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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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…

Day 7: Squirrel – Celebrate American Food History

They're puckish, furry, skittish, with tiny wiggly noses. And darn good eating, according to a chorus of voices in old, as well as modern, American cookbooks. What are they? Why, squirrels of course. Most people know of squirrel meat in traditional Brunswick Stew or Kentucky Burgoo. Many food writers have written on these two quintessential American…

Day 6: Beef – Celebrate American Food History

 War and food, a timeless tale. Unfortunately. Today's story is about beef, the meat - as we all know - that become synonymous with Britain and went on to become a major force in the American economy in the nineteenth century, as well as providing for a rather mythological view of the American West. (Hint:…

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…

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…

Eating like a Lumberjack

The Black Bear Camp Skillet Served with Cherokee Sweet Corn Pone, Fresh Fruits, Cheese Grits, Hunt Camp Potatoes, Cathead Biscuit, Sausage (Sawmill) Gravy, and Thick Griddle Cake with Maple Syrup. A Sizzling Combo of Country or Sugar Cured Ham, Pecan Smoked Bacon, Sausage & 2 Farm Fresh Eggs any style $13.95 I recently spent several…

Foods for a Funeral and a Farewell

What to make of the lavish feasts that come after a funeral? When I attended my first funeral, at age 27, I cried a lot, even though I didn't know the  deceased, my sister-in-law's father. My grandparents all died before I turned 20 and lived 1250 miles away. Living as my family did on a…

The South is Rising Again: The 2013 James Beard Nominees

In the culinary world, the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize or the Oscars comes down to the James Beard Awards. This year, the list of nominees includes a large number of Southern chefs, restaurants, and other food-related entities. What's so fascinating about this list lies in the evidence of increasing diversity - it's not all…

Are Pole Beans Like Cows? A Crashing Tale

Pole beans are sort of like cows. If you keep milking a cow, she produces milk. Likewise, if you keep picking pole beans, the plant keeps producing. Pole beans are not like bush beans, which render up a crop and then die back. I call them pole beans, but some people call them flat beans…

The Story Behind a Kitchen-Counter Sweet-Potato Patch

There’s something about sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) that I cannot seem to shake. Maybe there’s some sort of cellular memory thing going on, like perhaps my ancestors sat around somewhere, gratefully chewing on roasted sweet potatoes, surviving a dry spell in food production. A good reason to foster a sweet potato patch. We Americans now…

* “We raise the wheat, they give us the corn” : a reflection on life in antebellum Virginia

Not too long ago, before the snow fell and kept falling, I drove down to Critz, Virginia, the homeplace of Virginia tobacco baron, J. R. Reynolds. Reynolds's parents, Hardin Reynolds and Nancy Jane Cox Reynolds, owned  several hundred slaves, who worked the 717-acre Rock Spring plantation. One of these slaves went by the name of…

*”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…

* A Cuisine Created by Slave Women: A Review of Kitty Morse’s Mint Tea and Minarets, and a Brief Word about Dadas**

Dealing with the death of beloved parents takes a great toll on people, leading them on journeys of self-discovery often not possible while parents still live and breathe and exert influence on their adult child’s life. Rarely does settling up an inheritance take sixteen years of patience and hair-pulling, constantly reminding the bereaved of their…

* Biscuits and Buttermilk: A New Year and New Directions

After a long fallow period, spent baking (and eating) many Christmas cookies, I have decided to bloom/cook where I am planted, so to speak. Lately I’ve become more intrigued by the cuisine that surrounds me, here in the American South.  After all, I've basically been a Southerner for over 30 years. Although many cookbook authors…

Savoring the Daily on the Fringes of the Coalfields

Although grocery shopping here in the United States doesn't quite reach the challenges I faced when grocery shopping in Morocco or Burkina Faso, the very act of buying food makes me think hard about eating and cooking and just plain living. Shopping for food entails making decisions. What choices do I make when my only…

Long Ago, When Chickens had Teeth …*

I've never had to kill for my dinner, unless you count the time I mangled a lobster at the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris, crying silently as I tried to plunge the knife in the right place but failing to quickly put the creature out of its misery. I doubt I would have known…

The Curse of Corn: Poverty and Politics and Pellagra

Dr. Joseph Goldberger stands watching the children eating. He's about to prove his hunch that pellagra occurred in the face of nutritional deprivation. He devoted years to discovering what caused the curse of corn, pellagra. Although the fat cats in the South of the time, and we’re talking early 20th-century here, didn’t want to spend…

Let Me Count the Ways: St. Valentine’s Day 101 (Yes, There’s a French Connection)

Remember the old shoeboxes for valentines in your grade school classroom? How you'd decorate your box with all sorts of frou-frous and hope the cute little boy (or the cute little girl) with the dimples would give you a valentine card, one of those mass-produced things? In school, at least, probaly no teacher ever told…

Thomas Jefferson: The Francophile Who Became the First U.S. “Foodie”

Thomas Jefferson. President. Scientist. Writer. Man of many passions, some hidden, some not. In his writings and in his actions, food clearly revealed itself as one of those passions. Above all, Jefferson was a Francophile. From the design of his dining room in his house, Monticello, to the gardens surrounding him in the foothills of the…

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.…

Being Catty: Hey, Did You Know That Catfish Tastes OK?

(Due to family obligations for a few weeks, I'm posting some previous posts that I've dusted off and updated. ) Well, it's not "National Catfish Month," not yet. You have to wait for August for that. But there's no time like the present for dreaming of summer. Some people hate the cloying texture of these…

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…

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…