Ivan Day: Master Food Historian

Those of you with a tremendous love of food history will be happy to know that Ivan Day blogs with all the beauty and erudite authority of his spectacular recreations of historical British food. (Yes, British food!) Take a look both his blog - Food History Jottings - and his regular Web site - Historic Food. You'll…

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A Bloody Fish Story

The price of fish is something nice -- for fishmongers through the centuries, that is. And over the years, observers noted the rise and fall in the cost of fish according to the liturgical season and changes in the rules of the Roman Catholic Church.* Because of the price of fish, or even the mere…

The Black Fast, a Mortification of the Appetite

With Lent fast approaching (February 17, 2010), an examination of fasting and other fleshly challenges seems apropos. Religious-based fasting, in the history of English speakers anyway, belies its importance in the commonly used word for the first meal of the day: breakfast or “break fast.” After all, for much of Western European history, almost half…

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…

Mulled Wine, a Timeless Taste of the Divine?

"He has given us plenty of merriment, I am sure," said Fred, "and it would be ungrateful not to drink his health. Here is a glass of mulled wine ready to our hand at the moment; and I say, 'Uncle Scrooge'!" "Well! Uncle Scrooge!" they cried. "A Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to…

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 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…

Christmas in Antebellum Virginia: Part I

What is now the state of Virginia boasted the first permanent English settlement in North America. Despite its rocky beginnings in 1607, the settlement eventually flourished. The first Africans arrived in 1619 and the tobacco industry began in earnest. Along with the need for cheap labor, provided by slavery, the colonialists desired nothing more than…

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…

Oxford Food Symposium 2009

The Oxford Food Symposium 2009, from an article by Corby Kummer of The Atlantic. The 2010 Symposium will take place in July 9 - 11, at St. Catherine's College, Oxford, England; the conference topic is very timely --- "Cured, Fermented, and Smoked Foods." January 15, 2010 marks the deadline for proposals for talks. Guess what…

The Chicken or the Egg? 2. The Cooking of Eggs

There is reason in roasting of eggs! ~~~ James Boswell, Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides In nineteenth-century America, giddy with conquest and Manifest Destiny, domestic science denizens rose up, called themselves home economists, and jumped on the bandwagon of cleanliness and right thought. The results of that movement set the stage for today’s…

The Gift of the Bees: Mead

With a small tweak of the imagination, it’s not hard to see the scenario:  a little rain and some honey accidentally left in a hollowed-out piece of wood. For our early ancestors, it was --- once tasted --- a seemingly divine elixir. And no cooking required. In other words, mead, the first fermented drink. And…

Food in Medieval England: Diet and Nutrition

Food in Medieval England: Diet and Nutrition (Medieval History and Archaeology), by C. M. Woolgar, Dale Serjeantson, and Tony Waldron (paperback, 2009) In the unending quest to find models for culinary historiography, here's another fairly up-to-date addition to the growing list: This book draws on the latest research across different disciplines to present the most…

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…

Food and the British Raj in Africa: A Photographic Interlude

Because photographs and artwork lend insight into time periods that words might not (a picture is worth a thousand words, right?), it behooves those of us with a penchant for food history (and just plain prurient curiosity!) to examine visual renditions of the past. While reading old diaries, journals, and letters of the British Raj,…

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…

The Random Herbalist: The Monastic Physic Garden

Most of the gardens originally associated with monasteries contained numerous plants used for medicinal purposes. And, if nothing else,  at least these gardens provided the background for mystery novelist Ellis Peters's sailor-turned monk and herbalist, Brother Cadfael. The cloister-garth was a square, planted with grass and possibly shrubs, divided by two intersecting paths into four…

The Random Herbalist: An Introduction to Early Monastic Gardens

A series on monastery cooks ("At the Tables of the Monks")*, and a recent comment on the impact of medieval monks on the spread of dill throughout Europe, led me to reflect in more detail on the influence of monks on early European agricultural practices. For the next several days, I will be sharing notes…

Moonshine

Living as I do in the heart of moonshine [white lightning] country, I just about dropped the cookbook when I saw the word “Moonshine.” If it had been a Southern cookbook or a Foxfire book, I would have turned the page without a second thought and been done with it. But this reference to “Moonshine”…

Reveling in Books: The Garden Cottage Diaries

Most of the time, I judge food by its looks and books by their covers. Sorry, but give me a little art, a bit of color, and a mob cap any day of the week. Mob cap? Take the cartoon-like cover of The Garden Cottage Diaries for example. Like a magnet, this visual rendition of…

At the Tables of the Monks: The Larderer

With this blog post, our tales of the monastic kitchen come to an end ---  for now. THE LARDERER (p. 203-204) [Note: The Abbey paid the larderer for his services, since this person did not belong to the cloistered community.] The larderer should be “as perfect, just, and faithful a servant” as could be found.…

At the Tables of the Monks: The Infirmary Cook

THE COOK FOR THE INFIRMARY (p. 204-205) [Note: The Abbey paid the infirmary cook for his services, since this person did not belong to the cloistered community.] For the infirmary, and especially for the use of those who had been subjected to the periodical blood-letting, there was a special cook skilled in the preparation of…

At the Tables of the Monks: The Fish-Cooks

THE FISH-COOKS (p. 206) [Note: The Abbey paid the fish-cooks  for their services, since these people did not belong to the cloistered community.] In the large monasteries, such as, for example, Edmundsbury, there were two cooks for the fish-dishes ; the first was properly called the “fish-cook,” the other was “pittance-cook.” Their appointment was made…