Thursday, August 25, 2011

Rust Belt Chic: Gourmet Gobs

The gourmet gob is the official food of Rust Belt Chic. This isn't the ironic appeal of a dive bar, more like dressing up a Mallo Cup as a high-end dessert. First, a little history:

Susan Kalcik, a folklorist and archivist with the Southwestern Pennsylvania Heritage Preservation Commission in Johnstown, said her research shows that the Gob’s origin can be traced back to medieval Germany.

"They were making a cake-like pastry with a filling," she said. "It probably was brought to America by various German groups like the Amish or German Brethren." ...

... Kalcik believes that the Gob became popular because it was easy to carry in a lunch bucket.

"Men went into the coal mines or steel mills and the little cake with the icing on the inside instead of on the outside served their purpose," she said. "I’m convinced that the name Gob is related to the coal mines. Lumps of coal refuse were called gob piles. These working people adapted the name to the dessert."

The blue collar folklore sets the stage for nostalgia, a taste of home for the Burgh Diaspora. The expat spin on Western PA comfort food:

Mr. Gdula graduated from Penn State and had been making his living as a freelance writer while living on the East Coast. He wrote the book "The Warmest Room in the House: How the Kitchen Became the Heart of the Twentieth-Century American Home" published by Bloomsbury in 2007. But in 2008, he found himself in San Francisco and out of work. He was missing home, and missing gobs, and so he made some -- trying to cook up some solace -- in his and his partner's crappy kitchen.

Inspired by the blooming of the street food cart scene in the Mission District, he decided to take out a cooler full of gobs and try to sell them. Not just the old-school chocolate and vanilla with which he grew up, but also new-fangled, left-coast flavors such as Chocolate Fennel with Raspberry Absinthe.

Read the entire article. It's a fascinating tale of food anthropology and a forerunner for the inevitable Rust Belt Chic cookbook. There are upscale recipes as well as authentic for the connoisseur:

Mr. Gdula does give a recipe for classic gobs, based on one from his father's church, with Crisco filling. But his gourmet gobs use a filling made from butter and cream cheese and are about 90 percent organic. His also are about half the size of the "smashed softball" size ones he remembers loving as a child. His sell for $3.

This gets me to thinking about cultural diffusion on the backs of Rust Belt refugees. I recall, fondly, sitting in on Peirce Lewis class at Penn State. He was talking excitedly about the export of the Pennsylvania barn. During my wayward decade, I developed an eye for spotting Pennsylvanian culture in the American landscape. I think this paved the way for my appreciation of Steelers Nation and the Burgh Diaspora. I had a sense of pride about who I was and where I came from thanks to Professor Lewis.

Grab a gob and celebrate your heritage.

1 comment:

southforknews@comcast,net said...

I have wanted to comment on the history of the Gob for quite some time. Now that I am getting old, the time is right to interject some information I have from personal experience, and hopefully add some understanding to the mix of information about the Gob.
I must question the origin as currently stated. I'm not saying it's wrong, but my history isn't the same. This may rattle a few cages, but, the Gob may well have been an English creation, not German at all!
I will post again with more information which I thought was commom, but from reading about Gobs for a few years I guess something might be missing.
Ray F. Edwards Jr.
South Fork Pa.