Is Cooking Necessary?*

No, it's not. That's your immediate answer, isn't it? After all, you've got more important things to do, don't you? Or do you? You can live your life without cooking. You can go to your nearest grocery store and bypass all the technology and knowledge that took your ancestors centuries to refine. You can buy…

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Hamburger Heaven, or the Global Burger: A Medley of Recipes

Hot weather does funny things to people, especially to cooks. Certain instincts crop up at about the same time that air conditioners crank up the juice. Primeval visions prevail, usually of smoldering coals and roasting meat, prompting the almost daily obeisance to that great American tradition, the summer barbecue grill. And summer just wouldn't be…

Hippie Cookbooks, Alice’s Restaurant, and Whole Wheat: How We Got Organic

One day, Alice Brock saw a tour bus coming up the drive to her restaurant and she suddenly remembered she was supposed to feed 40 people a full lunch. She didn't have any soup made ... When the war in Vietnam ended in 1975, so did The Age of Aquarius, fading away like smoke on…

A Few Choice Morsels: Children’s Cookbooks

British star chef Jamie Oliver, in spite of the flapdoodle surrounding his school lunch efforts in West Virginia, is just one more person in a long line of moralists and do-gooders hoping to change the food people eat, this time children. So let’s take a quick look at children’s cookbooks. Pretty common, aren’t they? For…

Lent, According to American Cookery, the Magazine, That is

Lent can be a really interesting time of the year. For some of us living in the Northern Hemisphere, a mere glimpse outside our windows forces the introspection and reflection behind the whole idea of Lent. Who wants to walk around out there in that howling wind and blowing snow? Better to stay inside and…

Thomas Jefferson and His Magic “Maccaroni” Machine

Thomas Jefferson, rightly or wrongly credited with first bringing pasta to the tables of Americans, drew a picture of  a pasta-making machine. This drawing, now in the Library of Congress, resulted from a trip to Italy taken by Jefferson in 1787. Don't forget that "macaroni" served as a generic name for pasta and doesn't necessarily…

Dig for Victory! Locavorism in Eons Past

Looking at the past almost always calls up that old adage: "There's nothing new under the sun."* Take locavorism's wartime antecedents ... As these WWII posters from England's "Dig for Victory!" campaign prove, the idea of local foods is not one whose time has come, but whose time has come again. Aimed at encouraging the…

Souls of Cooks

Slipping like honey off  a silver spoon, all the words build up to an earth-shaking, and revolutionary, crescendo. For the first time in history, cooks' words crisscross the globe,  through thin wires and invisible waves of energy, thanks to the Internet. Never before have the words of so many cooks reached so many people, making…

Buttering Up

Peppermint flavoring, almond extract, gooey candied fruit, thick dark molasses, perfumey cardamom … the list could go mouth-wateringly on and on. Christmas cooking and Christmas baking demand many ingredients not normally used in everyday cooking. And that’s what makes the holiday season such a sheer delight for those besotted with all things culinary. But one…

Civil War Christmases

I beg to present you as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 100 and 50 guns and plenty of ammunition, also about 25,000 bales of cotton. Telegram from William Tecumseh Sherman to Abraham Lincoln, December 22, 1864 Many authors write about the austerity of American Christmas celebrations prior to the Civil War (1861…

Christmas Dinner at Mount Vernon, 1790

George Washington's Virginia plantation, Mount Vernon, served as the backdrop for many scrumptious dinners, cooked by Washington's slave cooks. Just reading this menu* makes my lips twitch and my fingers itch for my wooden spoons. Note that even at the relatively late date of 1790 and independence from England, there's a soup called King's Soup…

Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg

Now Christmas comes, ‘tis fit that we Should feast and sing, and merry be; Keep open house, let fiddlers play, A fig for cold, sing care away; And may they who thereat repine, On brown bread and small beer dine. Virginia Almanack 1766 To paraphrase former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld: There’s the Williamsburg Christmas…

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…

Breaking: State Dinner Menu Released

Potato and Eggplant Salad White House Arugula w/ Onion Seed Vinaigrette 2008 Savingnon Blanc, Modus Operandi, Napa Valley Red Lentil Soup w Fresh Cheese 2006 Riesling, Brooks "Ara", Wilamette Valley Roast Potato Dumplings w Tomato Chutney Chick Peas and Okra or Green Curry Prawns w caramelized Salsify w smoke Collard Greens and coconut aged basmati…

