Cooking Cuban During El Período Especial Estadounidense

The picadillo at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, a neighborhood in Tampa, Florida. That's where it began, where the seed got planted. I'd just turned 21. To celebrate, several friends treated me to a fancy dinner there. And I ordered the picadillo, sided with a lime dacquiri. I think. I vaguely recall black beans,…

Hoarder? Bibliophile? Collector?

Hoarding. The word refers to an excessive need to stockpile something, usually food, for example during times of scarcity. In our modern consumerist culture, hoarding has become a source of entertainment. Or worse. The first – and only – time I watched an episode of “Hoarders”, I turned the TV off after about 10 minutes.…

“Railroad Cake”, an Historic Recipe from Haile Homestead, and Sarah Rutledge Takes a Back Seat

Esther Serena Chesnut Haile, born in Camden, South Carolina in 1827, migrated to the Florida frontier with her husband Thomas Haile in 1854. As was the case with many women in those days, Serena bore many children over her reproductive years, 15 to be exact. I suspected that perhaps Serena might have carried a copy…

A Handbook for Historic Recipe Reconstruction and Cookbook Analysis: “A Hastiness of Cooks”

Did you know that you can cook from hundreds of historic cookbooks without spending a lot of money, except perhaps for your monthly internet fee? Or maybe even for free, if you use the computers at a public library? There are vast digital collections of historic cookbooks and manuscripts just waiting for you to use.…

Before There was Martha S., There was Martha B.*

Martha Bradley's The British Housewife (1756) has long fascinated me, for all her detail and  precise instructions. And, most of all,  for her emphasis on local foods, long before Alice Waters or Michael Pollan were gleams in the eye of God. Of course, the other point I want to make here is this: the English were quite…

Capouns In Councys, from The Forme of Cury (1390)

Just an example of the type of recipes you will be able to recreate with the help of my upcoming book, A Hastiness of Cooks.  Recipe reconstructed and recreated from archaic language. An example of what's in my upcoming book, "A Hastiness of Cooks." Chicken in a saffron-infused sauce, flavored with Poudre Forte, or "Strong Powder."…

THE GOURMAND AWARDS

Just a note - life's busy - to share the shortlist for The Gourmand Awards. "What is that," you might ask? Here's their take on it: "The Gourmand Awards are the major Food Culture event in the world. They started in 1995 for cookbooks and wine books, at Frankfurt Book Fair. They now include all…

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…

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…

Day 4: Corn – Celebrate American Food History

English novelist Charles Dickens once compared eating cornbread to eating a pincushion. In that disdainful sentiment, I see generations of English and other European people trying to adapt to this New World grain when their favorite grain - wheat - failed to thrive. Corn, or maize/Indian corn as it was called by the early settlers, originated -…

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,…

African Cuisines: Cookbooks for Exploration and Discovery of Superb Flavors

Only one of this year’s new releases in print cookbooks covers the cooking of Africa, unless you count books about Moroccan cooking by Fatéma Hal and Z. Guinaudeau, as well as Kittee Berns’s Teff Love: Adventures in Vegan Ethiopian Cooking. The rest only come in Kindle editions, a medium which is not my first choice…

What is Bliss to Me is Not Bliss to You …

I woke this morning to fire in the sky, my kitchen windows portals to the universe. The knowing hit me: this is bliss, to see, to know, to feel. To be alive, surrounded by a heart-throbbing beauty that really has no name.  Mother Earth shares this bliss with us and with every living creature. Home, as…

From Mother Russia with Love: Meaty Mushrooms and Relentless Lent

One of her greatest pleasures in summer was the very Russian sport of hodit’ po gribi (looking for mushrooms). Fried in butter and thickened with sour cream her delicious finds appeared regularly on the dinner table. Not that the gustatory moment mattered much. Her main delight was in the quest. ~~ Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory…

Cookbooks for the Season: Preserving is the Hot Topic These Days

  At this time of the year, cookbooks flow like rivers out of publishing houses. The usual stabs at global cuisine are always there, covering everything cooking-related from Vietnam to Persia to Cuba, with the usual obsequious curtsies to France and Italy. Gluten-free and farm fresh crop up, too. But the most interesting trend in…

