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…

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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…

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme … and Lavender

First, a pinch of etymology. The Greeks called lavender nardus after the Syrian city of Naardus, from which comes the word “spikenard.” (More on spikenard in a second.) As for our word, "lavender," we must once again thank the Latin language for lavare, meaning, "to wash." A member of the mint family, and cousin to…

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…

The Scent of Cinnamon and Chasing Down Humoral Theory

Purple bougainvillea flowers hung thick and rope-like over the sand-colored walls, their little white hearts nearly pulsating in the blazing noon heat of Rabat, Morocco. The door of The English Bookshop stood half-opened. The stern English proprietor stood behind the counter, his thin pale fingers reaching into scuffed cardboard boxes, filled with the newest shipment of books…

Madhur Jaffrey’s “Vegetarian India”: My Review on the”Modern Salt” Site

I love food from India, I mean, I really, really do. And  so when I had a chance to review Madhur Jaffrey's latest, well, what could I say??? Heck, YES! Here's my review, of a marvelous book, on that wonderful new magazine from the U.K. - Modern Salt: MADHUR JAFFREY’S “VEGETARIAN INDIA: A JOURNEY THROUGH…

Day 8: Apples – Celebrate American Food History

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Folk proverb Two stories convey the essence of apples to me. The first involves an almost surgical treatment of an apple tree in our front yard: One autumn day, Dad’s boss – Dr. C. S. Holton – appeared at the back door of our rambling old ex-farm house, its…

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 2: Oysters – Celebrate American Food History

Jonathan Swift once quipped, "It was a brave man who first ate an oyster." And an even braver one who pried open the shell without special gloves and knives. Actually, it's more likely that our hero (or heroine)  used a rock to smash into the mollusk. Oysters kept people alive in the early days of colonial North America,…

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…

Ship’s Biscuit/Hardtack , the Food of History

Directions for Making a Chouder First lay some Onions to keep the pork from burning, Because in Chouder there can be no turning; Thus you in in Chouder always must begin. Next lay some Fish cut crossways very nice Then season well with pepper, Salt, and Spice; Parsley, Sweet-Marjoram, Savory, and Thyme, Then Biscuit next…

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…

Shopping for Food in the 19th Century, or, You’ve Got it Real Easy Nowadays, You Know

Claire Howland* opened her left eye, squinting at the mottled ceiling of her bedroom, the peeling paint accentuated by the feeble morning sunshine. Groaning, she remembered something about the upcoming day, market day. She hoped that the new Irish maid, Kate, had prepared the boarders’ breakfast, oatmeal porridge thinned with milk from the stringy cow…

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…

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…

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…

From Mother Russia with Love: Great Lent, the Beginning

Many years ago, a high school history teacher of mine asked our class to write down everything we knew about Russia within the space of about 30 minutes. Most people wrote a brief paragraph, describing the red Communist flag with its hammer and sickle. Some delved a little into the cruelty of the tsars and…

The Curse of Modern Food Writing: The Dearth of Pleasure

Thankfully, the Millennium Bridge across the River Thames didn’t sway under my feet that day, giving lie to its other name, the Wobbly Bridge. But the chilling wind whipped at everything not tied down, painting a disagreeable redness on my nose and a deep-seated hunger in my belly. The aroma of roasting sugary peanuts floated…

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…