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…

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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…

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…

Pie in the Sky: A Review of Janet Clarkson’s “Pie: A Global History”

You will eat, bye and bye, In that glorious land above the sky; Work and pray, live on hay, You'll get pie in the sky when you die. ~~ Joe Hill*, "The Preacher and the Slave" chorus, 1911 Everybody knows what pie is, right? Wrong, and Janet Clarkson (The Old Foodie) tells us why in…

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 in Italy

Instead of forking out thousands of lire for a cooking class in Italy, take a look at these videos. Buon appetito! Cooking  Sicilian  with Mamma Agata Amalfi Coast with Mamma Agata (Looks like somebody got into the wine a bit early on) Lezione di cucina dl ristorante La Finestra a Padova (Italian Cooking Class at…

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…

Irish Food History

Amidst the mythology of Saint Patrick's Day, a little Irish food history to cheer you on your way --- be it to stove, pub, or church. John Linnane wrote a wonderful introduction to the history of Irish cuisine before the arrival of the potato. Here he comments on the customs of feasting, very appropriate for…

Canelés de Bordeaux

Along with vanilla, a bit of legend perfumes these delicious little cakes from the Bordeaux area of France. According to the Worldwide Gourmet [spelling seems to be an issue here ---  some sources use the term cannelé and others canelé. Paula Wolfert, an authority on all manner of cooking, reflects on what she calls canelés…

Angelina’s Hot Chocolate

For anyone who's walked through Paris on a rainy winter day, the cold wind whipping your coat about your knees, your umbrella suddenly quitting on you. Drenched, you find yourself on the Rue de Rivoli, making for Angelina's tea room. You walk through the crowds of tourists, hoping you look as French as those ladies…

Manuscript Cookbooks

Three manuscript cookbooks held in Virginia Tech's Newman Library's Special Collections promise rich material for food history scholars. Food historian Rachel Laudan says this about manuscript cookbooks in Mexico: What are not included in this list are manuscript cookbooks. Many of the great convents in Mexico still have magnificent manuscript cookbooks from the eighteenth century. …

France Encore

France bewitches. Burgundy. Normandy. The Loire Valley. The French Alps. Provence. All sublime. But the besotted dream most of returning to live in some tiny Parisian garret, drinking high-class red or white plonk, writing of life, death, and love while seated at a sticky Formica-covered table at Flore or Deux Magots. And surreptitously paging through…

The Garden of Bartolomeo Vanzetti

Sometimes I close my eyes and just remember, remember being in ___ [name of place] and then it was just (pause) sit at the table, and I got a lot of brothers and sisters, you know. My dad’s there and I just sit at the table and it’s like, eat and laugh and talk and…

Italy in Provence

Memories of Provençal food continuously whisper to me. And reflection forces me to draw the logical conclusion that the food of Piemonte, Liguria, and Provence share the same grandparents. Or even the same parents. Countless, interminable wars guaranteed both the emigration and immigration of people (and food) over the centuries. Walking cookbooks, I call those…