Pignagoscé sur chapons (Pignagoscé on Capons), Plus Some Words on Paleography

In my latest book, "A Hastiness of Cooks", I deliberately skimmed over France and her culinary heritage. Not because I thought her culinary heritage not worth acknowledging, but because I wanted to savor that heritage in a different medium or venue. With that sentiment in mind, I pulled Terence Scully's treatise - The Vivendier -…

Who was Gervase Markham? A Forgotten English Food Writer Comes Alive in a New Book

His quirky, pixy eyes belie his prolificity as a writer, one that some dub the first so-called hack writers in modern history, and possibly the first to import an Arabian horse into England.** And possibly one of William Shakespeare’s rivals? Some writers such as Robert Gittings, in his tepidly received Shakespeare’s Rival (1960), suggest that…

Before There was Martha S., There was Martha B.*

Martha Bradley's The British Housewife (1756) has long fascinated me, for all her detail and  precise instructions. And, most of all,  for her emphasis on local foods, long before Alice Waters or Michael Pollan were gleams in the eye of God. Of course, the other point I want to make here is this: the English were quite…

In the Scent of Cinnamon, a Whiff of Medieval 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 Eels of Hannah, Or, Hannah Glasse’s Lenten Recipes

In my forthcoming book - with illustrations by Courtney Nzeribe - I discuss Hannah Glasse's cookbook. (And much more, of course!)   Poor Hannah Glasse. Literally. Except for Martha Stewart, she may be the only cookery book writer who did hard time for financial woes. Author of The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy,…

Speaking of France …

You're not supposed to begin a piece of writing with a question. Why not? No idea, except that the "experts" seem to think that it's an easy way out. "You can do better," they say. So what was my question? Oh yes. Why is traditional French food so terribly unpopular at the moment? Many authors…

How Julia Child Rescued Me from the Darkness

Several months ago, thanks to a series of bleeds in my right eye due to ROP*, I underwent a vitrectomy to clear up all the blood still pooling throughout my eye. When my surgeon finished, I learned that I'd suffered a retinal detachment as well, hidden by the immense amount of blood. A gas bubble…

Capouns In Councys, from The Forme of Cury (1390)

Just an example of the type of recipes you will be able to recreate with the help of my upcoming book, A Hastiness of Cooks.  Recipe reconstructed and recreated from archaic language. An example of what's in my upcoming book, "A Hastiness of Cooks." Chicken in a saffron-infused sauce, flavored with Poudre Forte, or "Strong Powder."…

The 4th of July: Mythology and American History

It's the 4th of July. A day of almost mythical proportions. For Americans. I got to thinking about the stories surrounding this day, a really special day in the history of the world. Consider the facts: A small, rather weak and geographically diverse conglomeration of settlers rises up like David against a powerful giant -…

Skeletons, Disease, and the Dinner Table

I don't like to get my hands dirty. Literally. And that's why I will never be an archaeologist. Grubbing around in the muck and peat and clay, no way. So how come I was in Washington D.C. for the 2018 meetings of the American Archaeological Society (AAS), along with several thousands of other people? Many…

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…

Lessons from “The Great British Bake Off”

I binge watch cooking shows. Instead of reading intellect-stimulating tomes such as Homer's The Iliad (who amongst you can say that you have???), lately I've been spending my precious time on earth transfixed by Paul Hollywood's piercing blue eyes, calmed by Mary Berry's soothing voice, cheering on the indomitable bakers of "The Great British Bake…

THE GOURMAND AWARDS

Just a note - life's busy - to share the shortlist for The Gourmand Awards. "What is that," you might ask? Here's their take on it: "The Gourmand Awards are the major Food Culture event in the world. They started in 1995 for cookbooks and wine books, at Frankfurt Book Fair. They now include all…

The Curry Guy

Curry. I can't live without it. And thus it was only natural that I used some of my Santa Claus money to buy myself a copy of Dan Toombs's clever cookbook, The Curry Guy: Recreate Over 100 of the Best British Indian Restaurant Recipes at Home (2017). The cooking found in British Indian Restaurants. Or BIRs.…

Happy Christmas to All!

