At the Tables of the Monks: The Larderer

With this blog post, our tales of the monastic kitchen come to an end ---  for now. THE LARDERER (p. 203-204) [Note: The Abbey paid the larderer for his services, since this person did not belong to the cloistered community.] The larderer should be “as perfect, just, and faithful a servant” as could be found.…

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At the Tables of the Monks: The Infirmary Cook

THE COOK FOR THE INFIRMARY (p. 204-205) [Note: The Abbey paid the infirmary cook for his services, since this person did not belong to the cloistered community.] For the infirmary, and especially for the use of those who had been subjected to the periodical blood-letting, there was a special cook skilled in the preparation of…

At the Tables of the Monks: The Guest-Hall Cook

THE GUEST-HALL COOK (p. 206) [Note: The Abbey paid the gust-hall cook  for his services, since this person did not belong to the cloistered community.] The cook to attend to the needs of visitors was appointed by the cellarer, and had under him a boy to help in any way he might direct. His office…

At the Tables of the Monks: The Abbot’s Cook

THE ABBOT’S COOK (p. 202-203) [Note: The Abbey paid the abbot's cook  for his services, since this person did not belong to the cloistered community.] This official held more the position of a steward, or valet to the superior, than that of a cook. He had to go each morning to the abbot or prior…

Monastery Kitchens

Abbatia quae vocitatur Bellus Locus Monasteries in the Middle Ages tended to follow similar layouts. Beaulieu Abbey, a Cistercian abbey in Hampshire, England, now in ruins, once supported a large number of people. It started out with 120 cows and 20 bulls, all very conducive to cheese-making. Beaulieu Abbey's floor plan shows a tiny kitchen…

Guinea Fowl, Pintade, Faraona

I first ran into guinea fowl in South America, little balls of feathers covered with Seurat-like pointillage. Later, in Burkina Faso, I’d see them darting like roadrunners here and there along the sides of the road. Numida meleagris, the helmeted guinea fowl, speak in rather harsh-sounding voices and prefer lots of company. A cousin to…

American Cookbooks: History 101 (II)

Continued from April 28, 2009: By the 1820s other cookbooks followed, The Virginia Housewife among them, written by Mary Randolph, a member of one of Virginia's first families. These cookbooks were different from what we know today. They failed to mention of the size of the dishes used in baking, the number of portions the…

American Cookbooks: History 101 (I)

(The following comments stem from a talk I gave to a group interested in the Peacock-Harper Culinary History collection at Virginia Tech.) A long time ago, while standing on the corner on a dusty street in Puebla, Mexico, I  experienced an epiphany. As I watched the housewives in rebozos (shawls) and young secretaries teetering on…

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) …

Ibn Sayyār al-Warrāq: The Tenth-Century’s Answer to Jamie Oliver?

Sit at dinner tables as long as you can, and converse to your hearts' desire, for these are the bonus times of your lives. (Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens, p. x) Talk about a window into the past and a mirror to the present! A thousand years plus some separate us from the author and…

The Pope and the Porcupine

When it's soft, eat the stone and throw the porcupine out. Old saying about tough meat. Chef Bartolomeo Scappi (1500-1577) cooked for two popes (Pius V, for one), as well as for several cardinals. Fortunately for posterity, he also wrote a fat, hands-on tome about  cooking and serving food in Renaissance Italy. Terence Scully's invaluable…

Scottish Eggs, Anyone?

Scotland's been in the news a lot lately. But what do Scottish people eat? That's the question. Tea, most likely. That's a good place to start. Oatmeal, in scones and porridge (just for breakfast, you would hope). Yes. And whisky. Scotland produces some of the best whisky in the world. Smoky. Peaty. Can't go wrong…

Cape Malay Cooking

A Cape Malay Cooking Safari: A little history and a scene-setting food shopping tour, then comes the food and a cooking class. Cape Malay Cookbooks and a recipe: The Cape Malay Illustrated Cookbook, by Fadela Williams More Cape Malay Cooking,  by Faldela Williams South African Cape Malay Cooking, by Sonia Allison and Myrna Robins Traditional…

