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…

Going to the Desert

Desert. From ecclesiastical Latin. Dēsertum. "Abandoned place." The word conjures up images of vast sand dunes, blurred footsteps leading to the top. There, some poor soul lies prostrate, skin parched and blistered from the ray guns of a merciless sun. Lands of little rain, uninhabited, lifeless. That, I must admit, covered my initial definition of…

Speaking of France …

You're not supposed to begin a piece of writing with a question. Why not? No idea, except that the "experts" seem to think that it's an easy way out. "You can do better," they say. So what was my question? Oh yes. Why is traditional French food so terribly unpopular at the moment? Many authors…

How Julia Child Rescued Me from the Darkness

Several months ago, thanks to a series of bleeds in my right eye due to ROP*, I underwent a vitrectomy to clear up all the blood still pooling throughout my eye. When my surgeon finished, I learned that I'd suffered a retinal detachment as well, hidden by the immense amount of blood. A gas bubble…

Critics

“Don't bow down to critics who have not themselves written great masterpieces.” ― Lawrence Ferlinghetti, City Lights Pocket Poets Anthology I've been assailed by several critics this last week. Never mind why and for what. Not that I've written anything resembling "great masterpieces," but I find it amusing how quickly people come running when a troll on…

Capouns In Councys, from The Forme of Cury (1390)

Just an example of the type of recipes you will be able to recreate with the help of my upcoming book, A Hastiness of Cooks.  Recipe reconstructed and recreated from archaic language. An example of what's in my upcoming book, "A Hastiness of Cooks." Chicken in a saffron-infused sauce, flavored with Poudre Forte, or "Strong Powder."…

Breaking the Silence of the West, and Words Near to Fail Me

Thanks to the shenanigans of Mother Nature and corpus meum, I've been confined to the couch and a big screen. Or at least the 27-inch one hugging my desktop computer. (Yes, I love the dinosaur, because it responds to me better than my laptop, which reminds me of a willful four-year-old I know. And as…

Lauren Groff’s “Florida”: Nurturing Noirishness

This is the last post I plan to write for "Gherkins & Tomatoes." At least for a long while. After almost 10 years, it's time to fold up the tent, so to speak, and move on. Thank you, all of my regular readers, for stopping by, I've loved getting to know you and sharing opinions. …

The 4th of July: Mythology and American History

It's the 4th of July. A day of almost mythical proportions. For Americans. I got to thinking about the stories surrounding this day, a really special day in the history of the world. Consider the facts: A small, rather weak and geographically diverse conglomeration of settlers rises up like David against a powerful giant -…

The Art of the Essay

I once thumbed through Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, skimming her seductive writing with the speed of a racehorse headed toward the finish line. Or at least the deadline for a book review due the next day. Years passed. Woolf's essay became a feminist classic, a rallying manifesto for women intent on being…

The Death of Anthony Bourdain

I forget where exactly I was when I read Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. But I'll never forget the writing, the cool depiction of the parade of characters - chefs, waitresses, line cooks, dopers, and so on. Tony, I think he liked being called that, could tramp through the Chaco of Paraguay with the same ease he…

Bluets, Maggie Nelson’s Exploration of Blueness

Maggie Nelson's Bluets tackles the varied permutations of the color blue.  It's the perfect book for someone like me, someone who loves the short eccentric entries writers make in their notebooks. Like Somerset Maugham's A Writer's Notebook, Nelson's Bluets ricochets all over the place, only in her case, every observation concerns blue in some way. On one…

Many Different Faces: Bibliography’s Extended Family

Cousin Connie Atherton, or Constance as she wanted to be called - she always said it sounded more grownup,  you know - inherited Grandma's large coffee-brown eyes. Grandpa's curly black hair went to his great-grandson Jake , whose sister Mildred emerged from their mother Flora's uterus with long tapered fingers, a Doppelganger of Uncle George,…

Prelude to a Bio-Bibliography

“Let me take your coat, my dear.” I heard her voice as I stepped off the elevator, into the penthouse suite at the Chicago Hilton on a snowy day in late December. The tall, white-haired woman standing there, holding out her hands to me, drew me over the threshold, welcoming me. The color of Forget-Me-Nots,…

The Joy of Bibliographies

Compiling bibliographies is a bit like blowing bubbles, for you never know how big the bubbles will be or how far away they’ll float through the air. Or where they’ll land. And that’s the exciting bit about bibliographies. You can’t know when you set out on the journey where you'll end up. If you compile…

Skeletons, Disease, and the Dinner Table

I don't like to get my hands dirty. Literally. And that's why I will never be an archaeologist. Grubbing around in the muck and peat and clay, no way. So how come I was in Washington D.C. for the 2018 meetings of the American Archaeological Society (AAS), along with several thousands of other people? Many…

The Threads of Time, or, Who is that Woman in the Painting?

I stood in front of her, the dim buzzing of children’s voices fading behind me. Her glowing face stared out at me, a wisp of a smile on her perfect lips, a vast verdant landscape stretching out behind her. Leaning close to the tiny sign to the right of the painting, I read “Mrs. Davies…

Lessons from “The Great British Bake Off”

I binge watch cooking shows. Instead of reading intellect-stimulating tomes such as Homer's The Iliad (who amongst you can say that you have???), lately I've been spending my precious time on earth transfixed by Paul Hollywood's piercing blue eyes, calmed by Mary Berry's soothing voice, cheering on the indomitable bakers of "The Great British Bake…

Come to Dinner: A Meditation on Judy Chicago’s Art

Artists and writers often depict society in ways that raise eyebrows and curl lips with disdain. The artist Judy Chicago and her massive installation – “The Dinner Party” – turned the tables on the art world back in 1979. She chose the powerful motif of a dinner party to make her statement. With all the…

Musings on the Road West

Driving through Texas, thinking of my 9-year-old grandmother, of the tale she told me so many years ago. Her father decreed that they would all move to Globe, AZ, along with his brothers, driving cattle, who knows, to the new ranch, from the old one in Fredericksburg, Texas, German enclave. To Globe, Arizona. How long…