At Christmastime, my kitchen becomes a place where past and present merge.  Through food, I honor my ancestors - the known, the unknown, and the never-to-be knowns, all the people whose DNA runs through my veins and shapes my nose and determines my character. They hailed from Dorset, Devon, Somerset, Cheshire, Lincoln, London, Kent ...…

Cooking with Hurricane Irma, Part II: Pipérade

Pipérade snuck into my life the other day. I mean, I'd known about this universal - global? - combo of tomatoes and garlic and onion and other stuff for some time. Hardly the sort of dish you'd let any culinary culture lay claim to. I mean, come on, what else might a cook do with garlic,…

Florida Oranges, and Other White House Desserts

Desserts and sweets served in the White House reflect the culinary history of the United States. The patterns of cooking, eating, and serving food in the White House originally relied heavily on the British heritage of the Thirteen Colonies, a pattern that generally continues until the present day.  Although wars and economic depressions plagued the…

9 Years of Writing about History … A Celebration!

Nine years ago, I decided to poke a toe into the world of food blogging. I settled on the name, "Gherkins & Tomatoes," based on a painting by Luis Meléndez, a tribute to the period of history known as "The Age of Exploration." Faced with a blank screen demanding something, anything, the first words that…

Tales of Alligator Flesh and Tails

Alligator meat is quite varied in itself The meat found in the tail is white and sweet, and can easily fried or sauteed. The leg meat is dark and less tender, with a color and texture similar to a beef shank, best used in soups and stews. The body meat is more like that of…

Seeking Food at the Crossroads of History

When it comes to the kitchen, I've always been a seeker, a pilgrim in a more modern sense of the word, "A person travelling to a place of particular personal interest."* It all began on a diesel-perfumed street corner in Puebla, Mexico. I stood in the shadow of a broken streetlight, sunshine and sweaty bodies…

Place and Food, Genius Loci and Terroir

Genius Loci* 1. The prevailing character or atmosphere of a place. 1.1 The presiding god or spirit of a place. ~ Oxford English Dictionary Years ago, psychologist Jon Kabat-Zinn published a book titled Wherever You Go, There You Are (1994). He certainly had a point, and a very, very apt one. You can't shed your…

Breath and Air and the Mysteries of Spring

  One day you wake up to icicles and yet another dark, distressing gray morning, powdered with snow. And then, the very next thing you know, you're marveling at the miraculous resurgence of greens and yellows and purples scattered along the sides of the road, the warm sunshine cascading through trees, their skinny bare branches…

The Enchanted Bamboo Forest

Standing still, as would a hunter viewing its prey, I let the moment absorb me. On another day, in another time, I might say “I absorb the moment.” But not this day. A sheer green canopy sways above my head. Tiny glimmers of light shining through the laciness recall cloudless nights in the Sahara Desert,…

Elinor Cooks the Christmas Goose

[Note: This is a portion of a larger work in progress.] Elinor waited until Daniel and Julian left the tavern’s kitchen. Then she tightened her apron and turned to the large wooden worktable facing the hearth. The white goose lay in the market basket, its neck tilted at a squared-off angle, its sightless eye pointing upward,…

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme … and Lavender

First, a pinch of etymology. The Greeks called lavender nardus after the Syrian city of Naardus, from which comes the word “spikenard.” (More on spikenard in a second.) As for our word, "lavender," we must once again thank the Latin language for lavare, meaning, "to wash." A member of the mint family, and cousin to…

Cooking with Wolves (Or, Keeping the Wolf Away from the Door)

There's a whining at the threshold, There's a scratching at the floor. To work! To work! In Heaven's name! The wolf is at the door! ~~~C. P. S. Gilman The season of gift-giving will soon be upon us, with the mail deliverer knocking at our door, bearing credit card bills, not gifts. The holiday season hovers…

Poor Harry: Thanksgiving in the Truman White House 1946

President Harry S. Truman found himself on the slimming end of things in 1946. The New York Times reported that Truman's menus seemed a bit austere and quoted White House housekeeper, Mrs. Mary E. Sharpe, as saying "When I make up menus I keep it in mind." "It" being President's Truman's ongoing battle of the…

Muscling in on Mussels

In Dublin's fair city, where the girls are so pretty I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone As she wheel'd her wheel barrow Thro' streets broad and narrow (Chorus) Crying "Cockles and Mussels alive, alive O!" Alive, alive O! Alive, alive O Crying Cockles and Mussels Alive, alive O! She was a fishmonger,…

Velveeta and Wonder Bread: Cooking at Ozette, the Pompeii of America

"I’d like to be able to say that something mystical drew me through the Olympic National Forest to Ozette. Such as a spiritual connection to Celtic tree gods. Or a quest, inspired by medieval pilgrims hiking 500 miles to Santiago de Compostela. But no,it was an act of God that brought me there as a…

They Called it Callaloo

Stuck off the beaten track, but surrounded by the heavy traffic of a congested city, the Grand Market in Virginia Beach, Virginia is not an easy one to pinpoint, even with GPS  tracking technology. But "Sam's" voice droned "Turn right, then left," and somehow  I managed to avoid the motorcycle on a kamikaze path to my…