Safari Cooking: The Cook (II)

In John Tinney McCutcheon's book,  In Africa: Hunting Adventures in Big Game Country (1910), he  wrote the following words about an apparent jewel of a cook, whose hands moved in the kitchen with the touch of angels.  (And this after a very Eurocentric introduction to said personage, Abdullah his safari cook, in which McCutcheon focused on…

African Cookbook Project

Fran Osseo-Asare deserves a big hand for all her work on raising awareness of African cooking in the United States. The author of Food Culture in Sub-Saharan Africa, Dr. Osseo-Asare, a sociologist, initiated a project aimed at collecting African cookbooks, along with TEDGLOBAL in Arusha, Tanzania in June, 2007. One interesting post (among many) on…

Dame Alice de Bryene’s Household Book: Easter 1413

One of the most spectacular "finds" related to English medieval history, The Household Book of Dame Alice de Bryene (1931 edition) provides a detailed glimpse into the daily life of an English gentry household over the period 1412 - 1413, down to the exact food purchases and the price paid. It tells of widowed Dame…

Eggplant: Passage from India

Considering that people over the centuries have blamed eggplant for "causing insanity, acting as an aphrodisiac, and serving as a dental cosmetic,"* it's no wonder eggplant tended not to "take" in certain cultures. United States, yes. India, no. Some experts say India gave birth to eggplant, called brinjal or baingun, originally called vartaka or vrntaka.…

Eggplant: Mezze Time

With this post, we continue on our journey of exploration , attempting to learn where eggplant came from and how cooks over the centuries treated it. No discussion of eggplant can ignore baba ghanouj, a dish made with puréed eggplant and tahini (sesame seed paste). According to Nawal Nasrallah, author of one of the few…

Eggplant: An Exploration (Part I)

Eggplant is startling in its morphologic versatility and variety of taste possibilities. If you only regard it as that plump purple mystery of a thing sitting on shelves at the grocer's, think again. Laurie Colwin, a talented food writer who died young, once wrote an essay titled "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant," about…

Majorie Kinnan Rawlings and Cross Creek

No longer a well-known writer, Pulitzer-Prize winner Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings deserves more attention. Author of the popular coming-of-age novel, The Yearling (1938), Rawlings immortalized the lives of the rural people of north Florida, often derisively called "Crackers." This photo essay grew out of my recent trip to north central Florida, as well as from long-term…

Life, Love, and Lost Raviolis

The food memoir seemingly pops out everywhere these days. It's the hot new genre in writing.  Some authors coin a phrase and tell a story better than others. Most bog down the reader right away, with dramatic and overwritten accounts of trauma suffered in the kitchen or in love,  unwrapping personal anecdotes best kept tightly…

Ham and Eggs

Omne vivum ex ovo. "All life comes from an egg." --Latin Proverb-- Eggs and Easter go together like...ham and eggs? Well, it hasn't always been that way. Christians first celebrated Easter in the second century A.D. and the Council of Nicaea, convened in 325 A.D. by the Emperor Constantine, set the official date for Easter.…

Cooking and Eating: Some Harsh Truths

Food thoughts for munching ... thanks to Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards, the originator of home economics, or domestic science. Nutritional psychologist Marc David states that Most nutritional assertions that originate from authoritative sources [like the home economics/domestic science movement that began in the late nineteenth century] have a brief shelf life. Our nutritional information is…

St. Joseph’s Day

St. Joseph's Day (March 19) always enthralls me because of the elaborate "tables" that Italian women created in honor of Saint Joseph. In many ways, these "tables" remind me of Mexican Day of the Dead altars. Here's a link that takes you to a site with first-person accounts of the feast-day celebration and customs.

The Book of Sent Sovi­: Medieval Recipes from Catalonia (Textos B)

The discovery of "new" old cookbooks always makes my brain tingle --- so few people wrote down anything about the most basic of human activities --- eating --- that written records of any sort demand celebration and acclaim. The Book of Sent Sovi is one of those ... The Book of Sent Sovi, composed around…