Cooking Like a Catalan, No Matter Where You Are

I dream of returning to Catalonia. The last time I was there, in 2010, I crossed the border between France and Spain, and ended up about 30 miles northwest of Barcelona. I stopped for lunch at a small family-run place in a town whose name I can't remember. The waitress wouldn't speak Spanish, and all…

For Me, All Roads Lead to Spain

Standing on the edge of the cliffs in the merciless wind, I struggled to keep my unruly hair out of my eyes. A losing battle it was, for I could barely see the roiling blue water below. No trees, scrubby grass, an old whitewashed church, and a modern lighthouse. Nothing else. Sagres,* perched on the…

Novel Due Out Soon: In the Shadow of Ravens

I'm happy to announce that my stab at an historical novel will soon be available.   In the Shadow of Ravens is at heart a portrait of witchcraft as it evolved in seventeenth-century England. But, more than that, it is a story of a family of strong women, of healing, of cooking, and of love.

11 Years of Writing About Food and Culinary History – A Blog Anniversary!!!

Eleven years ago, I decided to poke a toe into the world of food blogging. I settled on the name, "Gherkins & Tomatoes," based on a painting by Luis Meléndez, a tribute to the period of history known as "The Age of Exploration." Faced with a blank screen demanding something, anything, the first words that…

Cassava, Manioc, Yuca, It’s All the Same

The small Paraguayan girl – all of maybe 8 years old - yelled “Chipa, chipa!" She thrust an enormous flat basket draped with a smudged white cloth against the open window of the bus. And I smelled the warm cassava bread even before she flicked off the cloth with a flourish, much as a magician…

Cooking Cuban During El Período Especial Estadounidense

The picadillo at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, a neighborhood in Tampa, Florida. That's where it began, where the seed got planted. I'd just turned 21. To celebrate, several friends treated me to a fancy dinner there. And I ordered the picadillo, sided with a lime dacquiri. I think. I vaguely recall black beans,…

Oh, it’s a Sailor’s Life for Me! Lobscouse and Dandyfunk

Yer may talk of yer flummadiddlers and fiddlepad- dies, but when it comes down to gen-u-ine grub, there ain't nothing like good old salt hoss that yer kin eat afore yer turns in and feel it all night a-Iaying in yer stummick and a-nourishin' of yen.* Think of the seaside on a windy day,  waves…

Being Ernest: On ” Writing One True Sentence”

I used to read Ernest "Papa" Hemingway's novels. Clean, spare prose, mixed up with some keen observations about human nature, his writing - and his adventurous life - took me places I yearned to go. But, later on, even more enticing to me was his nonfiction. I can't tell you how many times I read…

In Ernest Hemingway’s Key West Kitchen

When I think of the writer Ernest Hemingway, for some reason I think of fish and whiskey and meat dripping fat onto an open fire. Hemingway ate all those things, and more. Proof lies in The Hemingway Cookbook (Boreth, 1998), on sale in the wonderful gift shop behind the Hemingway House in Key West. There's…

Land of Sun and Shadows: Florida During the Gilded Age (1)

Oil magnate Henry Flagler took his earnings from Standard Oil, which he founded with John D. Rockefeller, and channeled that vast sum - $10-$20 million at the end of the nineteenth century - into Florida hotels and railroads. Essentially one of the so-called "robber barons," Flagler did much to open up the vastness of Florida…

Hoarder? Bibliophile? Collector?

Hoarding. The word refers to an excessive need to stockpile something, usually food, for example during times of scarcity. In our modern consumerist culture, hoarding has become a source of entertainment. Or worse. The first – and only – time I watched an episode of “Hoarders”, I turned the TV off after about 10 minutes.…

“Railroad Cake”, an Historic Recipe from Haile Homestead, and Sarah Rutledge Takes a Back Seat

Esther Serena Chesnut Haile, born in Camden, South Carolina in 1827, migrated to the Florida frontier with her husband Thomas Haile in 1854. As was the case with many women in those days, Serena bore many children over her reproductive years, 15 to be exact. I suspected that perhaps Serena might have carried a copy…

“To Fry Tomatoes”: Sarah Rutledge Mixes Up a Few New World Foods

Sarah Rutledge's cookbook, The Carolina Housewife, surprised me the other day. Try as I might, I could only find one recipe for pork in the whole book! "Ham Toast," on page 75. I kid you not. "Meat" seems to be beef or veal. That's it. Ms. Rutledge's book did include a number of vegetable recipes,…

Mulacolong, from Sarah Rutledge’s The Carolina Housewife:

With a name like that, of course, I couldn't resist the recipe. "Mulacolong." What on earth did that mean? It seems that no one else knew either, thanks to a Google search and more. So I decided to split up the word, to look at components rather the whole. One tantalizing bit of information kept…

Introducing Sarah Rutledge, a Cookbook Author You’re Going to Get to Know Very Well!

