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…

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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…

A Juneteenth Commentary: Edna Lewis and the Myths Behind Southern Cooking

Powered by the mythology that has grown up around Southern food over the last several years, many voices claim ownership, hurling harsh accusations of cultural appropriation, and silencing and shaming contrary opinions. The argument is not easy to prove, as it remains hampered by a lack of statistics, contemporary documentation, and clear evidence of outright…

African Cuisines: Cookbooks for Exploration and Discovery of Superb Flavors

Only one of this year’s new releases in print cookbooks covers the cooking of Africa, unless you count books about Moroccan cooking by Fatéma Hal and Z. Guinaudeau, as well as Kittee Berns’s Teff Love: Adventures in Vegan Ethiopian Cooking. The rest only come in Kindle editions, a medium which is not my first choice…

Peanuts and the Cooking of West Africa

Writers throw out the words "African cooking" all the time. I know. I have written same words, to my great embarrassment. But stop and think about something for a moment. The term "African cooking" is just as ridiculous as calling the cooking of Europe "European cooking," lumping together the cuisine of France with that of…

Cassava, One Rugged World-Traveling Ingredient

Cassava, for me, remains the Sleeping Beauty of Latin American  kitchens. I remember clearly the first time I ever ate cassava. I was sitting on a porch in a Paraguayan boarding house, torrential rain streaming hard off the thatched roof. I really didn't know what I was doing there, on so many levels. Behind that wall of water, the cook - a…

Grits on the Menu: A Short Treatise on a Global Favorite

Big Hominy Grits (Photo credit: James Bridle) These days, when you drive through the endless piney woods of low-country Georgia and South Carolina, you will see fields of corn, and not so much cotton. And, if you're lucky when you stop for breakfast, there will be grits on the menu. Not just any old grits,…

The Dangers of Nostalgia at the Stove: A Critique of Modern Food Writing

Is nostalgia dangerous? More to the point, is nostalgia a dangerous weapon when held in the hands of some food writers? I'll confess to a salient fact: I've written about food  through a thick lens of nostalgia, licking the pot of myth and stirring with the spoon of longing . I've cooked the iconic dishes of…

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…

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…

With Roots in East Africa: Okra, a Veritable World Traveler

Yesterday, while driving across the vast expanse of South Carolina, I noticed dueling billboards, advertising Margaret Holmes canned goods and the Glory line of fresh chopped collards and Bruce's Candied Yams. So I decided to repost this while I look more deeply into the foods eaten in Africa prior to the tragedy of the African…

Vivre en l’Outre-Mer, or, The Trials of Living in French Congo ca. 1923: Part III

Once settled into their bungalow overlooking Stanley Pool in Brazzaville, the Vassals faced the problem of hiring household help, especially a cook. Unlike many Europeans, they found a cook who knew his business, of whom Gabrielle wrote: I am glad, too, to have a change from German cooking.* Our primitive black Matamba is far superior…

The Smoke of Many Fires: A Meditation on Cooking Fires in Africa*

I still smell the smoke of many fires, its pungency hauling up memories, deep from that hidden place where forgotten things wait until the right atoms collide. With each of my slow short breaths, a picture of West Africa emerges, behind my eyes where I can see the past scrolling like a Technicolor movie. The…

Vivre en l’Outre-Mer, or, The Trials of Living in French Congo ca. 1923: Part I

When the French government appointed Dr. Joseph Vassal, Englishwoman's Gabrielle Vassal's French husband, Head of Health Services for Equatorial French Africa (A.E.F.), he exclaimed happily to her, "Je suis nommé en A.E.F." Naturally she asked, "What's A.E.F.?" So he replied "Afrique Equatoriale Francaise," and pointed to Gabon, Tchad, Oubangi-Chari, and the Congo, with its capital…

Why Do We Cook?

