Thinking About Rice in America: The Black Rice Theory – Mysteries, Myths, and Misconceptions

Note: My point here, and elsewhere, on my blog and in my work, is to present information in as truthful a manner as I can, in order to raise questions and, hence, awareness. The truth is that there are more than ways than one to look at issues. Blindly accepting points of view only serves…

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Hoppin’ John, or Dashing Myths Galore

(Due to a foul up with WordPress and dates, this post appeared on December 30. I was not finished with it yet!  But now I am!) Black-eyed peas, a gift to the New World from Africa. These beans were there as early as 1659 at St. Louis, now present-day Senegal, but they actually originated in North Africa, in…

Happy Thanksgiving

No matter what your feelings about the origins of Thanksgiving -  it did NOT really start with the Massachusetts Pilgrims post-1620 - and the impact of the English settlers in North America or Sarah Josepha Hale's influence on Abraham Lincoln, today's holiday has more to do with re-enforcing family ties and culinary traditions often far…

Lefse, and Giving Thanks via a Food of Immigration, Poverty, and Oppression

Term: lefse (food) Definition: thin, unleavened bread of Norwegian origin, traditionally made of a potato-based dough and baked on a griddle [Source: Dictionary of American Regional English] Thanksgiving is a day when Americans recall the myths of their founding, usually associated with the English Pilgrims of Plymouth, Massachusetts, 1620, ignoring the Jamestown settlers who arrived…

Whereupon We Examine Kissing Cousins: Yorkshire Pudding and Spoonbread

I do believe there’s such a thing as déjà vu. Many times in my life, I’ve sensed I’ve experienced something before, details are foggy, but nonetheless there’s that strange feeling of having been there, done that. That’s the sensation I got when I began reading both old, and relatively new, and scarce, British cookbooks, with…

Who is a Chef? Who is a Cook?

There's a lot of confusion out there about just what constitutes a "chef" versus a "cook." Oh yes, and it's a question that many writers have tried to answer. Nothing new there. I'm a big believer in defining terms, realizing of course that terminology and words change meanings over the years. But, that said, and…

The Lone Tree: A View of My Father

It's not my earliest memory, but it best sums up who my father was. Among other things, he stood over 6 feet without shoes, and he laughed, often, his enjoyment of life so very apparent. He could build anything, and do anything, or so it seemed. Even in the kitchen, he conjured up a myriad of…

The History and Present State of Food in Virginia

There was nary a cook among them. Nor a single woman, the usual gendered division of labor notwithstanding. No, in December 1606, the Virginia Company of London sent 104 men into the treacherous, wintry Atlantic, with stopovers in the Canary Islands and later Bermuda and the Caribbean. After a brief reconnaissance stop at Cape Henry, they made…

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…

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,…

Hey, Wait a Minute: Glimpsing What’s Really Behind Words like “Ethnic”

NOTE: Today marks SEVEN years since I first started writing this blog. It's been an interesting journey, with many bends and curves along the way. It's fascinating to observe the increasing awareness of how language defines so many cultural attitudes and reveals long-held biases. Take a recent article, "Why Everyone Should Stop Calling Immigrant Food 'Ethnic,'" by Lavanya Ramanathan, a Washington…

Gleaning the Lessons of Wandering

This summer is different from all other summers. This summer I’m signed up for a weekly basket of local, organic vegetables from the rented land of some starry-eyed young farmers. And this week’s bounty included four cucumbers ranging from Lou Costello plumpness to Bud Abbott skinniness, six carrots resembling the clown-twisted balloons available at all…

Science: The Missing Ingredient in the So-Called Art of Cooking

Every chef should be a scientist too. How so? Cooking changes the chemical and structure of food. Therefore, understanding these changes would help a lot when perched in front of the stove, whisk or wooden spoon in hand. Over the last several weeks, I’ve watched more episodes of the popular American TV program, “Chopped,” than I…

The Eye Doesn’t Have It …

I'm on sabbatical for a while, very little new writing or photography possible for the time being, due to a serious vitreous hemorrhage a few weeks ago. I may retrieve the odd old post or picture just for kicks once in a while, but until the inside of my eye stops looking like the clouds…

