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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Shopping for Food in the 19th Century, or, You’ve Got it Real Easy Nowadays, You Know

Claire Howland* opened her left eye, squinting at the mottled ceiling of her bedroom, the peeling paint accentuated by the feeble morning sunshine. Groaning, she remembered something about the upcoming day, market day. She hoped that the new Irish maid, Kate, had prepared the boarders’ breakfast, oatmeal porridge thinned with milk from the stringy cow…

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…

Food, Photography of

Photography is pretty simple stuff. You just react to what you see, and take many, many pictures. ~Elliott Erwitt Truth be told, I love photography for many reasons, one being the sense of peace that comes with observing the world around me. Photography forces a photographer to be centered. To photograph means slowing down and…

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…

A New “Baby” in the House! Mushroom: A Global History, That Is

I just wanted to share with all of you an exciting moment: I just laid eyes on my new book - Mushroom: A Global History - and promptly burst into tears. I just couldn't keep a stiff upper lip when I saw the result of years of work on my part and on the part…

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…

The Expert (French) Cook in Enlightenment France: A Review

If you scrutinize sixteenth-century Dutch artist Pieter Aertsen’s painting, “The Cook in Front of the Stove,” you will see a rather stereotypical image of servant cooks, one that persisted in popular memory in Europe until well into the nineteenth century. Sean Takats, assistant professor of history at George Mason University and codirector of Zotero, attempts…

A Few Marrons Glacés for the Season … A Gift for You

Photo credit: Robyn Lee A while ago, I promised you a short list of facsimile/translated French cookbooks. The following list represents a number of old French-language cookbooks translated into English that you’ll find freely available on the Internet, something quite helpful when you’ve dropped your last holiday dollar on the fixings for Beef Wellington and…

The Cardinal and the Chef

Sauce Madère 2 cups brown sauce (you can use prepared demi-glace like that sold by D'Artagnan ) 2 T. good Madeira Cook down the brown sauce for 20 minutes over medium heat. Add the Madeira, raise the heat, and cook rapidly; the sauce should look syrupy and lightly coat a metal spoon. Serve with beef or…

The Creation of French Africa: Officialdom at Work

True, the British colonized the Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, and Nigeria, but for all practical purposes, like a roll of the dice, West Africa fell to the French. And it wasn't an easy roll of the dice, either. Carton after carton of documents from the late 1800s arrive at my assigned reading space in the…

Family Reunions: The Real and the Ideal

As Tolstoy wrote, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," and that is never truer when it comes to family reunions. There's something rather poignant about pictures of family reunions - they chronicle the passing of time and people. But they don't reveal the tensions and tight lips…

Feeding France’s Grande Armée: A Pictorial Tribute for Memorial Day

An army marches on its stomach. ~~Napoleon Bonaparte~~ And Napoleon Bonaparte would know. He, like Adolph Hitler in another time, tried unsuccessfully to conquer Russia. What he fed his soldiers in large part depended upon the invention of a Mr. Nicolas Appert, who invented a [relatively] safe way to preserve food by canning, or sealing…

No Partridges, Just Thirteen Desserts: French Christmas Culinary Traditions

I love culinary traditions ... and usually I don't mind cooking all the foods associated with upholding those traditions.  Like Thanksgiving dinner, for example. Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole (from scratch, mind you), pumpkin pie with whipped cream (crust handmade just prior to baking), and sweet potato casserole (no marshmallows).…

French Cuisine, an Exposition on Medieval Food Not to be Missed

Click on the image to "attend" a gorgeous exposition of the history of medieval French cuisine: Be sure to click on the images in order to start the slide shows, chock full of paintings depicting culinary life during the Middle Ages.

Curl Up with a Nice Food Blog …

The creativity, wit, and wisdom of food bloggers never ceases to amaze me. And so today, I simply must let you know about some new, to me anyway, blogs (and bloggers) that I've run across lately. Here are two that provide gorgeous pictures, along with commentary and a bit of food history: "An English Kitchen,"…

Spanish Cooks and The Essence of Their Art

“Just like in the movies, when the hero finally gets up to the ticket window and the clerk slams it shut.” That's the thought that ballooned in my mind when I walked up to the doors of the Museo del Prado in Madrid on a Monday morning. CLOSED. No Velazquez. Of course, Monday. Here's something…

Of Herbs and Other Country Messes

When the  sage comes to life again, after its long, lonely slumber in the freezing winter, I always just stop for a moment and marvel. How could this happen? Left outside the kitchen door, the sage bows before the relentless blasts of icy winds and heavy snow. Its leaves and branches shrivel to skeletal silhouettes,…

Pass the Nostalgia, and Nix the Organics

I’ll be blunt: I like my food with a heaping handful of nostalgic romanticism. Yes, there are those who claim that the present food landscape sparkles with the dreamy hue reminiscent of rose-colored glasses, that the perfume of nostalgia permeates too much of present-day “discourse” on food. And then there’s the flip side of that…

The Art of Ash Wednesday: Omnia vanitas

Ash Wednesday, not a day for feasting, but rather for fasting and contemplating the fleetingness of life and all its pleasures. In the seventeenth-century Netherlands, a remarkable style of painting arose, still-life, the most intriguing in some ways being that of the vanitas still-life. Usually artists portrayed a skull surrounded by the gifts (as they…