Happy Christmas 2015!

I wish all of you the very best Christmas, no matter where you cook! Thank you all for everything and inspiring me to keep on writing about my favorite subject: food.

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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

  No matter what you call your holiday, or where you are, I would like to take a moment to wish you very happy and merry days. At this time of the year in the northern hemisphere, the days are short and the nights long, elements that lend to reflections on the cycle of life,…

Christmas in the White House: President Benjamin Harrison’s Carlsbad Wafers and His 1890 Christmas Dinner

President Benjamin Harrison, being a card-carrying participant of the Gilded Age, and his wife Caroline Scott Harrison served an unusual dinner on Christmas day, 1890. (The menu follows below.) Unusual in one way. Carlsbad Wafers. Huh? The mention of Carlsbad Wafers stopped me in my tracks for a minute. Like a curious cat, whiskers trembling,…

The Gift of French Cuisine

The French peasant cuisine is at the basis of the culinary art. By this I mean it is composed of honest elements that la grande cuisine only embellishes. -Alexandre Dumaine I don’t remember exactly when it happened. One day I resisted even opening my then-pristine copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking…

Remembering the Magic and Wishing for Peace on Earth

I dedicate this post to the children and the parents, everywhere, especially Newtown, Connecticut. Every year, in December, a marvelous thing happens. At least I think it's wonderful. And not for the reasons you might think. Christmas comes around, bringing with it a sense of magic in the air, some thing that I felt as…

How to Tempt the Scrooges, or, Christmas, the Cooking Season

I love Christmas. Yes, I really do. For I see Christmas as a time that allows us - in these rather sterile, rigid United States, anyway - to cut loose and string up gaudy gee-gaws all over the house. To transcend the daily. To feel the seasonal and mythic cycles of past times. To celebrate…

SUGARPLUM VISIONS: Christmas Cookies

...visions of sugarplums danced in their heads. ~~Clement C. Moore~~ " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas" Happy Holidays to all readers and visitors to Gherkins & Tomatoes / Cornichons et Tomates! I will "see" you again on January 2. 'Tis soon the season to be jolly. And to bake cookies, the sugarplums of today. I'm…

Thinking of Others as You Bite into that Bûche de Noël

David Lebovitz --- a whiz of a pastry chef, cookbook author, and food blogger --- got me thinking this morning about the meaning of all the glitz and glitter out there, if only I could just get out of my icy driveway. David is giving away a set of Le Creuset cookware, a gift to…

Gifts of French Food: Blogs to Hold in Wonder

With each gust of drafty air from the front door, the candles  shimmer, and the flickering light scintillates off blood-red wine glasses and the golden gilt rimming them. Your mouth rounds in an "O" as you see the table for the first time. The sight never fails to cast its spell as, for a brief…

Un Petit Départ, Un Petit “Au Revoir”, or, Helping Père Noël and Saint Nicolas

During this Christmas season,  Gherkins & Tomatoes / Cornichons & Tomates will be in a state of flux, assisting Père Noël and St. Nicolas with the festivities here, as well as hibernating and storing up fat (information) for future posts. Needless to say, posting may become sporadic until January 6 (Epiphany). I wish you all a…

The Provençal Thirteen: Fennel- and Cumin-Scented Sablés

In France, you'll find sablés,  buttery cookies that originated in Normandy. (You know they had all that butter to get rid of there.) Most sablés are sweet. But in Provence, for the famous Thirteen Desserts of Christmas Eve, cooks prefer savory little disks perfumed with fennel and cumin. Cumin? How did cumin get into mix?…

Nougat Noir, or Black Nougat, Another of the Thirteen Desserts

A Provençal gros souper (Christmas Eve dinner) would not be correct without some nougat noir to challenge the skill of your dentist and possibly lay waste to your dental work. In other words, nougat noir can be a bête [bite!] noire*, if you're not careful. For nougat noir is a hard candy, not the pillowy stuff…

Les Quatre Mendiants au Chocolat, A Candy Offshoot of Provence’s Thirteen Christmas Desserts

Gorgeous, huh? Yummy? You bet! And the best part is that, with a quick flick of a switch and your wrist, you too can make these beauties, part of the Thirteen Desserts of a Provençal Christmas. Mendiants au Chocolat Noir ou Blanc Makes about 75 - 100 candies, depending on size of circles 1 pound…

Begging the Question: Les Quatre Mendiants and Provence’s Thirteen Christmas Desserts

The truth is, the dishes associated with Provence's Thirteen Desserts abound with religious symbolism. Take the Four Beggars, or Les Quatre Mendiants, which symbolize something that we in the secular West have basically lost, a sense of awe and fear about the natural world and all that is in it. The Thirteen Desserts likely represented…

Panis focacius, la Gibacié, and la Pompe à l’huîle, Kin Under the Crust, One of the Thirteen

Christmas cakes were baking, the famous pompou and fougasse, as they were called, dear to the hearts of the children of old Provence. ~~ Christmas in Legend and Story A Book for Boys and Girls I've always loved the "Jacob's Ladder" look of fougasse. The lacy leaf-like lattice reminds me of the connection between bread and…

One of the Thirteen, the Tangerine

The color certainly captures your attention, doesn't it? Such a glossy --- almost neon --- orange. When I was a kid, I always wondered if anyone else ever got a wrinkly tangerine bumping around in their Christmas stocking. At some point along the way, I found out that the Victorians were big on citrus fruit…

Citron* (Cédrat), Jewel-Like Morsel of Provence’s Thirteen Christmas Desserts

Ugh. Citron. I’ll bet that’s what you’re thinking. I know, because that’s what I thought when it dawned on me that citron (Citrus medica) really counted as one of the Thirteen Desserts of Provence. You’ve no doubt seen (and eaten) the chewy, rock-like squares of “citron” sold in your local grocery store, there to be…

No Partridges, Just Thirteen Desserts: French Christmas Culinary Traditions

I love culinary traditions ... and usually I don't mind cooking all the foods associated with upholding those traditions.  Like Thanksgiving dinner, for example. Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole (from scratch, mind you), pumpkin pie with whipped cream (crust handmade just prior to baking), and sweet potato casserole (no marshmallows).…

Mulled Wine, a Timeless Taste of the Divine?

"He has given us plenty of merriment, I am sure," said Fred, "and it would be ungrateful not to drink his health. Here is a glass of mulled wine ready to our hand at the moment; and I say, 'Uncle Scrooge'!" "Well! Uncle Scrooge!" they cried. "A Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to…

Pandolce: From Liguria with Love, Thanks to Laura Schenone

Laura Schenone, author of the soulful The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken and the scholarly (and prize-winning) A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove, traveled back to Liguria for Christmas in 2007. From that trip came her perpetual Christmas gift to all of us, Pandolce. In an article in the December 2008 issue of SAVEUR…

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 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 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…

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…

Christmas Cheer, or, Fire Up the Reindeer

Black Friday marks the first "official" day of Christmas, er, shopping, that is. (You know it's almost Christmas when the day after Halloween, the grocery stores start hauling out the red ribbon and fake mistletoe.) A bit premature, but that's cultural change for you. Used to be that you couldn't find a bit of tinsel…