From Mother Russia with Love: The Domostroi

Cabbage soup and gruel are our food. (Shchi da kasha, pishche nashe.) ~~Russian peasant proverb Trying to ferret out tidbits about Russian food history can be tough going. Aside from the language barrier, anyone interested in Russian culinary history suffers from a major weakness: there is a terrible lack of written material contemporaneous with Forme…

From Mother Russia with Love: Meaty Mushrooms and Relentless Lent

One of her greatest pleasures in summer was the very Russian sport of hodit’ po gribi (looking for mushrooms). Fried in butter and thickened with sour cream her delicious finds appeared regularly on the dinner table. Not that the gustatory moment mattered much. Her main delight was in the quest. ~~ Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory…

Food and Memory

I stood at the curb, on a corner of Insurgentes Sur in Mexico City, tapping my foot impatiently, watching the traffic hurtling by at 7382 feet above sea level, dozens of men hanging on to ladders hooked to swaying buses, diesel smoke spewing from exhaust pipes, and tinkling mariachi music fading away in the roar of…

The Curse of Modern Food Writing: The Dearth of Pleasure

Thankfully, the Millennium Bridge across the River Thames didn’t sway under my feet that day, giving lie to its other name, the Wobbly Bridge. But the chilling wind whipped at everything not tied down, painting a disagreeable redness on my nose and a deep-seated hunger in my belly. The aroma of roasting sugary peanuts floated…

Cookbooks for the Season: Preserving is the Hot Topic These Days

  At this time of the year, cookbooks flow like rivers out of publishing houses. The usual stabs at global cuisine are always there, covering everything cooking-related from Vietnam to Persia to Cuba, with the usual obsequious curtsies to France and Italy. Gluten-free and farm fresh crop up, too. But the most interesting trend in…

Deconstructing the Impact of European Colonialism on Food and Cooking: Exciting News

I must share some exciting news, exciting for me, anyway. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers have contracted with me to write a book which I have tentatively titled From the Other Side of the Table: The Impact of European Colonialism on Global Food, for publication in 2016.

A Reality Checklist about Romanticizing Kitchens Past

Every year during the holiday season, many media sources provide lists of cookbooks, primarily to jump-start the gift-giving proclivities of their readers. This year I’m getting a head start. Only thing is, my list is different. Most of the books I'm suggesting are free - they're all vintage. And not as “vintage” seems to be defined nowadays, as…

Real Mayonnaise, Real Food? Or Just Sanctimonious Snobbery?

It’s not REAL mayonnaise. You know the one I mean. Mayonnaise – made with egg yolks, an acidic liquid, a dash of mustard, salt, and oil, usually olive – feels as smooth and soft as a silk pillow, sliding like thickened cream across the tongue. There’re no startled taste buds in the presence of too much…

Lettice Bryan’s Forgotten Cookbook, The Kentucky Housewife, and Squirrel Soup Two Ways: A Touch of Americana

It’s maddening, but true: we know very little about the authors of some of best cookbooks ever written in America. Thanks to today’s 24/7 media cycle, Paula Deen’s foibles and Rachael Ray’s battle with her weight are no mystery. But we know next to zilch about Lettice Bryan, who wrote an amazingly detailed, 1300-recipe cookbook,…

Eating like a Lumberjack

The Black Bear Camp Skillet Served with Cherokee Sweet Corn Pone, Fresh Fruits, Cheese Grits, Hunt Camp Potatoes, Cathead Biscuit, Sausage (Sawmill) Gravy, and Thick Griddle Cake with Maple Syrup. A Sizzling Combo of Country or Sugar Cured Ham, Pecan Smoked Bacon, Sausage & 2 Farm Fresh Eggs any style $13.95 I recently spent several…

Vestiges of European Colonialism

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I harbor a certain fascination for the colonial period of world history (1492 to 1961+), because the antics of the colonizers - mostly European -  provide endless examples of how our world to this day still bears the scars of that tumultuous and turbulent time. Few regions of…