The Feat of Feasting

One cannot both feast and become rich. Ashanti Proverb “Feasting,” for all practical purposes, appears to be the antonym of “hunger.” And yet, feasting is rife (ripe?) with teeming contradictions and ritualistic conventions. For some, feasting implies hunger. Ambrose Bierce defined feasting in a rather limiting manner in his irreverent Devil’s Dictionary: FEAST, n. A…

The Historic Gastronomist

Like old cookbooks? Like old recipes? Then don't miss this down-to-earth video, shot by Liza de Guia, entitled “The Historic Gastronomist,” about a 27-year-old Brooklyn woman named Sarah Loman who is resuscitating centuries old recipes from American history. Loman writes a food history blog called "Four Pounds Flour." Meet Sarah Lohman. She's not a professional…

Saints, Souls, and Haints: Here Come the Pumpkins

Some pumpkin-laden advice from Janet McKenzie Hill, sounding like the Martha Stewart of a much earlier generation in her  Practical Cooking and Serving: a Complete Manual of How to Select, Prepare, and Serve Food (1902, p. 566): CENTREPIECE OF FRUIT FOR THANKSGIVING DINNER OR HARVEST FESTIVAL [Halloween] Select a golden-colored, medium-sized, well-shaped pumpkin. With a…

Ghosts of Gourmet: Ann Seranne

About three days ago, caught in the throes of egg cookery, I realized that Ann Seranne's name doesn't ring a whole lot of bells these days in food circles. Who? Even Alice Arndt's celebrated Culinary Biographies fails to mention Seranne. We shouldn't ignore this lady and her place in the pantheon of culinarians contributing to…

Boarding Houses, Fodder for Popular Culture

Boarding houses, a slice of the folkloric American food story ... American food icon James Beard grew up in an Oregon boarding house operated by his mother.  And New York Times food writer Craig Claiborne cut his teeth in his mother's Mississippi boarding house kitchen. In a way, we’re still feeling the impact of those…

Lumberjack Culinary Lingo

Unlike cowboy lingo, lumberjack lingo did not add many words to the pantheon of American spoken English.  Nevertheless, this fascinating list of terms --- used by lumberjacks to describe food and items associated with food and cooking --- proves highly entertaining. Notice the meaning of "pregnant woman pie," for one. Axle Grease: butter Bait Can:…

Cookies and Cookees

The importance of logging camp cooks can’t be fathomed, really. But try to imagine being miles from anywhere, without a restaurant nearby or a place to cook for oneself; imagine the sheer dependence on log camp cooks, of men burning up 8000 calories a day while felling trees. Like baby birds counting on their parents…

Bean Burners and Hash Rasslers: More Logging Camp Food

On a typical day in 1929, cooks at Ritter Company Camps of Dickenson County, Virginia , served the following menus to anywhere from 75 - 100 loggers: BREAKFAST: Cornflakes Oatmeal Stewed or fried apples Canned peaches Fried ham, pork chops, or beef steak, with country gravy Fried potatoes Biscuits Butter, jam, jelly, syrup Coffee, milk…

The Appetite of Paul Bunyan

Legends and folklore provide wonderful entrées into cultures. And in the United States we’ve generated a few of these delectable tall tales ourselves. Take the mythical lumberjack Paul Bunyan, who stands heads above the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow and other similar characters. Lumberjacks created Paul and, with each telling, he grew bigger.  And hungrier.…

Fish Stomachs?????

Fish Stomachs???? You might believe that fishcakes, along with fritters and croquettes, began as members of the thrifty Leftovers family. But in fact, early medieval English cooks made fishcakes from fish stomachs, which many might consider carrying thrift just a little too far. There is actually a fishcake recipe, on page 170 of Madeleine Pelner…

Summer Fare, or, Steamroller Chicken

Today, when the throbbing heat of a summer day might mean grabbing a salad at the local deli, it is hard to realize that in the past people conjured up other solutions for food on the days when sweat poured off of brows like tiny streams rushing to meet a river. Everyone knows that the…