Cooking with Hurricane Irma, Part I: Tomatoes Breathing Fire: A Universal Sauce

I am of the unpopular opinion that no one owns cuisine. In spite of UNESCO decrees and loud cries from the lecture stand or pages of popular books, the fact remains: Food and ingredients travel with people. People share food. People love food. People want the recipes. Or at least the basic facts about how…

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The Food of Florida: A Grand and Ongoing Experiment

I didn’t know it then, but when I was much – heck, I’ll be really honest here and say a lot –  younger, I began participating in a grand social experiment, one that I understand more with each passing year. Given my nature, the experiment naturally involved food. And that experiment began with a road…

Day 7: Squirrel – Celebrate American Food History

They're puckish, furry, skittish, with tiny wiggly noses. And darn good eating, according to a chorus of voices in old, as well as modern, American cookbooks. What are they? Why, squirrels of course. Most people know of squirrel meat in traditional Brunswick Stew or Kentucky Burgoo. Many food writers have written on these two quintessential American…

Pemmican, and Other Sundry Treats from Jas. Townsend

Of the three  influences on early American cooking - Native American, European, and African - Native Americans deserve far more credit, for one thing, than just for their expertise on corn.  Thanks to that knowledge, Europeans and others became rather adept at manipulating corn and cornmeal, and other ingredients, in order to stay alive in the New…

Peanuts and the Cooking of West Africa

Writers throw out the words "African cooking" all the time. I know. I have written same words, to my great embarrassment. But stop and think about something for a moment. The term "African cooking" is just as ridiculous as calling the cooking of Europe "European cooking," lumping together the cuisine of France with that of…

With Roots in East Africa: Okra, a Veritable World Traveler

Yesterday, while driving across the vast expanse of South Carolina, I noticed dueling billboards, advertising Margaret Holmes canned goods and the Glory line of fresh chopped collards and Bruce's Candied Yams. So I decided to repost this while I look more deeply into the foods eaten in Africa prior to the tragedy of the African…

Real Mayonnaise, Real Food? Or Just Sanctimonious Snobbery?

It’s not REAL mayonnaise. You know the one I mean. Mayonnaise – made with egg yolks, an acidic liquid, a dash of mustard, salt, and oil, usually olive – feels as smooth and soft as a silk pillow, sliding like thickened cream across the tongue. There’re no startled taste buds in the presence of too much…

Lettice Bryan’s Forgotten Cookbook, The Kentucky Housewife, and Squirrel Soup Two Ways: A Touch of Americana

It’s maddening, but true: we know very little about the authors of some of best cookbooks ever written in America. Thanks to today’s 24/7 media cycle, Paula Deen’s foibles and Rachael Ray’s battle with her weight are no mystery. But we know next to zilch about Lettice Bryan, who wrote an amazingly detailed, 1300-recipe cookbook,…

Cutting Boards and French Comfort Food

Worn and well-used cutting boards like mine, made from one piece of blonde oak, tell stories of past meals. This gouge here, that’s from the day I sliced the boule with the extra thick crust, for the open-faced cheese-and-tomato sandwiches. And that dent there, well, I pressed a little too hard on the chef’s knife…

The Gaza Kitchen: A Portrait of Cooking and Culinary Exile

Cookbooks, if you look closely, contain more than recipes. Even when recipes predominate - in books with no headnotes, contributor names, nothing more than ingredients and methods - you learn a lot about the people who wrote the books. By scrutinizing the text, you develop a sense of what’s important to the authors and the authors' intended audience.…

Swamp Cabbage and Sunshine: Craziest-Ever Hearts of Palm Salad Sums Up Florida’s Food History

Two baseball-sized scoops of green peanut-butter ice cream grabbed my attention right away. Resting on shredded iceberg lettuce, they were melting fast in the Florida heat. Beads of condensation dribbled across the white plate, like a pearl necklace ringing the throat of a marble Venus. Ice cream and lettuce? What a crazy combination! What sat before…

Eating Dessert at the White House + A Word about Dallas, November 22, 1963*

Bill Yosses, the current White House pastry chef says pie is the all-time favorite in the Obama White House, but adds that “The dessert that was the biggest hit last year was a sugar cookie in the shape of the First Family’s dog, Bo. This year we have a black and yellow bumblebee to celebrate…

Pears – an Exploration of Ancient Food Preservation

The soft, beguiling fragrance permeates the air, rising above the aroma of the Jonagolds and the Galas, even over the sweet perfume of the Golden Delicious apples piled in baskets, resembling yellow baseballs. The knobby Bartlett pears (Pyrus communis), also known as the Williams pear, still slightly green but with a small and promising pink…

What’s A Turnip Got to Do with Halloween? Or Rutabagas, Beets, and Gourds, for That Matter?

