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…

Advertisements

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…

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…

The Power and the Glories of Eating Alone

King Louis XIV did it. M. F. K. Fisher did it. The faceless man in Edward Hopper’s painting, “Nighthawks,” did it. Mr. Bean did it, too. And so did I. Daring to eat a proper meal alone in public probably ranks as one of the few acts that cause normally confident people to quiver a…

What it Means to See Art: The Intricacies of Duende

James Elkins’s essay, “Just Looking” (in The Object Stares Back,1996)  appears to be ambiguous, because the emotions associated with seeing are so complicated, as he says (p. 29). He seems also to have been influenced by Roland Barthes (Camera Lucida, 1981), Jacques Lacan, and Jacques Derrida (among others), all highly imitated French philosophers, popular among academics…

Cookbooks Tell the Story of Our Lives: Remembering Penelope Casas and The Foods and Wines of Spain

Penelope Casas, an expert on Spanish cuisine, passed away last week, not too long after the death of yet another one of my favorite food writers, Leslie Land. Now this may seem strange to you, and it does feel odd to me at times, but through the books these writers wrote and the recipes they…

Using Cookbooks in Historical Archaeological Research: New Mexico as a Case Study

Using cookbooks as a tool in historical archaeological research might sound a tad bit absurd, but by examining certain characteristics of these books, it becomes possible to see dirt-covered artifacts in a slightly different light. As a tribute to my childhood friend, Meli-Duran Kirkpatrick, and at the request of her husband, archaeologist Dr. David Kirkpatrick,…

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…

Spanish Cooks and The Essence of Their Art

“Just like in the movies, when the hero finally gets up to the ticket window and the clerk slams it shut.” That's the thought that ballooned in my mind when I walked up to the doors of the Museo del Prado in Madrid on a Monday morning. CLOSED. No Velazquez. Of course, Monday. Here's something…

Eating Cat Meat: A Taboo?

One of the most memorable sayings you learn when you first study Spanish is, “Dar/vender gato por liebre,” or to “give or sell a cat instead of a rabbit,” meaning deception. Digging into the history of Spanish cookbooks, you’ll find a famous --- and oft-quoted --- recipe for roast cat in Ruperto de Nola’s* fifteenth-century…

The Herbs in Spain Grow Mainly on the Plain

Many times when I walk through the nearby woods, I marvel at all the plants hiding under rotting logs and peeking out from the boulders. These plants, sharing the same earth and respiring the same air as we do, live and die nameless to most of us. How far away we've traveled from the days…

The Chicken or the Egg? 1. The Egg and Art*

The egg it is where it was at for Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dalí, who once said, rather egotistically (!), that "When I was three I wanted to be a cook. At the age of six I wanted to be Napoleon. Since then my ambition has increased all the time" The other day, thoughts of…

The Nose Knows

It's a long, old story. To be somewhat exact, 54-million years old. To make it short, the nose knows. And the nose led to the brain that could, well, create music and design spaceships to the moon and cook food à la Ferran Adrià i Acosta (molecular gastronomy):** "You can think of it as a…

Luis Meléndez, Mi Amor

Oh, oh, oh, imagine my excitement when I read Super Chefs’ Juliette Rossant’s blog post on May 14, 2009: “Luis Meléndez at National Gallery of Art” I went to the source and here’s the scoop: Luis Meléndez (1715–1780) is now recognized as the premier still-life painter in 18th-century Spain, indeed one of the greatest in…

The Book of Sent Sovi­: Medieval Recipes from Catalonia (Textos B)

The discovery of "new" old cookbooks always makes my brain tingle --- so few people wrote down anything about the most basic of human activities --- eating --- that written records of any sort demand celebration and acclaim. The Book of Sent Sovi is one of those ... The Book of Sent Sovi, composed around…