Muses: Cross Creek and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Although I'd read her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Yearling (1938), in high school, I came to admire Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's work more via the great unifier - food. I bought a paperback copy of Cross Creek Cookery nearly forty years after Charles Scribner's Sons first published it. Now the spine on my cheap copy splits…

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William Bartram and the Nature of Florida

There's something about explorers who ventured into the New World that always grips my imagination. Maybe it's because men could leave home for years, move from place to place, free to be the souls they were born to be. As a woman, I could never have done that. Nor would it be easy today, either.…

Traces of Old Florida

I left the house this morning, seeking a sense of normalcy in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. What I found in my neighborhood proves the resilience of old houses in Florida. Battered off and on for over 65 years by hurricanes of all strengths, these gems still stand. And so does the natural setting around…

Weather, Weather, Weather

Good morning to everyone. Hurricane Irma came knocking on my door on Monday, September 11, 2017.  Her gusty breath took down a kingly live oak in my neighbor's yard and threatened to rip up my back fence. Some of my fellow citizens still wade thigh-high in the muddy alligator- and snake-infested water of Newnan's Lake.…

Cooking with Hurricane Irma, Part IV: Going Green: a Riff on Salsa Verde

I, non-Italian, cook a mean roasted pork thing, slathered with ground fennel and coriander seed and white peppercorns, an Italian dish dubbed "Forever Roasted Pork" in Michael Chiarello's Travigne cookbook. And I also see definite correlations between that meltingly soft meat and Southern barbecue, between mechoui and other long-roasted meat dishes from around the world.…

Cooking with Hurricane Irma, Part III: A Tale of Guacamole

The smell of burning diesel alerted me - the bus would be there in a few seconds. With a loud burp, it came to a rubber-losing stop about 10 feet away from I stood. Exiting passengers stumbled down the worn linoleum-covered steps, clutching baskets filled with squawking chickens, small squealing piglets, and sleeping babies wrapped tightly in thread-bare rebozos. Behind…

Cooking with Hurricane Irma, Part II: Pipérade

Pipérade snuck into my life the other day. I mean, I'd known about this universal - global? - combo of tomatoes and garlic and onion and other stuff for some time. Hardly the sort of dish you'd let any culinary culture lay claim to. I mean, come on, what else might a cook do with garlic,…

Cooking with Hurricane Irma, Part I: Tomatoes Breathing Fire: A Universal Sauce

I am of the unpopular opinion that no one owns cuisine. In spite of UNESCO decrees and loud cries from the lecture stand or pages of popular books, the fact remains: Food and ingredients travel with people. People share food. People love food. People want the recipes. Or at least the basic facts about how…

Florida Oranges, and Other White House Desserts

Desserts and sweets served in the White House reflect the culinary history of the United States. The patterns of cooking, eating, and serving food in the White House originally relied heavily on the British heritage of the Thirteen Colonies, a pattern that generally continues until the present day.  Although wars and economic depressions plagued the…

Announcing My New Author Page

You know how sometimes you keep wearing the same old blue work shirt, your favorite wrinkled and threadbare pants, the ones that you bought when you cared more about fashion? It's easy to just grab 'em and tug the waistband a bit this way and that to fit other things that might be changing. And…

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…

This Wild Land: Florida, Zora Neale Hurston, & Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

There is no single face in nature, because every eye that looks upon it, sees it from its own angle. So every man's spice-box seasons his own food. ― Zora Neale Hurston In my house, anyone waking to the soft, misty mornings of a searing Florida summer will be immediately drawn to the coolness of my…

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…

Seeking Food at the Crossroads of History

When it comes to the kitchen, I've always been a seeker, a pilgrim in a more modern sense of the word, "A person travelling to a place of particular personal interest."* It all began on a diesel-perfumed street corner in Puebla, Mexico. I stood in the shadow of a broken streetlight, sunshine and sweaty bodies…

Place and Food, Genius Loci and Terroir

Genius Loci* 1. The prevailing character or atmosphere of a place. 1.1 The presiding god or spirit of a place. ~ Oxford English Dictionary Years ago, psychologist Jon Kabat-Zinn published a book titled Wherever You Go, There You Are (1994). He certainly had a point, and a very, very apt one. You can't shed your…

