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…

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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…

Who is a Chef? Who is a Cook?

There's a lot of confusion out there about just what constitutes a "chef" versus a "cook." Oh yes, and it's a question that many writers have tried to answer. Nothing new there. I'm a big believer in defining terms, realizing of course that terminology and words change meanings over the years. But, that said, and…

Vivre en l’Outre-Mer, or, The Trials of Living in French Congo ca. 1923: Part III

Once settled into their bungalow overlooking Stanley Pool in Brazzaville, the Vassals faced the problem of hiring household help, especially a cook. Unlike many Europeans, they found a cook who knew his business, of whom Gabrielle wrote: I am glad, too, to have a change from German cooking.* Our primitive black Matamba is far superior…

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…

The Expert (French) Cook in Enlightenment France: A Review

If you scrutinize sixteenth-century Dutch artist Pieter Aertsen’s painting, “The Cook in Front of the Stove,” you will see a rather stereotypical image of servant cooks, one that persisted in popular memory in Europe until well into the nineteenth century. Sean Takats, assistant professor of history at George Mason University and codirector of Zotero, attempts…

Vivre en l’Outre-Mer, or, The Trials of Living in French Congo ca. 1923: Part III

Once settled into their bungalow overlooking Stanley Pool in Brazzaville, the Vassals faced the problem of hiring household help, especially a cook. Unlike many Europeans, they found a cook who knew his business, of whom Gabrielle wrote: I am glad, too, to have a change from German cooking.* Our primitive black Matamba is far superior…

Thomas Jefferson: The Francophile Who Became the First U.S. “Foodie”

Thomas Jefferson. President. Scientist. Writer. Man of many passions, some hidden, some not. In his writings and in his actions, food clearly revealed itself as one of those passions. Above all, Jefferson was a Francophile. From the design of his dining room in his house, Monticello, to the gardens surrounding him in the foothills of the…

What Do You Mean You Don’t Need Cookbooks? (Or, What Good are All Those Cookbooks on Your Sagging Shelves?)

I’ll admit it: I collect cookbooks like some people collect plastic pigs or miniature silver tourist-spot spoons or wine corks from bottles they’ve downed. My cookbook collection, like all collections, began small.* When I served with the Peace Corps in Paraguay, my landlady --- the mechanical dentist’s wife --- giggled when I threw my suitcase…

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…

De-Constructing Hawaii’s Loco Moco

For those seeking examples of culinary fusion, Hawaii provides a very deep well to peer into. Rachel Laudan discovered this while teaching at the University of Hawaii and wrote an award-winning book about the subject: The Food of Paradise: Exploring Hawaii’s Culinary Heritage.* One of those fusion dishes which Laudan mentions, albeit briefly, is a…

Holy Mackerel!

Mackerel scales and mares' tails Make lofty ships carry low sails. ‑Old Sailors' Rain Warning‑ (Due to family obligations for a few weeks, I'm posting some previous posts that I've dusted off and updated. ) Alas, the poor mackerel!  A sky resembling its scales bodes rains. An unfriendly person is "cold as a mackerel". "Dead…

A Russian Cook

Another good appetizer is stewed white mushrooms, with onion, you know, and bay leaf and other spices. You lift the lid off the dish, and the steam rises, a smell of mushrooms ... sometimes it really brings tears to my eyes! ~~Anton Chekov, "The Siren" With the publication of Gourmet magazine beginning in 1941, stories…

Souls of Cooks

Slipping like honey off  a silver spoon, all the words build up to an earth-shaking, and revolutionary, crescendo. For the first time in history, cooks' words crisscross the globe,  through thin wires and invisible waves of energy, thanks to the Internet. Never before have the words of so many cooks reached so many people, making…

In the Kitchen with Barbara Kingsolver: I

I'm going to bed every night now with Barbara Kingsolver's latest book, The Lacuna: A Novel, about Mexico, politics, art, El Norte, and --- best of all --- cooks. After her last book (Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: A Year of Food Life), Kingsolver still finds food a fascinating part of life. In The Lacuna, here's how…

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…

To the Cooks, Prosit! Part II

He turns the spit who never tasted a morsel from it. Proverbes en Rimes, no. 117. Continuing our salute to cooks this holiday season (Thanksgiving), today's post includes some depictions of male cooks, as well as female cooks. Medieval opinions of cooks, mostly men, tended to reflect the lowly status accorded to people who worked…

To the Cooks, Prosit! Part I

Sir Thomas More in his Utopia (1516), in delineating what would make an ideal society, said: .. all vyle service, all slaverie and drudgerye, with all the laboursome toyle and busines, is done by bondmen. But the women of every famelie by course have the office and charge of cokerye ... and orderyng al thinges…

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…

Ghosts of Gourmet: Ann Seranne

About three days ago, caught in the throes of egg cookery, I realized that Ann Seranne's name doesn't ring a whole lot of bells these days in food circles. Who? Even Alice Arndt's celebrated Culinary Biographies fails to mention Seranne. We shouldn't ignore this lady and her place in the pantheon of culinarians contributing to…

The Chicken or the Egg? 3. Instructions to the Cook

Eggs a guilty pleasure? There's a reason for that. Thanks to Dr. Thomas Royle Dawber’s research team and the famous “gold standard” Framingham Study,[1] eggs morphed into things to be eaten on the sly, enjoyed alone, like a whole bag of foil-wrapped Dove chocolates. Based on the weak statistical correlation between cholesterol levels and heart…

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…

If Salvador Dalí Dreamed Ferran Adrià

In honor of Gourmet magazine of dear and cherished memory (and my Danish father-in-law, who would have scoffed loudly and asked for more roast beef, mange tak), I present this link to a video of a multi-course meal ("The Alchemist") in a futuristic restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark, Bo Bech at Restaurant Paustian. Gorgeous music, accompanied…

To Balance, Strength, Love, Faith, and Hope:* Jehangir Mehta’s Mantra

Reflecting the ayurvedic principle of balance, chef Jehangir Mehta’s cookbook, Mantra: The Rules of Indulgence (2008), carries the imaginative use of flavorings to nirvanaic levels. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Indian-born Mehta draws on the centuries-old practices found in Indian cuisine and combines them in startling ways with many traditional Western, and…

Boarding House Food in Lagos, Nigeria

In Africa, boarding houses enjoy a popularity resembling that of the nineteenth- and early-twentieth centuries in the USA, for the same reasons. More reasonable in cost than buying a house or living in an apartment, a boarding house also eliminates the need to worry about food preparation. Many students, such as those attending school in…

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…

The Chinese in the West: How Railroad Coolies Ate

Until our own times, the nineteenth century saw some of the most profound changes in social structure and population movements in the history of the world. How people fed themselves also changed as people migrated from continent to continent. Boarding houses became extremely common and popular beginning in the nineteenth, thanks to this movement of…