The British Melting Pot

I recently ran across these books, mentioned on an interesting British Web site providing glimpses and glances at cookbooks published in Britain, cookbooks that we here in the US of A rarely see. Maybe it's my imagination, but it seems that the British cookbook market features more books concerned with other cultures and not so…

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Cooking Fish — Let Us Count the World’s Ways: Africa

It's Lent. That means fish to a lot of people, even today, despite the relaxed rules of the Church. But how to cook fish? How to get past Mrs. Gorton's Fish Sticks? Many, many ways. Let's look at what people around the world do to get fish from the seas, rivers, and lakes from their…

Lent, According to American Cookery, the Magazine, That is

Lent can be a really interesting time of the year. For some of us living in the Northern Hemisphere, a mere glimpse outside our windows forces the introspection and reflection behind the whole idea of Lent. Who wants to walk around out there in that howling wind and blowing snow? Better to stay inside and…

Buttering Up

Peppermint flavoring, almond extract, gooey candied fruit, thick dark molasses, perfumey cardamom … the list could go mouth-wateringly on and on. Christmas cooking and Christmas baking demand many ingredients not normally used in everyday cooking. And that’s what makes the holiday season such a sheer delight for those besotted with all things culinary. But one…

Hunger is the Best Sauce

A hungry people listens not to reason, nor cares for justice, nor is bent by any prayers. [Lat., Nec rationem patitur, nec aequitate mitigatur nec ulla prece flectitur, populus esuriens.] De Brevitate Vitoe (XVIII), Seneca (Lucius Annaeus Seneca) Chronic hunger is something that most of us in the United States will never really know.* Yet…

Hunger, Starvation, Famine and the Sweep of Human History

When it comers to food, we humans live in a paradox these days. In the West, there's too much food --- as long as one has money with which to buy it --- and because of that excess, we begin to look like the Michelin Man or the Pillsbury Doughboy. And on the flip side …

A Rogue’s Gallery: The Many Faces of Polenta

With apologies to Shakespeare and Romeo & Juliet and all lovers of the same: What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet; So polenta would, were it not polenta call'd, Retain that dear perfection which it owes Without that title. The big fuss in today's…

The Gift of the Bees: Mead

With a small tweak of the imagination, it’s not hard to see the scenario:  a little rain and some honey accidentally left in a hollowed-out piece of wood. For our early ancestors, it was --- once tasted --- a seemingly divine elixir. And no cooking required. In other words, mead, the first fermented drink. And…

Boarding House Food in Lagos, Nigeria

In Africa, boarding houses enjoy a popularity resembling that of the nineteenth- and early-twentieth centuries in the USA, for the same reasons. More reasonable in cost than buying a house or living in an apartment, a boarding house also eliminates the need to worry about food preparation. Many students, such as those attending school in…

Fermented Foods of the World

For those interested in the impact of fermentation on human history, here's a useful tool: Fermented Foods of the World: A Dictionary and Guide, by Geoffrey Campbell-Platt (Butterworths, 1987). Now somewhat rare, with a price tag of over $600.00 for at least one used copy available online, it's not a book that should be checked…

Goat Song: Romancing the Pastoralism (Not)

People today seek a connection with the earth in many ways. The shape of that seeking takes many forms. First it was buying a house in Tuscany, making dreams of Paradise concrete. Or at least set in rough stone. Now it seems to be goat-herding and cheese making. Truthfully, there’s something about herding that calls…

Cheesemaking in Africa: “Curd and the Karamojong”

Englishwoman Kate Arding, who owns a cheese shop --- Cowgirl Creamery ---  in West Marin,  California, traveled to Uganda in December 2007. While there, she taught the Karamojong people how to make cheese. A pictorial essay--- "Curd and the Karamojong" --- appeared in the autumn issue of a new magazine devoted completely to cheese, Culture:…