Just a Few Pictures, and a Few Words

Florida is a state where nearly everybody hails from another place. (1) And that idiosyncrasy makes the state an exciting social laboratory for curious (nosy?) people like me. One of the most intriguing questions right now, out there in the wide expanse of the world, is how people deal with "other people's food." (2) The…

It’s the Environment, Stupid

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. That's true, now more than ever. Mother Earth needs our voices, now more than ever. Yours, mine, everyone's. And so do all the creatures , great and small, the flowers, the trees, the rivers, and the seas. Now, more than ever. The fragility of the environment…

Fussy Eaters, or, The Plants in My Garden

You know how some people are fussy eaters? The ones you hesitate to invite to your table because you’ll end up making three dinners instead of one? Well, I’m learning that plants are worse, much worse. At least some are. Very picky. Very. As a neophyte gardener, for that is essentially how I must describe…

A Day of Farewell

Today, it's official. Today, I hand over the keys to a new seeker. Today is not an ending. It's a beginning. Today is really a day of thanks, thanks for a place that sheltered me, inspired me, soothed me. Today, all I have left is a memory of mountains and mist and mornings ablaze with sunlight. Today, I…

A Night of Jasmine Blooming

My cookbooks now live in a different room, 600 miles south of the mountains they called home for so many years. Their old shelves still cradle them, though. And the odor of fresh Benjamin Moore paint, christened for some reason Acadia White, permeates the air around them.  Every day for a week I've dragged the paint roller…

The Food of Florida: A Grand and Ongoing Experiment

I didn’t know it then, but when I was much – heck, I’ll be really honest here and say a lot –  younger, I began participating in a grand social experiment, one that I understand more with each passing year. Given my nature, the experiment naturally involved food. And that experiment began with a road…

Breath and Air and the Mysteries of Spring

  One day you wake up to icicles and yet another dark, distressing gray morning, powdered with snow. And then, the very next thing you know, you're marveling at the miraculous resurgence of greens and yellows and purples scattered along the sides of the road, the warm sunshine cascading through trees, their skinny bare branches…

Art, Spirit, Life: The Joys and the Sorrows of Trees

My mind fills with thoughts of trees these days. I hear of plans to destroy the landscape here and there across the planet. Greed now claims the upper hand over compassion. You might ask, "Why trees? Surely there are far greater issues around which to rally?" Perhaps. For the moment, I just ask one thing…

The Enchanted Bamboo Forest

Standing still, as would a hunter viewing its prey, I let the moment absorb me. On another day, in another time, I might say “I absorb the moment.” But not this day. A sheer green canopy sways above my head. Tiny glimmers of light shining through the laciness recall cloudless nights in the Sahara Desert,…

The Seminoles, Eli Lilly, and the Ancient Saw Palmetto of Florida

Florida's vegetation reminds me of a willful, obstinate child. You know, the one who seems to be everywhere all at once and defies  all the rules, crossing the line on limits, chocolate smeared across her face, filched from a secret and forbidden stash. Wild and ungovernable, in other words. And saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is one of the wildest…

“Nothing is More the Child of Art than a Garden”*

In the dead of a winter night, I dreamt of a green, sun-filled garden, filled with the thick fat leaves of a jade plant, the feathery tendrils of ferns. I stood in a glassed-walled room, misty with gauzy air, as many dreams are wont to be. Before me, on the other side of the glass,…

Letting Go of Things that Matter Not

I have a story to tell. It's not the usual story that unfolds here. It's a story of meeting up with the inevitability of mortality. As I lay on a stretcher in an ambulance barreling down I-81, sirens blaring at 9 o'clock on an ink-black night, I wasn't thinking of literature. I wasn't thinking of…

Elinor Cooks the Christmas Goose

[Note: This is a portion of a larger work in progress.] Elinor waited until Daniel and Julian left the tavern’s kitchen. Then she tightened her apron and turned to the large wooden worktable facing the hearth. The white goose lay in the market basket, its neck tilted at a squared-off angle, its sightless eye pointing upward,…

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…

Cooking with Wolves (Or, Keeping the Wolf Away from the Door)

There's a whining at the threshold, There's a scratching at the floor. To work! To work! In Heaven's name! The wolf is at the door! ~~~C. P. S. Gilman The season of gift-giving will soon be upon us, with the mail deliverer knocking at our door, bearing credit card bills, not gifts. The holiday season hovers…