A Russian Cook

Another good appetizer is stewed white mushrooms, with onion, you know, and bay leaf and other spices. You lift the lid off the dish, and the steam rises, a smell of mushrooms ... sometimes it really brings tears to my eyes! ~~Anton Chekov, "The Siren" With the publication of Gourmet magazine beginning in 1941, stories…

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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…

Jane Carson’s Colonial Virginia Cookery: Procedures, Equipment, and Ingredients in Colonial Cooking

Colonial Virginia Cookery: Procedures, Equipment, and Ingredients in Colonial Cooking, by Jane Carson (1968, reprinted 1985). Filled with the kind of details that come only from wallowing in primary sources, Jane Carson's synthesis of several cookbooks written by a number of seventeenth- and and eighteenth-century English cookery authors offers modern readers an interpretation of how…

Christmas Cheer, or, Fire Up the Reindeer

Black Friday marks the first "official" day of Christmas, er, shopping, that is. (You know it's almost Christmas when the day after Halloween, the grocery stores start hauling out the red ribbon and fake mistletoe.) A bit premature, but that's cultural change for you. Used to be that you couldn't find a bit of tinsel…

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…

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…

Saints, Souls, and Haints: Ghoulish Goodies

Check this out --- a recent cookbook all about Halloween, for kids young and old: Ghoulish Goodies: Creature Feature Cupcakes, Monster Eyeballs, Bat Wings, Funny Bones, Witches' Knuckles, and Much More! (Frightful Cookbook), by Sharon Bowers (2009). Eat, drink, and enjoy the creepy yuckiness of Monster Eyeballs, Chocolate Spider Clusters, Buried Alive Cupcakes, and Screaming…

The Chicken or the Egg? 4. Egging Us On

A few days ago, I thumbed through the brand-new, hot-off-the-press version of Larousse Gastronomique. You know,  Julia Child's bedtime reading.  At least according to the movie, “Julie & Julia.” After all, Julia once remarked that, “If I were allowed only one reference book in my library, Larousse Gastronomique would be it, without question.” First written…

The Backyard Beekeeper’s Honey Handbook

Many, many cookbooks focus on cooking with honey. The Backyard Beekeeper's Honey Handbook: A Guide to Creating, Harvesting, and Cooking with Natural Honeys, by Kim Flottum (2005, reprint 2009) goes a step farther. Flottum takes readers on a journey into the production side of honey as well as the cooking and eating side. According to…

Goat Song: Romancing the Pastoralism (Not)

People today seek a connection with the earth in many ways. The shape of that seeking takes many forms. First it was buying a house in Tuscany, making dreams of Paradise concrete. Or at least set in rough stone. Now it seems to be goat-herding and cheese making. Truthfully, there’s something about herding that calls…

Coming Up: New Food Memoirs & Other Treats

Food memoirs form just one of many research items on the list of materials used by culinary historians. In rounding out the larger picture of just what was going on in a specific time in history and related to the life of a specific individual, food memoirs cannot be beat. The following memoirs and other…

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…

Fresh: A Look at the Meaning of Freshness and the Refrigeration Revolution

A review of Susanne Freidberg’s Fresh: A Perishable History (Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2009) The debate continues on the local foods argument ... To listen to many food activists talk these days, one would think that for dinner --- up until now --- most people just simply stepped outside their doors and plucked fresh…

Reveling in Books: DIY (Old) Food, Knowledge Lost and Now Found

Want to make your own cheese? How about pickles or chow-chow? Sausage and headcheese? Raise a couple of cows or keep a flock of geese? At a time when people want, no, need, to know the how-tos of old foodways, it seems that there’s a book for making just about everything. Fortunately, because this knowledge…

Reveling in Books: Fresh, Bones, Fat, and Meat

Like Susan Bourette in Meat: A Love Story My Year in Search of the Perfect Meal (did she get this subtitle from Roy Andries de Groot, a food writer popular in the sixties and seventies who wrote In Search of the Perfect Meal (1986)?), many people temporarily eschew meat at some point in their lives.…

Reveling in Books: The Garden Cottage Diaries

Most of the time, I judge food by its looks and books by their covers. Sorry, but give me a little art, a bit of color, and a mob cap any day of the week. Mob cap? Take the cartoon-like cover of The Garden Cottage Diaries for example. Like a magnet, this visual rendition of…

Michael Ruhlman’s “Ratio”

When two elements combine and form more than one compound, the masses of one element that react with a fixed mass of the other are in the ratio of small whole numbers. ~~ Humphry Davy Although there are those who claim that they who know how to cook never need recipes, they actually follow recipes,…

