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…

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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…

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…

Women and the Building of America: Reflections

Last night, I stayed awake far longer than I normally do, reading Gayle Forman's new novel, Leave Me. The hook for me was "Every woman who has ever fantasized about driving past her exit on the highway instead of going home to make dinner, and every woman who has ever dreamed of boarding a train…

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…

Day 6: Beef – Celebrate American Food History

 War and food, a timeless tale. Unfortunately. Today's story is about beef, the meat - as we all know - that become synonymous with Britain and went on to become a major force in the American economy in the nineteenth century, as well as providing for a rather mythological view of the American West. (Hint:…

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,…

Lettice Bryan’s Forgotten Cookbook, The Kentucky Housewife, and Squirrel Soup Two Ways: A Touch of Americana

It’s maddening, but true: we know very little about the authors of some of best cookbooks ever written in America. Thanks to today’s 24/7 media cycle, Paula Deen’s foibles and Rachael Ray’s battle with her weight are no mystery. But we know next to zilch about Lettice Bryan, who wrote an amazingly detailed, 1300-recipe cookbook,…

Eating Dessert at the White House + A Word about Dallas, November 22, 1963*

Bill Yosses, the current White House pastry chef says pie is the all-time favorite in the Obama White House, but adds that “The dessert that was the biggest hit last year was a sugar cookie in the shape of the First Family’s dog, Bo. This year we have a black and yellow bumblebee to celebrate…

Pears – an Exploration of Ancient Food Preservation

The soft, beguiling fragrance permeates the air, rising above the aroma of the Jonagolds and the Galas, even over the sweet perfume of the Golden Delicious apples piled in baskets, resembling yellow baseballs. The knobby Bartlett pears (Pyrus communis), also known as the Williams pear, still slightly green but with a small and promising pink…

Foods for a Funeral and a Farewell

What to make of the lavish feasts that come after a funeral? When I attended my first funeral, at age 27, I cried a lot, even though I didn't know the  deceased, my sister-in-law's father. My grandparents all died before I turned 20 and lived 1250 miles away. Living as my family did on a…

Buttering Up

Peppermint flavoring, almond extract, gooey candied fruit, thick dark molasses, perfumey cardamom … the list could go mouth-wateringly on and on. Christmas cooking and Christmas baking demand many ingredients not normally used in everyday cooking. And that’s what makes the holiday season such a sheer delight for those besotted with all things culinary. But one…

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 in Colonial Williamsburg

Now Christmas comes, ‘tis fit that we Should feast and sing, and merry be; Keep open house, let fiddlers play, A fig for cold, sing care away; And may they who thereat repine, On brown bread and small beer dine. Virginia Almanack 1766 To paraphrase former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld: There’s the Williamsburg Christmas…

The Historic Gastronomist

Like old cookbooks? Like old recipes? Then don't miss this down-to-earth video, shot by Liza de Guia, entitled “The Historic Gastronomist,” about a 27-year-old Brooklyn woman named Sarah Loman who is resuscitating centuries old recipes from American history. Loman writes a food history blog called "Four Pounds Flour." Meet Sarah Lohman. She's not a professional…

The Chicken or the Egg? 2. The Cooking of Eggs

There is reason in roasting of eggs! ~~~ James Boswell, Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides In nineteenth-century America, giddy with conquest and Manifest Destiny, domestic science denizens rose up, called themselves home economists, and jumped on the bandwagon of cleanliness and right thought. The results of that movement set the stage for today’s…

Boarding Houses, Fodder for Popular Culture

Boarding houses, a slice of the folkloric American food story ... American food icon James Beard grew up in an Oregon boarding house operated by his mother.  And New York Times food writer Craig Claiborne cut his teeth in his mother's Mississippi boarding house kitchen. In a way, we’re still feeling the impact of those…

Lumberjack Culinary Lingo

Unlike cowboy lingo, lumberjack lingo did not add many words to the pantheon of American spoken English.  Nevertheless, this fascinating list of terms --- used by lumberjacks to describe food and items associated with food and cooking --- proves highly entertaining. Notice the meaning of "pregnant woman pie," for one. Axle Grease: butter Bait Can:…

Bean Burners and Hash Rasslers: More Logging Camp Food

On a typical day in 1929, cooks at Ritter Company Camps of Dickenson County, Virginia , served the following menus to anywhere from 75 - 100 loggers: BREAKFAST: Cornflakes Oatmeal Stewed or fried apples Canned peaches Fried ham, pork chops, or beef steak, with country gravy Fried potatoes Biscuits Butter, jam, jelly, syrup Coffee, milk…

The Appetite of Paul Bunyan

Legends and folklore provide wonderful entrées into cultures. And in the United States we’ve generated a few of these delectable tall tales ourselves. Take the mythical lumberjack Paul Bunyan, who stands heads above the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow and other similar characters. Lumberjacks created Paul and, with each telling, he grew bigger.  And hungrier.…

Questions, and More Questions …

I think that travel comes from some deep urge to see the world, like the urge that brings up a worm in an Irish bog to see the moon when it is full. ~Lord Dunsany Sitting in the passenger seat of any conveyance for any length of time gives a person plenty of time to…

The Triumvirate of American Cooking

TRIUMVIRATE: Latin triumvirātus, from triumvirī, board of three [men] Americans owe a lot to the following three people --- without them our grocery stores and larders and pantries would still be filled with cans of baked beans and boxes of Jell-O.* James Beard Julia Child Craig Claiborne *David Kamp's The United States of Arugula (2006) …

Manuscript Cookbooks

Three manuscript cookbooks held in Virginia Tech's Newman Library's Special Collections promise rich material for food history scholars. Food historian Rachel Laudan says this about manuscript cookbooks in Mexico: What are not included in this list are manuscript cookbooks. Many of the great convents in Mexico still have magnificent manuscript cookbooks from the eighteenth century. …

Roots on My Mind: Rutabagas

'The next we come to is the Rootabaga Country where the big city is the Village of Liver-and-Onions,' said Gimme the Ax, looking again in his pocket to be sure he had the long slick yellow leather slab ticket with a blue spanch across it. .... ~~Carl Sandburg, Rootabaga Stories Rutabagas (Brassicca napus), also called…

500 Years of Grapes and Wine in America: A Remarkable Story

Curated by Prof. Dan Longone and Jan Longone, February 16-May 29, 2009 Clements Library, University of Michigan Open to the public, free of charge, Mon-Fri 1-5pm Lecture on the exhibition, Sunday May 10, 3-5pm Prof. Dan Longone and Jan Longone Co-sponsored by the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor PLEASE ADDRESS ANY QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS TO:…

Top 10 Food Trends for 2009 — According to the Food Channel

[Note: This post is a bit of a rant in reaction to the Food Channel list of trends for 2009.] The Food Channel announced its predictions for foodie trends in 2009. (See The Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch for the whole story, based on a press release from the Food Channel.) 1.  Home on the Range…

Celebrate Colonial American Cooking: Cookbooks for Thanksgiving and Christmas

Want to celebrate American food history and ingenuity this year? The great state of Virginia gave birth to eight U.S. presidents --- George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Woodrow Wilson. And they all liked to eat, some more than others. In fact, Thomas Jefferson still…