Pollos de Carreteros con Salsa de Pobres ( Chicken a la Carters, with Black Pepper Sauce)

A recipe analyzed in my upcoming book, A Hastiness of Cooks:

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Skeletons, Disease, and the Dinner Table

I don't like to get my hands dirty. Literally. And that's why I will never be an archaeologist. Grubbing around in the muck and peat and clay, no way. So how come I was in Washington D.C. for the 2018 meetings of the American Archaeological Society (AAS), along with several thousands of other people? Many…

Weather, Weather, Weather

Good morning to everyone. Hurricane Irma came knocking on my door on Monday, September 11, 2017.  Her gusty breath took down a kingly live oak in my neighbor's yard and threatened to rip up my back fence. Some of my fellow citizens still wade thigh-high in the muddy alligator- and snake-infested water of Newnan's Lake.…

Prometheus Unbound: New Evidence on Humans’ Early Use of Fire

I woke up this morning fully intending to end my two weeks of silence on this blog - due to familial obligations - with a preliminary examination of the role of ducks in French cuisine. But that alluring topic took a sudden backseat when I opened up my local newspaper and read, "Humans May have…

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…

The Archaeology of the Pomegranate

Our sense of the ancientness of the pomegranate comes not just from words, but also from the earth. Words do provide clues to the incredible journey of the pomegranate, such as this little ditty inscribed in Egyptian hieroglyphics --- said to be translated by Ezra Pound and Noel Stock, from an Italian rendition by Boris…

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…

Fish in the Diets of Early Modern Humans in China 40,000 Years Ago — Direct Evidence

According to Science Daily, Freshwater fish are an important part of the diet of many peoples around the world, but it has been unclear when fish became an important part of the year-round diet for early humans. A new study by an international team of researchers, including Erik Trinkaus, Ph.D., professor of anthropology in Arts…

Bioarchaeology and Paleopathology in Culinary History

(I'm dedicating this post to my mother, Barbara A. Purdy, a great archaeologist, whose passion for "old stuff" rubbed off on me, I guess.) A brief foray into the world of Sicilian mummies proved once more that food writers can learn a lot from silent “interviewees.” The trick lies, of course, in understanding unspoken language…

The Nose Knows

It's a long, old story. To be somewhat exact, 54-million years old. To make it short, the nose knows. And the nose led to the brain that could, well, create music and design spaceships to the moon and cook food à la Ferran Adrià i Acosta (molecular gastronomy):** "You can think of it as a…

Reveling in Books: Catching Fire

“If there hadn't been women we'd still be squatting in a cave eating raw meat, because we made civilization in order to impress our girl friends. And they tolerated it and let us go ahead and play with our toys.” Orson Welles, actor, director, producer, writer (1915-1985) My big Homo-sapiens brain caught on fire while…

Monastery Kitchens

Abbatia quae vocitatur Bellus Locus Monasteries in the Middle Ages tended to follow similar layouts. Beaulieu Abbey, a Cistercian abbey in Hampshire, England, now in ruins, once supported a large number of people. It started out with 120 cows and 20 bulls, all very conducive to cheese-making. Beaulieu Abbey's floor plan shows a tiny kitchen…

What Mummies Tell Us about Food

As we all know, or suspect anyway, mummies provide an amazing treasure trove of information about life (and death) in the past. Talk about primary sources, so beloved of historians! As A. A. Gill wrote in an article about the Palermo mummies in the February 2009 issue of National Geographic magazine: An enormous amount can…

Cooking: The Theory, with a Little Help from Chimps

Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell you what you are. ~~ Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin ~~ As Alice Arndt said in Culinary Biographies, "The names of the most famous cooks of their day, the most influential writers and thinkers, the most fashionable restaurateurs, often bring blank looks when mentioned today."  Just the other…