Medieval England: Medicine as Food, Food as Medicine

Let food be thy medicine, and let thy medicine be food. ~Hippocrates Food and medicine, always intertwined in the human  imagination. Because – obviously – the earliest English settlers brought their food habits and medicinal beliefs with them to what is now the United States, I relish books that provide background to the English way…

Reflections on a Green-Grape Tart

Sugary milky sweetness, that first delicious taste, imprints itself on a baby’s tiny tongue, and seals forever a great love. From the very beginning of life, then, a yearning for that nectar haunts us forever and never leaves us in peace. This primal urge for sweetness led to the scourge of slavery and fuels the…

Peregrinations and Pilgrimages: Medieval Benedictine Hospitality

If your idea of hospitality is having good friends over for stimulating talk and take-out pizza and beer (good beer, mind you), you may just be a Benedictine at heart. That is, Benedictine as in monk, not liqueur. In the Benedictine charism, true hospitality is a “holy event”, not just a social happening where only…

Hildegard von Bingen, First Female Food Writer in the West?

You may have come a long way, baby, but it’s taken a while. Food historians generally agree that Sabina Welserin of Augsburg, Germany wrote the first cookbook penned by a woman in the West (Europe) in 1553, Kochbuch.  Anna Weckerin’s Ein Küstlich new Köchbuch von allerhand Speisen (A Delicious New Cookbook) appeared in 1598 in…

Of Herbs and Other Country Messes

When the  sage comes to life again, after its long, lonely slumber in the freezing winter, I always just stop for a moment and marvel. How could this happen? Left outside the kitchen door, the sage bows before the relentless blasts of icy winds and heavy snow. Its leaves and branches shrivel to skeletal silhouettes,…

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…