Yolele! Recipes from the Heart of Senegal

To paraphrase Flannery O'Connor,* a good African cookbook is hard to find. And so when such a book appears,  the bubbly comes out and the music crescendos. Senegal-born Chef Pierre Thiam wrote the first cookbook on Senegalese food, Yolele! Recipes from the Heart of Senegal,  and ended up nominated for a prestigious IACP (International Association…

Pie in the Sky: A Review of Janet Clarkson’s “Pie: A Global History”

You will eat, bye and bye, In that glorious land above the sky; Work and pray, live on hay, You'll get pie in the sky when you die. ~~ Joe Hill*, "The Preacher and the Slave" chorus, 1911 Everybody knows what pie is, right? Wrong, and Janet Clarkson (The Old Foodie) tells us why in…

Food History Isn’t Just Old Stuff

Convenience in the kitchen, a state of affairs that most of our great-grandmothers would have killed for, snuck into food history about the time the Russians sent Sputnik into orbit. Science ruled, even in the kitchen. An interesting thing happened, though,  when everybody happily dove into easy-to-fix dinners and eating out. People started looking like…

TRAIL OF CRUMBS: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home

By Kim Sunée Grand Central Publishing. 376 pages. $13.99 (paperback) If human nature perplexes you, be assured that Trail of Crumbs will leave you wondering even more about the nature of humans. Trail of Crumbs joins the ever-increasing ranks of a new food-writing genre --- the food/culinary memoir. Recent members of this club include:  The…

Sunday Suppers at Lucques: A Review in Rhapsody

Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin with Teri Gelber (Knopf/New York, 2005) Sunday suppers --- not something you associate with high-class dining. Right? Wrong. Award-winning California chef, Suzanne Goin, of Lucques and A.O.C in Los Angeles, started serving Sunday suppers at Lucques in 1998. Each Sunday supper - always a three-course extravaganza of appetizers,…

The Washington Post on Best Cookbooks (Gifts) of 2008

An interesting and REAL list (for the most part) of cookbooks for serious and not-so-serious home cooks. Some of the 18 titles anointed and blessed  by The Post include: A Platter of Figs, by David Tanis (So popular right now that it can't be had from any of the big online --- or local ---…

Feast of the Seven Fishes (La Festa dei Sette Pesci)

If you like comic books, graphic novels, and cartoons, you'll love Feast of the Seven Fishes: The Collected Comic Strip & Italian Holiday Cookbook. Let the author himself tell you what the book's all about: "All I wanted to do was write a little romantic comedy about my family cooking fish on Christmas Eve. Little…

MILK: That Old White Magic

[Note: Ironically, I just came across this December 15, 2008 NPR interview with Anne Mendelson:  "A Culinary History of Milk Through the Ages." The NPR story includes a recipe for Apple-Onion Cream Soup.] Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages, with 120 Adventurous Recipes that Explore the Riches of Our First Food, by…

Some Notable Food Books of 2008

There are food books and there are food books. The following list contains no whispers from FoodTV icons or other foodie celebrities. Just dedicated scholarship and authenticity (or as much authenticity as is possible when it comes to real food). The brief descriptions following each title following come from product blurbs provided by the publishers.…

Mrs. Charles Darwin’s Recipe Book

Nearly everyone on the planet, or at least those with access to education --- unfortunately many areas of the world and even this country lack miserably in the teaching of the young --- will know the name of Charles Darwin, as the blurb below allows. Now, maybe  some people don't buy into the theory of…

Let Me Entertain You … A New Food Encyclopedia Bellies Up to the Shelf

Entertaining from Ancient Rome to the Super Bowl: An Encyclopedia might not grab you with a catchy, seductive title, but it's a new and welcome addition to the food history literature. Published by Greenwood Press and edited by two respected culinary historians --- Melitta Weiss Adamson (Food in Medieval Times, Medieval Dietetics, Regional Cuisines of…

Hog and Hominy: Soul Food From Africa to America, by Frederick Douglass Opie

Several books on African-American cooking tempt me right now, all brilliant in their own way. See Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, & Power, by Psyche Williams-Forson; Savage Barbecue: Race, Culture, and the Invention of America's First Food, by Andrew Warnes; African American Foodways: Explorations of History and Culture, edited by Anne…

Cookbooks for a Desert Island, or an Autumn Afternoon

[Note: Apologies to readers who tried to access The Forme of Cury online link yesterday---for some reason it was linked to something else! Anyway, the link is now correct and works, so if you want to see it, go to my post on The Forme of Cury. Thanks for reading!] Although Italian cuisine is all…