Warts and All: Cooks as Witches, Witches as Cooks

The cauldron , symbol of cooking, food, and nourishment. And of the basest, most primal horrors imaginable, the power of the Dark Arts, magic, and blasphemy. Everyone who’s ever read Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” recalls THE scene, the one with the three witches stirring the pot, chanting. FIRST WITCH: Round about the cauldron go; In the poison’d entrails throw….

The Fallibility of Memory, or, The Fabulists among Us

Memory is a funny thing. By “funny,” I’m not thinking Woody Allen amusing or Amy Schumer hilarious. No, by “funny” I mean something akin to “strange” or “perplexing” or even “otherworldly.” And indeed memory can be perplexing, making it appear as the stuff of fabulists. Trying to remember what happened last week, much less 50 or…

Women and the Building of America: Reflections

Last night, I stayed awake far longer than I normally do, reading Gayle Forman’s new novel, Leave Me. The hook for me was “Every woman who has ever fantasized about driving past her exit on the highway instead of going home to make dinner, and every woman who has ever dreamed of boarding a train…

Cooks, Kitchens, and Places: Josephine’s Tale

Since modern photography only came into being around 1816, when Nicéphore Niépc combined camera obscura techniques and paper with photosensitive qualities, the faces of so many people will never be known to us. Those of the rich, the powerful, and the occasional peasant – thanks to artists such as Pieter Bruegel the Elder – we their…

The Scent of Cinnamon and Chasing Down Humoral Theory

Purple bougainvillea flowers hung thick and rope-like over the sand-colored walls, their little white hearts nearly pulsating in the blazing noon heat of Rabat, Morocco. The door of The English Bookshop stood half-opened. The stern English proprietor stood behind the counter, his thin pale fingers reaching into scuffed cardboard boxes, filled with the newest shipment of books…

The Copeland Spoon: A Taste of Material Culture from Early Virginia

My mother recently gave me an old pewter spoon, one with a story that tallies with my interest in American culinary history. She’d been cleaning out her kitchen cupboards and a couple of closets, and found the spoon, which she’d forgotten she’d had. The touchmark at the end of the handle reads “Joseph Copeland, 1675,…

No Country for Old Historians? Thinking about the Future of the Past

History is written by the victors. ~ Various I started out, you see, to revisit and reponder the works of several “old” historians – Marc Bloch, R. G. Collingwood, H. Butterfield, E. H. Carr, etc. – the “old men” of history, or better said, the “old (white) men” of the history of writing history. Or better…

Day 8: Apples – Celebrate American Food History

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Folk proverb Two stories convey the essence of apples to me. The first involves an almost surgical treatment of an apple tree in our front yard: One autumn day, Dad’s boss – Dr. C. S. Holton – appeared at the back door of our rambling old ex-farm house, its…