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.

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The Man Who …

... in a way ...  holds the future of French cuisine in the palm of his hand, French Agricultural Secretary Bruno Le Maire: Given this short biography, it's not clear where farming enters into his background: Bruno Le Maire became Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries in June 2009. Prior to this appointment he was…

The Bibliothèque Nationale de France and Me, Etc.

Dear readers of Gherkins & Tomatoes /Cornichons & Tomates, Soon I will embark on a great adventure, doing research on France's colonial empire at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Archives nationales d'outre mer in Aix-en-Provence, thanks to a grant from the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Until I return, I will not have the…

A Taste Sweeter Than Meat, More Ancient Than Wine

Olives, pungent, demanding, a taste acquired. Their beauty belying their bitterness, their hardness. Sunshine and human hands transform tartness into fragrant fruit and nectared oil --- fare of  peasants, armies, kings, and saints. From ancient, twisted roots comes timeless provender, oily, meaty, food until long journeys' end. Spread out under the vast sky, waiting for…

Is Cooking Necessary?*

No, it's not. That's your immediate answer, isn't it? After all, you've got more important things to do, don't you? Or do you? You can live your life without cooking. You can go to your nearest grocery store and bypass all the technology and knowledge that took your ancestors centuries to refine. You can buy…

What Do You Mean You Don’t Need Cookbooks? (Or, What Good are All Those Cookbooks on Your Sagging Shelves?)

I’ll admit it: I collect cookbooks like some people collect plastic pigs or miniature silver tourist-spot spoons or wine corks from bottles they’ve downed. My cookbook collection, like all collections, began small.* When I served with the Peace Corps in Paraguay, my landlady --- the mechanical dentist’s wife --- giggled when I threw my suitcase…

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 Feat of Feasting

One cannot both feast and become rich. Ashanti Proverb “Feasting,” for all practical purposes, appears to be the antonym of “hunger.” And yet, feasting is rife (ripe?) with teeming contradictions and ritualistic conventions. For some, feasting implies hunger. Ambrose Bierce defined feasting in a rather limiting manner in his irreverent Devil’s Dictionary: FEAST, n. A…

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…

No Thanks to Marco Polo: An Encyclopedia of Italy’s Pasta Shapes

Marco Polo returned to Italy from his Chinese travels in 1296. The myth, legend, what have you, credits him with introducing pasta into Italy’s culinary repertoire. But Marco Polo did NOT bring pasta to Italy. And 73-year-old Italian author Oretta Zanini de Vita wants you to know that, immediately, upfront and center. Zanini de Vita…

Panning for Gold: Harvesting Honey

Left to their own devices, bees usually built their hives in hollowed-out trees or other such spaces. Through the centuries, people learned how find beehives with their highly sought-after honey. And they started creating new homes for bees, in a number of ways and styles. The following picture essay illustrates some of these unique, and…

Food in Medieval England: Diet and Nutrition

Food in Medieval England: Diet and Nutrition (Medieval History and Archaeology), by C. M. Woolgar, Dale Serjeantson, and Tony Waldron (paperback, 2009) In the unending quest to find models for culinary historiography, here's another fairly up-to-date addition to the growing list: This book draws on the latest research across different disciplines to present the most…

Elizabeth Romer’s Chronicle of Tuscan Agriculture

Contemplating the impact of Food Network's publishing juggernaut on the current food scene in America, I find myself turning backwards, to some of the "earlier" writers on food in Italy. Many of these people, like Elizabeth Romer in The Tuscan Year: Life and Food in an Italian Valley (1985), wrote of day-to-day practices, of times…