and how they've evolved, honing in on Food Notes with an invitation for submissions from you.


In thinking about what Re-PLACE-ing Philadelphia could generate, it was important from the beginning that we collect, gather, and share the personal narratives that might give a new shape to how we think, feel, and know this city. We decided to call these contributions “field notes.” Field notes are historically linked with anthropology and ethnography, referring to the notes a researcher takes while making observations “in the field.”

What happens when we re-frame the “field note” through the lens of Re-PLACE-ing Philadelphia, a project that is looking to spark imaginative acts in, around, and through the undocumented cracks and corners of Philly and the people who live here? If, as citizens, we are the researchers and archivists of our lives, relationships, and communities, then what would the “field notes” of Philadelphia look like, from the perspectives of the artists, thinkers, cooks, poets, laborers, gardeners, dancers, etcetera—the people of Philly? Is the field note a sensation or a memory; a recipe or grocery list; an image or a sound?

We did not predetermine the organization of field notes into specific categories. Rather the more contributions we invite and receive, the more the repetition of certain contents tell us what the categories are—notes from the street, from rivers and trees, on food and sound. Each of these categories provide a different lens for understanding how we place ourselves in the world and experience place. (And surely, there are more groupings, and other structures of organization, that will be revealed as the field notes continue to accumulate.)

For now, we want to look more deeply and expansively at the categories that have emerged, and to consider the multiplicity of approaches they might encourage. This month, we’re tapping into “Food Notes,” and asking you to contribute your Philadelphia food note. Food, in particular, is central to place—the smells and tastes, the traditions and histories. Food gathers people together to commune. What does that look and feel like in Philadelphia?

In the food notes thus far, we’ve heard from:

  • Valerie Erwin, who traces a history of crab boils from her father's Savannah childhood to growing up in North Philadelphia to her very own Geechee Girl Rice Cafe.
  • Deborah Rudman reflects on her years in Philly as an urban homesteader, sharing insight into how growing your own food can be a form of community building and social justice.
  • Lisa Duhart Collins remembers the smells of freshly baked rolls that formed her West Philly childhood.
  • Martin Brown shares the history of Little Baby’s Ice Cream along with a recipe for homemade Maryland BBQ Ice Cream.
  • Chris Vacca and Kiki Aranita of the food truck Poi Dog Snack Shop share their musubi memories and a recipe for you to make your own.

Now, we’re asking you:

What are the recipes of your Philadelphia?
When you think of Philly, do particular memories of smells associated with food come to mind?
What are the stories and histories around the food you cook and eat?
What are the restaurants you loved but no longer exist?
What kinds of food are available to you in your neighborhood and what are not?

To get us started, Lisa Nelson-Haynes of the Painted Bride shared her grandmother's apple brown betty recipe. Lisa writes, "My grandmother lived in South Philly all of her life and I cannot go by her last home on 20th and St. Alban's without thinking about this recipe."

My Grandmother, Nina's (pronounced Nine-a) Apple Brown Betty


6 Honey Crisp apples (or 3 Honey Crisp and 3 Granny Smith)
6-10 slices of bread
1 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of cinnamon
4 tablespoons of butter
1/3 cup of water


Preheat oven to 375 degrees
skin and cut apples in to slices
mix sugar and cinnamon
break bread into small to medium pieces
grease a baking dish
loosely cover bottom of the baking dish with bread
add layer of apple slices
follow apple slices with a generous sprinkling of cinnamon sugar combo
add a few pats of butter
repeat layering process again beginning with bread pieces
add water once all of the bread and apples are used
cover and bake for 45 mins. 

Share your food notes with us here.

Lauren Bakst is the Re-PLACE-ing Philadelphia Interlocutor.

Editors Notes
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