Parsleyed Ham and Kitchen Breezes: The Letters of M. F. K. Fisher and Julia Child

Today is the 20th anniversary of M.F.K. Fisher's death, so in tribute and at the request of her friend Leo Racicot, I am reposting this, something I wrote last year after attending Barbara Wheaton's "Reading Historic Cookbooks" seminar at Harvard. Sometimes words, both spoken and written, take on terrible power. Use the wrong word and,…

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And More Gifts: A Selection of Food and Culinary History Books Published in 2013

Before I list my choice of books for 2013, a caveat: I have not read all of these yet. What I attempt here is to list the food and culinary history tomes that interest me (and hopefully you!), published in 2013. The descriptions of these books come from various sources, usually the publisher. That said, if…

What the Crystal Ball Never Reveals: A Few Words about Blogging

A writer [and photographer], I think, is someone who pays attention to the world. ~ Susan Sontag I missed my anniversary this year, for the first time. Five years ago, I started blogging, and began writing regularly (or at least fairly regularly), for myself and not for deadlines, not because of external  “whip wielders” such…

Ivan Day: Master Food Historian

Those of you with a tremendous love of food history will be happy to know that Ivan Day blogs with all the beauty and erudite authority of his spectacular recreations of historical British food. (Yes, British food!) Take a look both his blog - Food History Jottings - and his regular Web site - Historic Food. You'll…

Lemons – Tiny Cathedrals of Gold

Lemons, their pitted, nay, prehistoric, skins secreting golden oil, Shielding sourness, evoking memories of a grandmother's kitchen, A grandfather's garden. Born in the East, fruitful India, A kiss of cold, albeit fleeting, spawns the yellow Immortalized  in stone, paint, and clay. A fruit reverenced, Blossoming from mountain and lake, Urging cooks to slice, pierce, and…

Seeking Honey, in the Bee-Loud Glade

The journey begins, with a glimpse, through the kitchen window, of golden dust shimmering in sunlight, a phantom shadow darting through the air. Hive-bound, the soaring bee dips and kisses the blue-hued flowers once more.  Life blossoms with the promise of fruits and grains to come. Auriferous, gilt-laden with pollen. Honey. Nectar. Food for the…

Salt of Earth, Crucible of Life

Just a pinch, and the primal sea surges, memories filling your mouth. Weep, and you'll know what fish first knew. Bleed, and you'll smell the earth. Sweat, and you'll sense ancient waters flowing. Building block of blood, sweat, and tears.  Salt, not sugar, primeval taste. Ancient, this elixir. The essence of legends, myths, stories. Pillars…

The Provençal Pantry in Poetry and Photos

Readers of Gherkins & Tomatoes / Cornichons & Tomates will see something new in the coming weeks --- tiny photo essays. A weekly showcasing of some of the basic components of the Provençal (and frankly French) pantry, enlivened with a blessedly small pinch of poetry, these meditative snippets incarnate my intense desire for fresh, nay…

Peregrinations and Pilgrimages: Egeria and the Flour Soup

Rocks tumbled down the rugged sloping ground and dust spun like little tops as Egeria, a nun from early fourth-century Galicia, climbed toward the rocky summit of Mount Sinai. From that craggy point, she gazed at a world she defined by the holy sites mentioned in the Bible. And from there we saw beneath us…

Forgotten Recipes and Forgotten Cooks

If you think that real cooking needs to be resurrected, you'd be right. You can't exist on McNuggets alone, as the film Super Size Me proved. But if you think we should all go back to cooking everything just like our foremothers (and sometimes forefathers) did, you'd be a bit misguided. Romantic, yes, and it's…

A Whiff of Madeleines and a Sniff of Curry: A List of Delectable Food Memoirs

Why do you love to read food memoirs? Barbara Frey Waxman attempts to answer that question in “Food Memoirs: What They Are, Why They Are Popular, and Why They Belong in the Literature Classroom.”* But it doesn’t take an academic treatise to prove what you, and publishers, know: food memoirs sell because people love stories.…

Suffering — Sometimes it’s Just About Food and Sometimes Not

We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival. ~~ Winston Churchill ~~ Suffering? Why on earth write about suffering on a food blog, especially one ostensibly about cookbooks and their history? Aren't food blogs supposed to be full of fun-but-complex recipes that you can make in 1 minute,…

In the Kitchen with Barbara Kingsolver: I

I'm going to bed every night now with Barbara Kingsolver's latest book, The Lacuna: A Novel, about Mexico, politics, art, El Norte, and --- best of all --- cooks. After her last book (Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: A Year of Food Life), Kingsolver still finds food a fascinating part of life. In The Lacuna, here's how…

To the Cooks, Prosit! Part II

He turns the spit who never tasted a morsel from it. Proverbes en Rimes, no. 117. Continuing our salute to cooks this holiday season (Thanksgiving), today's post includes some depictions of male cooks, as well as female cooks. Medieval opinions of cooks, mostly men, tended to reflect the lowly status accorded to people who worked…

To the Cooks, Prosit! Part I

Sir Thomas More in his Utopia (1516), in delineating what would make an ideal society, said: .. all vyle service, all slaverie and drudgerye, with all the laboursome toyle and busines, is done by bondmen. But the women of every famelie by course have the office and charge of cokerye ... and orderyng al thinges…

Why Cookbooks?

Why on earth so many cookbooks, when no one cooks? Or do they? Read Adam Gopnik's thoughts in the latest food issue of The New Yorker. He starts out by saying Handed-down wisdom and worked-up information remain the double piers of a cook’s life. The recipe book always contains two things: news of how something…

Nightly She Sings on Yon Pomegranate-Tree

Magic and myth wind through the history of many foods. At the crux of these stories the very mysteries of life clamor for explanation. In the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone, for example, it’s possible to feel the foreboding of ancient humans when the first chill kissed the air and darkness descended over leafless…

La Toussaint:* The Saints and Souls Who Preserve Us

A novel about an arrogant food critic could only happen in France. Bien sûr! Some time ago, I set myself the challenging and Sisyphean task of reading Muriel Barbery’s first novel, Une gourmandise, in French.  (Barbery’s reputation rests on her extremely philosophical second novel --- The Elegance of the Hedgehog [what a title!], which took…

Half-Baked Nuts and Gooseberry Fools: Food Similes and Metaphors

Just for fun today, here’s a list of food words (now clichés) commonly used in English, often without the speaker thinking of the food connection. Most food sayings tend to sport a long history, but that's the stuff of another post. (And there are many fascinating books out there about word histories in general.) Apple…

“Curry & Rice” on Forty Plates: The British Raj Encore

In 1859, George Francklin Atkinson, a captain of the Bengal Engineers and a writer of some imagination as well as artistic skill, published "Curry & Rice" on Forty Plates: or the Ingredients of Social Life at "Our Station" in India. Illustrated with forty drawings, or the "plates" in question, Atkinson's fictitious account of life in…

Rediscovering Rabelais

The world of food constantly and consistently offers opportunities for discovering convoluted linkages between the darnedest things. Take, for example, my initial goal of writing about melegueta pepper, a spice originating in Africa. A nice addition to some of the material on Africa appearing on this blog, I thought. I started with a foray into…