Food, the Dog Days of Summer, and a Few Other Shocking Facts

The dog days of summer arrive, as they always do, abruptly and relentless with a seemingly never-ending swelter.  Visions of panting tongues and listless tails crowd my thoughts. But what does that phrase have to do with summer heat? A quick glance at an etymological source informs me that real, breathing dogs played no role in the…

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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…

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 –…

Eating Cat Meat: A Taboo?

One of the most memorable sayings you learn when you first study Spanish is, “Dar/vender gato por liebre,” or to “give or sell a cat instead of a rabbit,” meaning deception. Digging into the history of Spanish cookbooks, you’ll find a famous --- and oft-quoted --- recipe for roast cat in Ruperto de Nola’s* fifteenth-century…

Sour and Bitter Blended in the Soup of Wu:* Very Early Chinese Herbals

For years, I’ve been carting around a number of books about Chinese medicine and food, fascinated by the ancient linkage of food with medicine (similar in some regards to the Ayurvedic system of India). As you can imagine, getting down to the bone on this matter is not an easy proposition, given the lack of…

Feasting in State: Obama’s First Real State Dinner

In the next week, we will see real-time examples of a few of the different types of feasts common to American culture: Thanksgiving --- essentially a harvest feast tinged with overtones of cultural identity --- and President Barack Obama’s first true State Dinner, to be held on November 24, 2009 for India’s Prime Minister Manmohan…

Hunger, Starvation, Famine and the Sweep of Human History

When it comers to food, we humans live in a paradox these days. In the West, there's too much food --- as long as one has money with which to buy it --- and because of that excess, we begin to look like the Michelin Man or the Pillsbury Doughboy. And on the flip side …

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 Chinese in the West: How Railroad Coolies Ate

Until our own times, the nineteenth century saw some of the most profound changes in social structure and population movements in the history of the world. How people fed themselves also changed as people migrated from continent to continent. Boarding houses became extremely common and popular beginning in the nineteenth, thanks to this movement of…

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…

Fermentations and Food Science in China — Joseph Needham’s Magnum Opus and Ancient Probiotics

If I had an extra $280.00 to my name, this is the book I'd buy (thanks to Rachel Laudan for pointing it out to me several months ago, at which time I received the book through an inter-library loan thanks to the University of Virginia library).  And in a recent discussion on the ASFS listserv…

Eggplant: An Exploration (Part I)

Eggplant is startling in its morphologic versatility and variety of taste possibilities. If you only regard it as that plump purple mystery of a thing sitting on shelves at the grocer's, think again. Laurie Colwin, a talented food writer who died young, once wrote an essay titled "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant," about…