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…

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Fussy Eaters, or, The Plants in My Garden

You know how some people are fussy eaters? The ones you hesitate to invite to your table because you’ll end up making three dinners instead of one? Well, I’m learning that plants are worse, much worse. At least some are. Very picky. Very. As a neophyte gardener, for that is essentially how I must describe…

Journeys versus Destinations: Adventures in Indonesia

 Adventures in Indonesia: Copy and paste this link for a direct line to the Power Point presentation:  https://cbertel.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/mike-and-cindy_s-most-excellent-adventures1.pptx This is a Power Point file that I have been working on. If you do not have Power Point, you will not be able to see the post. If you do have Power Point, be sure to…

The Story Behind a Kitchen-Counter Sweet-Potato Patch

There’s something about sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) that I cannot seem to shake. Maybe there’s some sort of cellular memory thing going on, like perhaps my ancestors sat around somewhere, gratefully chewing on roasted sweet potatoes, surviving a dry spell in food production. A good reason to foster a sweet potato patch. We Americans now…

* Biscuits and Buttermilk: A New Year and New Directions

After a long fallow period, spent baking (and eating) many Christmas cookies, I have decided to bloom/cook where I am planted, so to speak. Lately I’ve become more intrigued by the cuisine that surrounds me, here in the American South.  After all, I've basically been a Southerner for over 30 years. Although many cookbook authors…

With Time and Frost, Things Fall Apart

Fall can be a bittersweet time, a time to look forward to cool-crisp nights, hearty meat-and root-vegetable stews, and the smell of burning leaves, that is, you're allowed to burn them where you live. On the other hand, the coming of fall and frost signifies the end of the growing season, and the beginning of…

The Joy of France: Open-Air Markets I

Markets in France reflect a long tradition of local foods, now sadly giving way to supermarkets like Franprix, Monoprix, and Intermarché, but still holding their own. With any justice at all, such markets will continue as the local foods movement takes firmer root.

Le Potager du Roi, a Kitchen Garden Fit for a King

Winter still chills those of us north of equator and so the time has come to dream of gardens and kings and and cabbages and things like seed catalogs. A while ago (OK, more than a while!), because of the burgeoning trend nowadays for local foods and backyard gardens --- the most famous being the…

The Potager of Thomas Jefferson: A Kitchen Garden in Photos

Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, that amazing genius and inventor, and --- according to the late food writer, Karen Hess --- probably America's first real gourmet. Any lover of books, art, architecture, wine, and food should dream of visiting this place at least once. [Note: It's the only house declared a UNESCO World Heritage…

Lavender Fields Forever

No smell of cow patties flitted through the air, thank goodness. After all, just before lunch who wants to contemplate biting into a sandwich perfumed with the stench of manure? We  stood on the knoll about the Maison Beliveau and watched the black-furred cattle, including two hefty bulls, running down the hill, hell-bent on cozying…

Dig for Victory! Locavorism in Eons Past

Looking at the past almost always calls up that old adage: "There's nothing new under the sun."* Take locavorism's wartime antecedents ... As these WWII posters from England's "Dig for Victory!" campaign prove, the idea of local foods is not one whose time has come, but whose time has come again. Aimed at encouraging the…

The Random Herbalist: Charlemagne, St. Gall, and the History of Medicine

The history of medicine, a fascinating subject, shows how people began to understand more and more about the corporeal body. Herbs played a big role in the evolution of this understanding, and medieval monasteries encapsulated this knowledge: The curriculum of these cathedral schools embraced originally the Trivium, (arithmetic, grammar, music), and the Quadrivium (dialectics, rhetoric,…

The Random Herbalist: Monks and Plant Migration

Along with dill, which we've briefly brushed by, other plants also traveled with the monks as they made their way across Europe: To the monks, who in their way were great gardeners, we are indebted for the introduction of several plants ; and since in many cases the ancient monastery has disappeared, the flowers which…

The Random Herbalist: The Roman Influence on Monastic Gardens

With this post, I celebrate a year of writing "Gherkins & Tomatoes!" Thank you so much to everyone who visits the blog. I look forward to the coming year! The Romans wielded profound influence on the architecture and organization of monasteries ... and, hence, on us ... centuries later. According to Viollet-le-Duc : —* "…

The Random Herbalist: St. Gall, A Model Garden Plan?

[NOTE: I'd like to thank the readers of Gherkins & Tomatoes for their patience this summer --- in the last few weeks I've moved from a house where I've lived for fourteen years, my favorite cat died, and I've been writing under deadline for an article for an encyclopedia as well as for a local…

The Random Herbalist: The Hortus Eremitje

Charlemagne had a shovel in every monastic garden, or so it seems:* As early as the days of Charles the Great (Charlemagne) the cloister owned outside property, and just as at Canterbury we must conclude that the plan of St. Gall meant the orchards and vineyards to be outside. The whole time of Charles the…

The Random Herbalist: Books About Monastic and Medieval Gardens

I find the following books enlightening, soothing, and motivating. My plan is to create/design a medieval/monastic herb garden over the upcoming winter and plant it starting next spring.* Monastic Gardens, by Mick Hales (2000) Private worlds glimpsed by a privileged few, monasteries have long maintained an aura of mystery. Outsiders imagine the silent seclusion, the…

The Random Herbalist: Gregor Mendel

Medieval monks knew a great deal about plants and their characteristics. And so did monks of later times. Take the example of Gregor Mendel, as does this article discussed in a March 2009 Journal of Biology article: Why Didn’t Darwin Discover Mendel’s Laws? Mendel solved the logic of inheritance in his monastery garden with no…

The Random Herbalist: The Monastic Physic Garden

Most of the gardens originally associated with monasteries contained numerous plants used for medicinal purposes. And, if nothing else,  at least these gardens provided the background for mystery novelist Ellis Peters's sailor-turned monk and herbalist, Brother Cadfael. The cloister-garth was a square, planted with grass and possibly shrubs, divided by two intersecting paths into four…

The Random Herbalist: An Introduction to Early Monastic Gardens

A series on monastery cooks ("At the Tables of the Monks")*, and a recent comment on the impact of medieval monks on the spread of dill throughout Europe, led me to reflect in more detail on the influence of monks on early European agricultural practices. For the next several days, I will be sharing notes…

Reveling in Books: The Garden Cottage Diaries

Most of the time, I judge food by its looks and books by their covers. Sorry, but give me a little art, a bit of color, and a mob cap any day of the week. Mob cap? Take the cartoon-like cover of The Garden Cottage Diaries for example. Like a magnet, this visual rendition of…

The Garden of Bartolomeo Vanzetti

Sometimes I close my eyes and just remember, remember being in ___ [name of place] and then it was just (pause) sit at the table, and I got a lot of brothers and sisters, you know. My dad’s there and I just sit at the table and it’s like, eat and laugh and talk and…