The Threads of Time, or, Who is that Woman in the Painting?

I stood in front of her, the dim buzzing of children’s voices fading behind me. Her glowing face stared out at me, a wisp of a smile on her perfect lips, a vast verdant landscape stretching out behind her. Leaning close to the tiny sign to the right of the painting, I read “Mrs. Davies…

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Lessons from “The Great British Bake Off”

I binge watch cooking shows. Instead of reading intellect-stimulating tomes such as Homer's The Iliad (who amongst you can say that you have???), lately I've been spending my precious time on earth transfixed by Paul Hollywood's piercing blue eyes, calmed by Mary Berry's soothing voice, cheering on the indomitable bakers of "The Great British Bake…

The Curry Guy

Curry. I can't live without it. And thus it was only natural that I used some of my Santa Claus money to buy myself a copy of Dan Toombs's clever cookbook, The Curry Guy: Recreate Over 100 of the Best British Indian Restaurant Recipes at Home (2017). The cooking found in British Indian Restaurants. Or BIRs.…

Happy Christmas to All!

At Christmastime, my kitchen becomes a place where past and present merge.  Through food, I honor my ancestors - the known, the unknown, and the never-to-be knowns, all the people whose DNA runs through my veins and shapes my nose and determines my character. They hailed from Dorset, Devon, Somerset, Cheshire, Lincoln, London, Kent ...…

A Murder of Crows, An Unkindness of Ravens

They're not visible to the naked eye, but I hear their raucous cawing every day, the very second I open the door.  Crows, maybe ravens. No matter where I live, these glossy black birds congregate. The only place on earth to escape these intelligent creatures lies far south, in Antarctica. Crows and ravens eat whatever…

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…

Elinor Cooks the Christmas Goose

[Note: This is a portion of a larger work in progress.] Elinor waited until Daniel and Julian left the tavern’s kitchen. Then she tightened her apron and turned to the large wooden worktable facing the hearth. The white goose lay in the market basket, its neck tilted at a squared-off angle, its sightless eye pointing upward,…

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,…

A Tarte to prouoke courage either in man or Woman.

Thomas Dawson’s pie recipe (The Good Housewife’s Jewell, 1596) was meant to impart courage to a man or a woman, the sweet potato being considered an aphrodisiac at the time: A Tarte to prouoke courage either in man or Woman. TAKE a quart of good wine, and boyle therein two Burre rootes scraped cleane, two good Quinces,…

The Ancient Story Behind Veterans’/Armistice Day, or, The Significance of St. Martin of Tours

"On the morning of November 11 I [Colonel Thomas Gowenlock] sat in my dugout in Le Gros Faux, which was again our division headquarters, talking to our Chief of Staff, Colonel John Greely, and Lieutenant Colonel Paul Peabody, our G-1. A signal corps officer entered and handed us the following message: Official Radio from Paris -…

News and Views

First of, I would like to point out a new feature on "Gherkins & Tomatoes / Cornichons & Tomatoes." Go to the sidebar on the right and scroll down until you see ALL 700+ POSTS – CLICK ON THE BOX AND USE DOWN ARROW KEY This feature gives you the ability to browse through a…

The Eels of Hannah, Or, Hannah Glasse’s Lenten Recipes

Poor Hannah Glasse. Literally. Except for Martha Stewart, she may be the only cookery book writer who did hard time for financial woes. Author of The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, this eighteenth-century woman lived a life that her contemporary Jane Austen could have invented in one of her novels. You know, young…

Dig for Victory! Locavorism in Eons Past

Looking at the past almost always calls up that old adage: "There's nothing new under the sun."* Take locavorism's wartime antecedents ... As these WWII posters from England's "Dig for Victory!" campaign prove, the idea of local foods is not one whose time has come, but whose time has come again. Aimed at encouraging the…

Saints, Souls, and Haints: Still Nuts

Jonkheer L. C. van Panhuys, in Proceedings, Vol. 2 (p. 698, 1904), from the Internationaler Amerikanisten-Kongress held in Stuttgart in 1904, said: In the different names [for Halloween] we find also an explanation. The first of November, still called New-Years day on the island of Man, was the new years day on the beginning of…

Saints, Souls, and Haints: Nuts

Nuts, being a delicacy associated with autumn, seem to naturally be part of the Halloween pantry of the past. And Robert Chambers elaborated on this in his 1883 The Book of Days: a Miscellany of Popular Antiquities: Indeed the name of Nutcrack Night, by which Halloween is known in the north of England, indicates the…

Saints, Souls, and Haints: Apples

In Rustic Speech and Folk-lore (1911, p. 299-300), Elizabeth Mary Wright describes a Halloween custom we still practice: October 31 is Halloween, the Eve of All Saints' Day, a night specially devoted to love-divination ceremonies, and other superstitious customs such as we have noticed in a previous chapter. The game of hanch-apple is a favourite…

Saints, Souls, and Haints: Cabbages and Rings

In Rustic Speech and Folk-lore (1913, p. 300), Elizabeth Mary Wright wrote: In parts of Ireland a dish called colcannon, made of potatoes and cabbage mashed together with butter, used to form part of the Halloween dinner. In it was concealed a ring, the finder whereof would be the first of the company to be…

The Gift of the Bees: Mead

With a small tweak of the imagination, it’s not hard to see the scenario:  a little rain and some honey accidentally left in a hollowed-out piece of wood. For our early ancestors, it was --- once tasted --- a seemingly divine elixir. And no cooking required. In other words, mead, the first fermented drink. And…

Food in Medieval England: Diet and Nutrition

Food in Medieval England: Diet and Nutrition (Medieval History and Archaeology), by C. M. Woolgar, Dale Serjeantson, and Tony Waldron (paperback, 2009) In the unending quest to find models for culinary historiography, here's another fairly up-to-date addition to the growing list: This book draws on the latest research across different disciplines to present the most…

Fish Stomachs?????

Fish Stomachs???? You might believe that fishcakes, along with fritters and croquettes, began as members of the thrifty Leftovers family. But in fact, early medieval English cooks made fishcakes from fish stomachs, which many might consider carrying thrift just a little too far. There is actually a fishcake recipe, on page 170 of Madeleine Pelner…

The Random Herbalist: The Monastic Physic Garden

Most of the gardens originally associated with monasteries contained numerous plants used for medicinal purposes. And, if nothing else,  at least these gardens provided the background for mystery novelist Ellis Peters's sailor-turned monk and herbalist, Brother Cadfael. The cloister-garth was a square, planted with grass and possibly shrubs, divided by two intersecting paths into four…

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.…

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 Fish-Cooks

THE FISH-COOKS (p. 206) [Note: The Abbey paid the fish-cooks  for their services, since these people did not belong to the cloistered community.] In the large monasteries, such as, for example, Edmundsbury, there were two cooks for the fish-dishes ; the first was properly called the “fish-cook,” the other was “pittance-cook.” Their appointment was made…

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…

At the Tables of the Monks: The Caterer (or Buyer)

THE CATERER, OR BUYER, FOR THE COMMUNITY (p. 202-203) [Note the Abbey paid the caterer for his services, since this person did not belong to the cloistered community.] The caterer, says one Custumal, “ought to be a broadminded and strong-minded man : one who acts with decision, and is wise, just and upright in things…