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…

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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…

A Glimpse into the World of Men

Men experience the world in different ways, and many of those ways are not always familiar to women. The archetypal American male, the cowboy hat a symbol of the Wild West and all the universal stereotypes of America. The military - once a rite of passage for almost all American men - another stereotype. And…

Picturing the Last Weekend of Fall

Just outside my front door, ice sparkles on the small brown bridge. I know the signs: autumn fled like a thief in the night. Only yesterday, leaves blazing scarlet and saffron hung like Christmas baubles on the trees. Now there's nothing but a memory of those exquisite jewels. Time to burrow and savor the stews…

The Potager of Thomas Jefferson: A Kitchen Garden in Photos

Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, that amazing genius and inventor, and --- according to the late food writer, Karen Hess --- probably America's first real gourmet. Any lover of books, art, architecture, wine, and food should dream of visiting this place at least once. [Note: It's the only house declared a UNESCO World Heritage…

Thomas Jefferson and His Magic “Maccaroni” Machine

Thomas Jefferson, rightly or wrongly credited with first bringing pasta to the tables of Americans, drew a picture of  a pasta-making machine. This drawing, now in the Library of Congress, resulted from a trip to Italy taken by Jefferson in 1787. Don't forget that "macaroni" served as a generic name for pasta and doesn't necessarily…

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 Dinner at Mount Vernon, 1790

George Washington's Virginia plantation, Mount Vernon, served as the backdrop for many scrumptious dinners, cooked by Washington's slave cooks. Just reading this menu* makes my lips twitch and my fingers itch for my wooden spoons. Note that even at the relatively late date of 1790 and independence from England, there's a soup called King's Soup…

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…