What does it mean to cook? Some - Harold McGee for example - would say that cooking means to prepare food by heating, while others, such as historian Rachel Laudan, extend the definition to include modes of preparation beyond heating. I tend to agree with the latter and not the former. So, with that sticking point…

The Little Fish with Big Taste: The Much-Maligned Anchovy and its Cousins

When I finally discovered that anchovies (Engraulis encrasicolus) weren’t just for crappy pizzas anymore, I was pretty long in the tooth, so to speak. It took me a long time to even dare to add anchovies to the food I cooked. In that, I am not unlike other cooks over the centuries: What if I…

*”Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new”: A Sweet Potato Rhapsody

“Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new,” or so confessed St. Augustine, a Catholic saint born in 354 A.D., in what is now Algeria. And I, I could also say the same, about many things. One of them being sweet potatoes, a beloved Southern staple.** It was a Thanksgiving Day. I…

Belleville Revisited

The Belleville market -- straddling the crossroads of Paris's 10th, 11th, 19th, and 20th arrondissements -- presents the determined photographer with a tremendous dilemma: how to take pictures without being literally swept up in the crowds and jostled like a buoy bobbing in heavy seas? Although the market runs from the Menilmontant metro stop to…

Vivre en l’Outre-Mer, or, The Trials of Living in French Congo ca. 1923: Part III

Once settled into their bungalow overlooking Stanley Pool in Brazzaville, the Vassals faced the problem of hiring household help, especially a cook. Unlike many Europeans, they found a cook who knew his business, of whom Gabrielle wrote: I am glad, too, to have a change from German cooking.* Our primitive black Matamba is far superior…

Vivre en l’Outre-Mer, or, The Trials of Living in French Congo ca. 1923: Part I

When the French government appointed Dr. Joseph Vassal, Englishwoman's Gabrielle Vassal's French husband, Head of Health Services for Equatorial French Africa (A.E.F.), he exclaimed happily to her, "Je suis nommé en A.E.F." Naturally she asked, "What's A.E.F.?" So he replied "Afrique Equatoriale Francaise," and pointed to Gabon, Tchad, Oubangi-Chari, and the Congo, with its capital…

Couscous in France: It’s a Long Story

To look at all the Maghrebi/North African restaurants in Paris, you might be tempted to think the food they serve appeared only recently in France. It’s not hard to visualize this scenario when you consider the exodus of pieds noirs and Harkis (local men who served as soldiers for France) that occurred as Algeria fought…

Léon Isnard: Bringing the Cuisines of Africa to France

"It seems that the word couscous is a Gallic version of "rac keskes," which means "crushed small." ~ Leon Isnard Whether you think about it consciously or not, the nineteenth-century European drive for overseas colonies still molds our world. Ever since the Portuguese sailed for Prince Henry the Navigator out of Sagres, an ocean-facing place…

Banania — an Image of French Colonialism?

I will tear down those Banania smiles from the walls of France. ~~ Léopold Sédar Senghor, poet and first president of independent Senegal*   Branding. Such a loaded word, when you consider it. For many Americans it suggests branding cattle and other property, to prove ownership. Very capitalistic, those cowboys, don't you think? In any…

Culinary Diffusion? Yes, in Alain Ducasse’s Kitchens

In a way, it's the French version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." World-famous French chef, Alain Ducasse, chose fifteen women from Sarcelles, a suburb of Paris housing mostly poor immigrants mainly from France's former North African colonies. An article in The New York Times tells the whole story, almost a Cinderella saga: 15…

Cabbage and Black-Eyed Peas, Oh My! A New Year’s Tradition in the South

New Year's Day, coming up fast. Planning your menu, are you? There's a good reason to hesitate, to take your time, because there's really only one thing to eat that day. Black-eyed peas, a gift from a part of Africa ruled by the French for a long time. They were there as early as 1659 at St.…

The Potager of Thomas Jefferson: A Kitchen Garden in Photos

Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, that amazing genius and inventor, and --- according to the late food writer, Karen Hess --- probably America's first real gourmet. Any lover of books, art, architecture, wine, and food should dream of visiting this place at least once. [Note: It's the only house declared a UNESCO World Heritage…