Cynthia D. Bertelsen's Gherkins & Tomatoes

9 Years of Writing about History … A Celebration!

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Nine 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 came to me seemed so lame and pointless that I nearly stopped right there:

“Africa has a way of capturing souls. Years ago, I lived in Morocco, in North Africa. The food, the carpets, and landscape enthralled me. Then came Burkina Faso. Sub-Saharan Africa. Hot. Dry. Dusty. Mysterious. And seductive. The two years I lived there, in the capital of Ouagadougou, the name an opening into a world completely unlike anything I’d ever seen. Or even dreamed of.

Although the years I spent in Africa seemed at the time minimal, fleeting, and inconsequential, a bridge to a more exciting future, I know now that a spirit there burrowed into my soul. My heart beats faster, stronger, and happier when I think of Africa.”

I went on to write 224 posts about Africa.

“Gherkins & Tomomatoes” is not Food52, nor is it The Pioneer Woman. But that’s OK by me.

Despite the advice of a certain person who insisted I had no brand and therefore had nothing to say, I love not being “branded,” “pigeonholed,” and “painted into a corner.”

Why is that?

Why is this: I can write about anything and everything related to food and history. My “travels” take me anywhere, anytime. The journey now meanders through Florida, a place of both beginnings and endings.

I spent a morning lying on the couch in my writing room, wondering what I could say about the experience of producing content for 9 years, fairly regularly anyway. Those nine years wrought a number of changes in my life. During times of recuperating from various assaults on my person – a car accident and broken spine for one, vision issues for another, I found a certain salvation in this blog.

It became a rope to grab onto when I felt the sweeping waves of my own history thrashing me against the shoals, so to speak.

Along the way, I turned to photography, too, which became another joy coupled with the writing.

So I decided that I would share with you, my wonderful readers,  some of my favorite blog posts from each of the years between 2008 and 2017.

2008: Food and the Stranger in the Middle East – “Warriors universally used to lay down their swords or knives at the doorway of their enemy when they broke bread together. Eating together, praying together, speaking together were possible only when no one felt vulnerable. Only in that way could “the Other” become human.”

2009:  Another Fish in the Sea: Mullet – “And  do Southerners ever love fat, firm‑fleshed mullet found all along the Gulf of Mexico’s coastal bayous.  Surprisingly, this savory vegetarian fish is still relatively unknown to most of the culinary world except in the American South and in parts of Europe.”

2010: Ats Jaar: A Little Taste of Southeast Asia in the Antebellum South –  “There it was: “Ats Jaar, or Pucholilla.”

My first thought was, “What is an Indian (as in India) pickle recipe doing in a cookbook from colonial South Carolina?”

2011: Food for Art’s Sake: Eating with the Impressionists – “Although the artists who streamed into nineteenth-century Paris no longer had to worry about making their own colors, they continued the Cro-Magnon traditions of eating and talking ART. When they didn’t sell their work, food was less precious than paint. But when, and if, the artists sold their work, they crowded the cafes of Paris, Arles, and other French cities, and then they ate meagerly but well.”

2012: Recipes from the White Hart Inn: An 18th-Century Cookbook for Today’s Cook – “The writing of cookbooks often becomes fraught with injured egos and accusations bordering on the libelous.

William Verral’s Recipes from the White Hart Inn provides a splendid example of that truism.”

2013:  Singkong, Manioc, Mandioca, Mandió, Tapioca, Yuca: Singing the Praises of Manihot esculenta (Cassava) – “Chipachipa!” yelled the little Paraguyan girl – all of maybe 8 years old, thrusting a large flat basket draped with a smudged white cloth against the open window of the bus. I smelled the warm cassava bread even before she flicked off the cloth with a flourish, much as a magician reveals the white rabbit cowering under his top hat. I pointed to the bread closest to me and she held out her hand. Payment first, then food. I plunked one guaraní (about 10 U.S. cents at that time) into her other hand and she passed the bread to me, after twisting it into a small paper napkin.”

2014: The Biggest Food Revolution Ever: The Printed Cookbook? – “Like many women, and quite a few men, I learned to cook some five or six basic dishes from my mother. And even then, it was all oral. Nothing written. Nevertheless, as a modern person, I guess, I desired to know and understand much more about cooking and cuisine and began to accumulate books on the subject.”

2015: The Curse of Modern Food Writing: The Dearth of Pleasure – “When at 6 a.m. I sat in front of my computer and read the words of wonderful food writer, Damon Lee Fowler, who made some pointed comments on social media late at night, saying, ….”when it comes to the kitchen and dining table, I don’t really care about things that startle: there’s enough of that in the daily cares of our lives.” Exactly. Startled by food. How true.”

2016:  A Juneteenth Commentary: Edna Lewis and the Myths Behind Southern Cooking – “Powered by the mythology that has grown up around Southern food over the last several years, many voices claim ownership, hurling harsh accusations of cultural appropriation, and silencing and shaming contrary opinions. The argument is not easy to prove, as it remains hampered by a lack of statistics, contemporary documentation, and clear evidence of outright ownership of recipes.”

2017: Place and Food, Genius Loci and Terroir – “Years ago, psychologist Jon Kabat-Zinn published a book titled Wherever You Go, There You Are (1994). He certainly had a point, and a very, very apt one. You can’t shed your personality nor your inner tendencies like clothes, leaving any constricting chaos behind, much as a snake sheds its skin. In Kabat-Zinn’s view, you must bloom where you are planted.”

And now, in my small way, I shall join with other explorers who’ve found in Florida rich material indeed.

Thank you all for reading my blog all these years!

The three flags that’ve flown over over St. Augustine (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)

© 2017 C. Bertelsen

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