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…

Advertisements

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 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 ...…

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…

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…

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,…

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…

Cooks, Kitchens, and Places: Josephine’s Tale

Since modern photography only came into being around 1816, when Nicéphore Niépc combined camera obscura techniques and paper with photosensitive qualities, the faces of so many people will never be known to us. Those of the rich, the powerful, and the occasional peasant – thanks to artists such as Pieter Bruegel the Elder – we their…

Day 5: Tomatoes – Celebrate American Food History

Tomatoes, poisonous or aphrodisiac? That was the question lurking in the pot for quite some time after the Spanish and the Portuguese began their voyages to the New World beginning around the late fifteenth century and likely introduced the tomato (and other New World foods) to Europe and Africa. John Gerard, a renown herbalist and…

Day 4: Corn – Celebrate American Food History

English novelist Charles Dickens once compared eating cornbread to eating a pincushion. In that disdainful sentiment, I see generations of English and other European people trying to adapt to this New World grain when their favorite grain - wheat - failed to thrive. Corn, or maize/Indian corn as it was called by the early settlers, originated -…

Day 3: Chicken – Celebrate American Food History

On June 20, 2016, Jas. Townsend and Son posted a remarkable video on YouTube. Over 1 million people have since watched Mr. Townsend cooking fried chicken, based on a recipe from an English cookbook from 1736: Dictionarium Domesticum, by lexicographer Nathan Bailey.  Bailey's greatest work appears to have been his Universal Etymological Dictionary, published in 1721.…

Day 1: Tuckahoe – Celebrate American Food History

It's soon to be a big, big day for Gherkins & Tomatoes - on July 28 G&T will celebrate eight (8) years (!) of writing about food and food history. Why, that's 1,181 posts. Yes, there could - and should - have been more lots more, but we must take into account the time spent writing…

A Tarte to prouoke courage either in man or Woman.

Thomas Dawson’s pie recipe (The Good Housewife’s Jewell, 1596) was meant to impart courage to a man or a woman, the sweet potato being considered an aphrodisiac at the time: A Tarte to prouoke courage either in man or Woman. TAKE a quart of good wine, and boyle therein two Burre rootes scraped cleane, two good Quinces,…

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…

Transform Your Aching Soul with Cooking

Photo credit: C. BertelsenLiving today’s hurry-up-run-run-run-faster-faster-text-text lifestyle tends to blunt contact with more earthy things, like cooking. The act of cooking offers something that the stiffest drink or most potent tranquilizer cannot. Dare I say it out loud? It’s even better than sex, in a way. Especially when chocolate is involved, but that’s another story…

Pride and Pudding: An Ode to British Cooking

"Captivated by British cuisine – from its ancient savoury dishes such as the Scottish haggis to traditional sweet and savoury pies, pastries, jellies and ices, flummeries, junkets and jam roly-poly – Regula tells the story of British food, paying homage in particular to the great British pudding, which is versatile and wonderful in all its…

Farming is NOT a Romantic Occupation

Farming is not a romantic occupation. In spite of pastoral memoirs like Tim Stark's Heirloom and Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, the reality of farming means backbreaking work and early mornings, poor harvests and lots of worry as Mother Nature hurls hail at a field of ripe corn. But it's…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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 Dessert at the White House + A Word about Dallas, November 22, 1963*

Bill Yosses, the current White House pastry chef says pie is the all-time favorite in the Obama White House, but adds that “The dessert that was the biggest hit last year was a sugar cookie in the shape of the First Family’s dog, Bo. This year we have a black and yellow bumblebee to celebrate…

The Ancient Story Behind Veterans’/Armistice Day, or, The Significance of St. Martin of Tours

"On the morning of November 11 I [Colonel Thomas Gowenlock] sat in my dugout in Le Gros Faux, which was again our division headquarters, talking to our Chief of Staff, Colonel John Greely, and Lieutenant Colonel Paul Peabody, our G-1. A signal corps officer entered and handed us the following message: Official Radio from Paris -…

The Legend of the Blackberries on Michaelmas Day

But when the bath was filled we found a fur, A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache. ~ Seamus Heaney, "Blackberry Picking" So much happens on some days that it's easy to let something important slide past, ignored, but not willfully. Famed Italian culinary diva Marcella Hazan passed away yesterday morning, on Michaelmas Day, a…