Seeking Food at the Crossroads of History

When it comes to the kitchen, I've always been a seeker, a pilgrim in a more modern sense of the word, "A person travelling to a place of particular personal interest."* It all began on a diesel-perfumed street corner in Puebla, Mexico. I stood in the shadow of a broken streetlight, sunshine and sweaty bodies…

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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…

Poor Harry: Thanksgiving in the Truman White House 1946

President Harry S. Truman found himself on the slimming end of things in 1946. The New York Times reported that Truman's menus seemed a bit austere and quoted White House housekeeper, Mrs. Mary E. Sharpe, as saying "When I make up menus I keep it in mind." "It" being President's Truman's ongoing battle of the…

Relishing the Cranberry: A Real American Original

Bad cranberries don't bounce. Bad cranberries don't float. Bad cranberries sink. In fact, cranberry growers bounce their cranberries seven times over a four‑inch high barrier before packing. Imagine buying unbagged cranberries in the grocery store, with savvy shoppers chasing after red berries boomeranging all over the produce section! Who has ever seen fresh cranberries sold…

What’s Cooking in Kenya? Ugali, Sukuma Wiki, and the Food of Barack Obama’s Father’s Childhood …

"When two locusts fight, it is always the crow who feasts." Nigerian saying quoted in Barack Obama's Dreams of My Father An article in The Times of London stated that Barack Obama's Kenyan family, members of the Luo group, to celebrate his presidential election victory, slaughtered four bulls, sixteen chickens, and a number of sheep…

Muscling in on Mussels

In Dublin's fair city, where the girls are so pretty I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone As she wheel'd her wheel barrow Thro' streets broad and narrow (Chorus) Crying "Cockles and Mussels alive, alive O!" Alive, alive O! Alive, alive O Crying Cockles and Mussels Alive, alive O! She was a fishmonger,…

The Harvest Months

The frost descended on the pumpkin the other night and in the early morning light, as I drove around the curving roads of rural Virginia, a dozen cows stood silhouetted and blanketed in thick white fog. Eerily outlined against the fading green of the sparse grass they munched, for some reason those cows reminded me…

Shopping for Food in the 19th Century, or, You’ve Got it Real Easy Nowadays, You Know

Claire Howland* opened her left eye, squinting at the mottled ceiling of her bedroom, the peeling paint accentuated by the feeble morning sunshine. Groaning, she remembered something about the upcoming day, market day. She hoped that the new Irish maid, Kate, had prepared the boarders’ breakfast, oatmeal porridge thinned with milk from the stringy cow…

Food and Memory

I stood at the curb, on a corner of Insurgentes Sur in Mexico City, tapping my foot impatiently, watching the traffic hurtling by at 7382 feet above sea level, dozens of men hanging on to ladders hooked to swaying buses, diesel smoke spewing from exhaust pipes, and tinkling mariachi music fading away in the roar of…

Eggplant, Out of Africa

Known in Britain by 1587, the "Guinea squash," as people originally called it, white, shaped like an egg, eventually became known as "eggplant." Around the same time, a cousin of this plant appeared, the "purple menace," as I call it, and it took over. The "Guinea squash" receded into the culinary backwaters of Europe. The…

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,…

December 12: The Virgin of Guadalupe

Patron Saint of Mexico and the Americas Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes once said that "...one may no longer consider himself a Christian, but you cannot truly be considered a Mexican unless you believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe." Apocryphal or not, the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe makes fascinating reading. And the food's pretty…

The Violence of Cooking: A Photographic Interpretation à la Caravaggio (Part I)

Only the knife knows what goes on in the heart of a pumpkin. ~ Simone Schwarz-Bart, The Bridge of Beyond, Éditions du Seuil (1972) Cutting soft bones or soft flesh - be it animal of vegetable or fruit, the cleaver's sharp edge become a merciless tool even in the hands of the most tender cook.…

Let Me Count the Ways: St. Valentine’s Day 101 (Yes, There’s a French Connection)

Remember the old shoeboxes for valentines in your grade school classroom? How you'd decorate your box with all sorts of frou-frous and hope the cute little boy (or the cute little girl) with the dimples would give you a valentine card, one of those mass-produced things? In school, at least, probaly no teacher ever told…

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…

Cooking with Saint-Pierre (John Dory)

As it fell on a holy-day, And vpon an holy-tide-a, Iohn Dory bought him an ambling nag, To Paris for to ride-a.* ~~ Child Ballad #284A: "John Dory" I first met John Dory at the open-air fish market in Rabat, Morocco. He's a solitary soul. Doesn't hang out too much with his own kind. And…

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…

‘Nuff Said: Stereotypes of France and its Food

Stereotypes, caricatures, clichés, symbolism, what-have-you abound in our world and cause us to essentially dehumanize others. These photos provide examples of how the others stereotype the French people and their culture: And more: That's not to say that French companies don't use the same tactics in their advertising ... as we will see on January…

Hamburger Heaven, or the Global Burger: A Medley of Recipes

Hot weather does funny things to people, especially to cooks. Certain instincts crop up at about the same time that air conditioners crank up the juice. Primeval visions prevail, usually of smoldering coals and roasting meat, prompting the almost daily obeisance to that great American tradition, the summer barbecue grill. And summer just wouldn't be…

Coconut Groves and Coconut Dreams

"Columbus had no idea, of course, of the almost infinite ramifications of his voyages on the way future people would eat." ‑‑Raymond Sokolov‑‑ Why We Eat What We Eat(1991) Trying to get the meat out of a coconut is like trying to pull a tooth without Novocain, a very painful process. I know---I tried to…

Saffron: The Gold We Eat

Once used as money instead of gold in Don Quixote's Spain, saffron costs upwards of $1000 US per pound. Indeed, the world's costliest spice.  Most likely you will not have ever seen saffron for sale in your local grocery's spice department. Knowledgeable customers ask the store managers for it; they keep it behind the counter,…

The Fiction of Food: Good Reads

A novel thing, novels about food? Not really, not any more.  It seems like every publisher, and every writer, is racing behind the food-as-novel bandwagon, grasping at the flying straws, straining to hop aboard before  the cart crashes. Like all fads, trends, what-have-you crazes, some of these novels succeed, while the others appall,  so frightfully…

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…

Being Catty: Hey, Did You Know That Catfish Tastes OK?

(Due to family obligations for a few weeks, I'm posting some previous posts that I've dusted off and updated. ) Well, it's not "National Catfish Month," not yet. You have to wait for August for that. But there's no time like the present for dreaming of summer. Some people hate the cloying texture of these…

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…

The Gifts of Food Bloggers

To celebrate the holiday season, and the Twelve Days of Christmas as it were, I'd like to raise a glass of premium Belgian ale --- Chimay to be sure --- to a number of food bloggers whose work I admire. Each of the following blogs inspires me, prods me, and awes me. Each day feels…

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…

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…