Food and the British Raj in Africa: A Photographic Interlude

Because photographs and artwork lend insight into time periods that words might not (a picture is worth a thousand words, right?), it behooves those of us with a penchant for food history (and just plain prurient curiosity!) to examine visual renditions of the past. While reading old diaries, journals, and letters of the British Raj,…

In Morocco, Kitchens

Kitchens, a form of material culture, often determine the shape of the cuisine. By the limitations imposed by the tools, the food cooked reflects the process. A case of the medium is the message?** In the kitchens [of Morocco] there was a great assortment of wood dishes, like low corn measures, scrubbed white, as in…

In Morocco, Travelers’ Tales

In the following passage, from R. B. Cunninghame Graham's Mogreb-El-Aska (1898), Cunninghame Graham describes  (in somewhat superior tones!) the spirit of communal eating in Morocco of the times (late nineteenth century):** Swani and Mohammed-el-Hosein were radiant, more especially because the Kaid had sent a sheep, which they had already slain and given to a "…

In Timeless Morocco

In 1917, American novelist Edith Wharton spent the month of September in Morocco. She wrote of her experiences in In Morocco (Jonathan Cape Ltd., 1920),  taking an apologist point of view for General Pierre Lyautey, the French governor of the day. Of Fes (Fez), she wrote: There it lies, outspread in golden light, roofs, terraces,…

Adding More Spices to Your Life

Jessica B. Harris, chronicler of many things African, at least when it comes to cooking anyway,  includes a recipe for “Traditional Peppersoup Spice Mixture” in her book, The Africa Cookbook: Tastes of a Continent (Simon & Schuster, 1998). She says, “I have included this recipe so that you can see the world of new tastes…

Chicken Curry, From Réunion (the Country)

Réunion is a country. About 800 kms. east of Madagascar. Off the coast of Africa. A former fueling/supply station for ships on their way to Asia for spices. A bit "out there," yes. But the food there ... tastes and flavors marry each in ways only possible when people from different cultures meet each other…

Palm Oil, Chicken In

Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe once wrote that proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten. A recipe for chicken in red palm oil: CHICKEN IN RED PALM OIL Serves 4-6 ¼ c. red palm oil 1 chicken, cut up for frying ½ t. ground coriander 1 t. sea salt 1 t. dried orange…

Palm Oil, A Mixed Blessing

African palm oil --- from Elaeis guineensis and used in traditional African cooking --- adds a rich red color and  unctuous mouthfeel to many stews and sauces. Rich in beta-carotenes, palm oil contains no trans fats since it is not hydrogenated. Unfortunately, palm oil also packs a huge wallop to the environment because of demand…

Bambara Groundnuts, Not Peanuts

Bambara groundnuts (Voandzeia subterranea) claim no peanuts as relatives. Another indigenous food from West Africa, the groundnut does tend to end up cooked in the same way that  peanuts are, however. Cooks use pulverized groundnuts as a thickener, in much the same way that Middle Eastern cooks use almonds and Italian cooks use walnuts or…

Guinea Fowl, Pintade, Faraona

I first ran into guinea fowl in South America, little balls of feathers covered with Seurat-like pointillage. Later, in Burkina Faso, I’d see them darting like roadrunners here and there along the sides of the road. Numida meleagris, the helmeted guinea fowl, speak in rather harsh-sounding voices and prefer lots of company. A cousin to…

Fish: Garum and Beyond

O le bi oju eja ti ehin ko le iwe. (Yoruba) : It is as hard as the eye of a (smoked) fish, which the teeth cannot break. [N.B. -- Applicable to any difficult matter.] (from Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, Richard Francis Burton) Most people who live to eat (definition: the food-obsessed) might…

The Black Death Revisited, Momentarily

All the talk about swine flu (April 2009) naturally calls up images of the catastrophic 14th-century pandemic of bubonic plague. Or the Black Death, as it came to be called, because of the gangrenous flesh of its victims, thanks to the disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), or purpura, that occurred. Actually, three types of plague appeared:…