A Reality Checklist about Romanticizing Kitchens Past

Every year during the holiday season, many media sources provide lists of cookbooks, primarily to jump-start the gift-giving proclivities of their readers. This year I’m getting a head start. Only thing is, my list is different. Most of the books I'm suggesting are free - they're all vintage. And not as “vintage” seems to be defined nowadays, as…

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,…

Why I Love Cookbooks

“Once you have mastered a technique, you barely have to look at a recipe again.” ― Julia Child, Julia's Kitchen Wisdom: Essential Techniques and Recipes from a Lifetime of Cooking  Everybody says it happens, yes. Love at first sight. Real or not? I must concur – it is true, at least for me, when it comes to…

Cutting Boards and French Comfort Food

Worn and well-used cutting boards like mine, made from one piece of blonde oak, tell stories of past meals. This gouge here, that’s from the day I sliced the boule with the extra thick crust, for the open-faced cheese-and-tomato sandwiches. And that dent there, well, I pressed a little too hard on the chef’s knife…

The Cucumber and the Cook: The Humor Behind it All

The vegetable [cucumbers}, though apt to disagree with persons of delicate habit, when sauced in the common English mode, with salt, pepper, and vinegar only, may often be eaten by them with impunity when dressed with plenty of oil. Eliza Acton   The long, fat cucumber sits at the bottom of the paper sack, like a well-fed…

The Wonder Spice: A Review of Turmeric, a Cookbook by Colleen Taylor Sen and Helen Saberi

Several years ago, I set up an informal experiment with an observation of two: in my tiny two-person household, I cooked and ate only Indian food for one month, relying heavily on cookbooks by Julie Sahni and Madhur Jaffrey. I felt terrific, with more energy and alertness than I knew what to do with. Of…

The Biggest Food Revolution Ever: The Printed Cookbook?

Like many women, and quite a few men, I learned to cook some five or six basic dishes from my mother. And even then, it was all oral. Nothing written. Nevertheless, as a modern person, I guess, I desired to know and understand much more about cooking and cuisine and began to accumulate books on…

And More Gifts: A Selection of Food and Culinary History Books Published in 2013

Before I list my choice of books for 2013, a caveat: I have not read all of these yet. What I attempt here is to list the food and culinary history tomes that interest me (and hopefully you!), published in 2013. The descriptions of these books come from various sources, usually the publisher. That said, if…

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…

Tomato Sauce with Butter: Thinking About Marcella Hazan, My Nonna in Spirit

My little brother took his first breath on a cold day in February, when doctors still made house visits and new mothers still spent days in the hospital. And that was good, as far as I was concerned, for during those 4 or 5 days that my mother lay exhausted in the maternity ward, I…

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…

Macarons – Food of Dreams and Fairy Tales

Macarons. Truly an example of "Don't try this at home." But how I longed to recreate the taste and the crunch of the macarons I greedily ate as often as I could, when I passed that fairy-tale bakery on the Rue de Rivoli, close to the Hotel de Ville metro stop: Maison Georges Larnicol. Although…

At My French Table

If as a child you loved fairy tales and dreamt of being Cinderella, or if you longed to be the handsome prince with a turreted castle, you’re going to adore Jane Webster’s gloriously illustrated At My French Table: Food, Family and Joie de Vivre in a Corner of Normandy. The book imparts the warm feeling you get…

Rationing and the Black Market in Nazi-Occupied France: Some Thoughts

"Life is hard (On vit mal). Everyone grows thinner. A kilo of butter costs one thousand francs. A kilo of peas forty-five francs. A kilo of potatoes forty francs. Still we must find them." - Jean Guéhenno, August 1944 Speaking as the beneficiary of an immense system of food production in the twenty-first century, as…

The Roger Smith Cookbook Conference

Just a reminder that you will be able to see some 10 of the 28 sessions live and for free on Friday and Saturday, February 10 and 11, 2012. See schedule of free sessions below. To brighten up a dreary February in 2011, a group of food scholars and cookbook writers started a cookbook conference.…