To the Cooks, Prosit! Part I

Disgruntled Cook, 1855 (From: Forrester's Pictorial Miscellany for the Family Circle)

Sir Thomas More in his Utopia (1516), in delineating what would make an ideal society, said:

.. all vyle service, all slaverie and drudgerye, with all the laboursome toyle and busines, is done by bondmen. But the women of every famelie by course have the office and charge of cokerye … and orderyng al thinges thereto belonging.” (Utopia, Book 2, Chapter 5, p. 70)

It is fitting that there be a tribute to the women who cooked through the centuries. Especially since the holiday season begins this week, with the traditional flurry of cooking and preparations, still handled mainly by women.

So, to all the women who sweated in the kitchen, bore indignities and abuse, injuries and death, I’ll raise my glass on Thanksgiving Day. And yet another to all those women who created the dishes, recipes, techniques, and technology that make our eating so sustaining, sensual, and satisfying.

Most of the following paintings come from the seventeenth-century Flemish period. What I find so fascinating about these pictures, for one thing, is the color of the cooks’ dresses and hair — red. The lingering Mary Magdalene effect … ?

Interior of a Kitchen (Joachim Beuckelaer)
Kitchen Scene (Peter Wtewael)
Kitchen Scene (Adriaen van Nieulandt)
Cook in Front of the Stove (Pieter Aertsen)

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Which is the desktop image, the painting or the picture of your wife? I know, I love the art of food and food of art, too. Happy Thanksgiving coming up. Thanks for writing.


  2. kingbiscuitpants says:

    Again as an Illustrator turned chef I love this post; especially the last painting since it bears a striking resemblance to my wife, it’s actually my desktop image right now.


  3. Thank you, Delia. Your marvelous sense of humor on FB and in your blog makes my day many’s the day.


  4. Wonderful post, Mae, just superb! I’ll look at the others you mention. Thanks for alerting me to this.


  5. delianeal says:

    What wonderful paintings! They really capture the chaos inherent in a large kitchen (or any kitchen around the Holidays). For some reason, the van Nieulandt reminds me of the kitchen prep for the climactic dinner in “Babette’s Feast” – a gastronomes delight of a meal just for the sake of sharing a meal. And one that didn’t consist of beer soup and stale bread.

    You come up with the most fascinating culinary information and stunning artwork to go with it – reading your blog is like diving into a musty corner of a rare books shop and losing myself in golden reminiscences of food lore, luscious paintings and incomprehensible recipes for things like eel pie. Love it!


  6. mae says:

    On the same subject — around a year ago I did some reading on food and painting in the Dutch Golden Age and found a large number of wonderful paintings. Steen, Vermeer, Maes, and many others used kitchens as the setting for genre paintings or allegories. Joachim Antoniszoon Uytewael of Utrecht, painted a detailed kitchen scene in 1605, for example. Still-life paintings contributed detail of kitchen scenes.

    See for one post: — others about that subject are also during Sept.of last year.


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