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)

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