I'd like to introduce you a most interesting woman, Sarah Rutledge. Call her Miss Sally, as did her kin and her friends. She wrote a cookbook, The Carolina Housewife, published in 1847, which tells a most remarkable story. Unlike Mary Randolph's The Virginia Housewife (1824), which tended to focus more on the victuals cooked and…

What’s That You Say??? Medieval Culinary Terminology Unmasked*

If you've ever tried to read Chaucer in the original language, you know what you're up against when you tackle a recipe dating from the poet's time period. Actually, when you read The Canterbury Tales, you have it fairly easy, for there's a multitude of resources to help you as you plunge through Chaucer's Middle…

Keep on Feasting! For Lovers of “Game of Thrones”

Fans of the popular TV series “Game of Thrones” must be feeling bereft. And why shouldn’t they? The curtain finally fell on the last episode of that long-running megahit. Unless they love reruns, that’s it for those fans. I, on the other hand, have barely made it through the first episode so far, “Winter is…

Transcription of Medieval Documents, or, What an Online Resource!

As I mentioned, albeit briefly, in “A Hastiness of Cooks”: A Practical Handbook for Use in Deciphering the Mysteries of Historic Recipes and Cookbooks, For Living-History Reenactors, Historians, Writers, Chefs, Archaeologists, and, of Course, Cooks, transcription is one of those things that makes all the difference when you're trying to recreate historic recipes or analyzing…

12 Months of the Year, or, Medieval Liturgical Calendars

"A picture is worth a thousand words!" Yes. And no. In one image, art, like photography, can present something that could take a thousand words to describe. Or more, depending upon what's being shown. I think of the raw files that come out of my Nikon D7100 as being more like rough drafts than the…

Culinary Manuscripts, or, Deciphering the Code

Paleography refers to the situation in which an historic cookbook is studied,* and perhaps converted to script that a modern reader can understand. The process is highly complicated and experts spend years, even whole careers, devoted to just this subject. So the following discussion is more like a scratch on a grain of sand, small…

Pignagoscé sur chapons (Pignagoscé on Capons), Plus Some Words on Paleography

In my latest book, "A Hastiness of Cooks", I deliberately skimmed over France and her culinary heritage. Not because I thought her culinary heritage not worth acknowledging, but because I wanted to savor that heritage in a different medium or venue. With that sentiment in mind, I pulled Terence Scully's treatise - The Vivendier -…

A Handbook for Historic Recipe Reconstruction and Cookbook Analysis: “A Hastiness of Cooks”

Did you know that you can cook from hundreds of historic cookbooks without spending a lot of money, except perhaps for your monthly internet fee? Or maybe even for free, if you use the computers at a public library? There are vast digital collections of historic cookbooks and manuscripts just waiting for you to use.…

Who was Gervase Markham? A Forgotten English Food Writer Comes Alive in a New Book

His quirky, pixy eyes belie his prolificity as a writer, one that some dub the first so-called hack writers in modern history, and possibly the first to import an Arabian horse into England.** And possibly one of William Shakespeare’s rivals? Some writers such as Robert Gittings, in his tepidly received Shakespeare’s Rival (1960), suggest that…

Before There was Martha S., There was Martha B.*

Martha Bradley's The British Housewife (1756) has long fascinated me, for all her detail and  precise instructions. And, most of all,  for her emphasis on local foods, long before Alice Waters or Michael Pollan were gleams in the eye of God. Of course, the other point I want to make here is this: the English were quite…

Francisco Martínez Montiño, a King’s Cook (and a Major Character in Spanish Culinary History)

“Just like in the movies, when the hero finally gets up to the ticket window and the clerk slams it shut.” That thought ballooned in my mind when I walked up to the doors of the Museo del Prado in Madrid on a Monday morning. CLOSED. No Velazquez. Of course, Monday. Here's something mnemonic for…

In the Scent of Cinnamon, a Whiff of Medieval Humoral Theory

Purple bougainvillea flowers hung thick and rope-like over the sand-colored walls, their little white hearts nearly pulsating in the blazing noon heat of Rabat, Morocco. The door of The English Bookshop stood half-opened. The stern English proprietor stood behind the counter, his thin pale fingers reaching into scuffed cardboard boxes, filled with the newest shipment of books…

The Eels of Hannah, Or, Hannah Glasse’s Lenten Recipes

In my forthcoming book - with illustrations by Courtney Nzeribe - I discuss Hannah Glasse's cookbook. (And much more, of course!)   Poor Hannah Glasse. Literally. Except for Martha Stewart, she may be the only cookery book writer who did hard time for financial woes. Author of The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy,…

A Day on the Border: Nogales, Mexico

Yesterday, I crossed into Nogales, Mexico, and saw a bit of Nogales, Arizona, too. It's a story that repeats itself every day of the year. At Ed's Border Lot, my car fits nicely between two others - the one on the left with an Arizona plate, the one on the right with a Sonoran plate.…

“A Hastiness of Cooks”: A How-to Handbook for Lovers of Historic Cooking and Cookbooks

You're probably wondering what "A Hastiness of Cooks" means. Read the following definition and you'll see why the phrase inspired me in writing my new book, "A Hastiness of Cooks": A word game, popular in the great households of late medieval England, had at its heart the creation of collective nouns. In the lists of…