Folklore or fakelore, the general consensus seems to be that the Irish who came to America brought their custom of carving turnips for All Hallows Eve. They must grow large turnips in the sod over there! Lacking a turnip, rutabagas, beets, or gourds would also do. Delicious legend, that's what started the practice of carving…

Cookbooks Tell the Story of Our Lives: Remembering Penelope Casas and The Foods and Wines of Spain

Penelope Casas, an expert on Spanish cuisine, passed away last week, not too long after the death of yet another one of my favorite food writers, Leslie Land. Now this may seem strange to you, and it does feel odd to me at times, but through the books these writers wrote and the recipes they…

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…

Journeys versus Destinations: Initial Comments on a Sojourn in Indonesia

I too for years have been stirred by the sight of a solitary cloud drifting with the wind to ceaseless thoughts of roaming. ~ Matsuo Basho, The Narrow Road to Oku I cannot forget his face. Soaked with sea water and sweat, grimacing with the physical effort of his daily labor, the lines telling of…

In My Grandfather’s Garden, or, a Long Apothegm on Apricots

I don’t really remember my grandfather very well, for he died just a month before I turned 14. Yet he left a legacy that lies hidden deep in my brain, a usually dormant place where I apparently shelve all my food memories. But in the right circumstances, and with the right stimulus, that place –…

Mushroom: A Global History – New book coming out

I am thrilled to announce that my new book about the culinary history of mushrooms is due out in September 2013. A sneak preview: Known as the meat of the vegetable world, mushrooms have their ardent supporters as well as their fierce detractors. Hobbits go crazy over them, while Diderot thought they should be “sent…

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…

The Meat of the Matter: A Question of Sacred Reverence

Meat eating presents modern society with a bit of a dilemma. How to raise and slaughter large numbers of animals under humane conditions, while keeping the price down and within wallet reach of most consumers? That's the major issue, tinged with other, often moralistic, questions. First, right up front, I am not a vegetarian, and…

The Zen of Artichokes

I love autumn. If it’s not the leaves and all the color, then I find poignancy in the drying and dying weeds littering the ground. They embody survival to me. One plant I particularly love is a thistle-like plant, filled with tiny seeds attached to billowy white parachutes. The least puff of wind forces the…

Another Holy Trinity of the Kitchen: The Magic of Milk, Eggs, and White Flour

Every time I pour crêpe batter into my 8-inch Teflon*-lined crêpe pan, I see deep scratches, the ones that Habiba made with the fork she used while cooking a three-egg cheese-and-herb omelet one wintry Moroccan morning. The scratches don’t affect the pan’s performance, just as wounds and scars don’t fundamentally change who we are and…

Waiting for Pears

I bought four very green, very hard pears four days ago. Waiting for them to ripen made me think about how quickly everything happens in our lives today. There’s something soothing about watching the ripening process, something profound actually, because no matter how much I might have wanted to make a pear cake, I just…

The Curse of Corn: Poverty and Politics and Pellagra

Dr. Joseph Goldberger stands watching the children eating. He's about to prove his hunch that pellagra occurred in the face of nutritional deprivation. He devoted years to discovering what caused the curse of corn, pellagra. Although the fat cats in the South of the time, and we’re talking early 20th-century here, didn’t want to spend…

Worshipping Different Gods … The French (Food) Reformation

People throughout history reveal their preoccupations through their architecture, artifacts, and the written word. These aspects reflect what matters to societies at various times. It comes down, in a way, to questions of taste, not just alimentary, but cultural and moral. The fashions, the trends, the modes of the day pass and morph into others…

The Last Vineyard in Paris? Clos Montmartre

Through the seasons of the year, the Montmartre vineyard prevails ... the temple of Bacchus no longer sits on the steep slopes and the vineyard covers only a small portion of prime real estate, 1500 square metres to be exact. Benedictine monks in the 12th century produced wine here, their monastery destroyed during the French…