Carnevale Goeth: A Dip into Austerity and Cucina di Magro

"Thin" kitchen, that's what the "magro" part means here. No, not a galley kitchen. Not a New York loft kitchen. Not even a Paris apartment kitchen. Skinny food. That's cucina di magro. Vegetables. Legumes. Fish. Fruit. Shellfish. The bones of the Mediterranean diet. No meat, at least none that walks around on four legs. Or…

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George Washington’s Family Cookbooks

Martha Washington's cookbook tells a tale, one that really needs no elaboration:  George went through life toothless. Recipes for soft puddings, quidonys (a type of fruit preserve), and jellies abound. Of course, puddings testified in part to the, well, Englishness of the Father of Our Country and his wife. But the fact of the matter…

“Old” News — Chocolaholics of 1000 Years Ago

Put the word "chocolate" in front of my eyes and my salivary glands start secreting. And, oh boy, when the real McCoy appears on a plate in front of me, watch out! Like that Chocolate Mousse Cake looking at you, kid. Even when the discussion involves people drinking chocolate over 1000 years ago, those old…

Carnivale Cometh: Lasagne di Carnevale

And now for the food of Carnival, as interpreted by cooks in what is now Italy. (See previous post on Carnival for more history.) Greasy, fatty, protein-rich, oozing with cheese or sugar, the dishes created for Martedi Grasso (Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday) served a higher purpose than merely feeding hungry stomachs: the severe Lenten proscriptions…

Another Fish in the Sea: Mullet

Of all the nurslings of the sea, mullets have the most gentle and just disposition, harming neither each other nor any other creatures, never staining their lips with blood but...always feeding on the green seaweed. ‑‑Oppian‑‑ Ancient Greek Poet Silvery jumping mullet cause otherwise staid fishermen to jump for joy, especially now since fall passed…

Carnevale Cometh

Soon the streets of Venice will overflow with a flood --- not of water, as usual --- but of tourists and food. For soon the rituals of Carnevale, or Mardi Gras (also called Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday ) will once more surge into popular culture. The official date of Mardi Gras in 2009 falls…

Roots on My Mind: Rutabagas

'The next we come to is the Rootabaga Country where the big city is the Village of Liver-and-Onions,' said Gimme the Ax, looking again in his pocket to be sure he had the long slick yellow leather slab ticket with a blue spanch across it. .... ~~Carl Sandburg, Rootabaga Stories Rutabagas (Brassicca napus), also called…

“CONCH AIN’T GOT NO BONES”

Old Creole balladeers and veteran conch (pronounced "konk") eaters know that, yes, "conch ain't got no bones," but it sure sports a shell. Piles of queen conch shells (Strombidae gigas) litter the Caribbean islands, as do pithy native sayings about conch: "He beats his wife like one beats a conch," a sad commentary on Haitian…

All the Presidents’ Tables: Ronald Reagan’s First Inaugural Lunch Menu 1981

Reagan's first inauguration boasted the honor of being the first inauguration celebrated on the west front of the U.S. Capitol. Held in Statuary Hall, Ronald Reagan's 1981 luncheon featured a "California Cuisine" menu. The U.S. Air Force String Quartet and  U.S. Army Strings performed for the 200 guests. Each guest received a series of frameable…

Sauce Bercy, as Served at Nixon’s Inaugural Luncheons

A lot of wine used to be sold in Bercy, a Parisian neighborhood. Naturally, the restaurateurs there featured wine in their menus, particularly in a sauce made with shallots and butter. Sauce Bercy. One of President Richard M. Nixon's favorite sauces. He liked it so much the chefs served it at both of his inaugural…

Cracking the Crock-Pot Code: One-Pot Meals

On a deeper level it [cucina povera] reflects a necessary philosophy that is common in all cultures: making do with what you've got to transform humble ingredients into dishes that are more than the sum of their parts. (Faith Hopler, "The Kitchen") No wonder I've been dreaming of Le Creuset Dutch Ovens lately. With the…

Plum Pudding & Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Christmas Message, 1944

During the Roosevelt years. FDR spent time talking to the American people via radio; these became his famous "Fireside Chats." On Christmas Eve, Roosevelt would do one of his chats and then read Charles Dickens's  "A Christmas Carol" to his grandchildren. This what he said in 1944, the turning point of World War II: "The…

George Washington’s Christmas Brunch, 1769

Happy/Merry Christmas/Hannukah/Holiday Season/Winter Solstice and a wonderful, hope-filled New Year. A big "Thank You" to each and every one of you for reading "Gherkins & Tomatoes." Seven years before the sonorous words of the American Declaration of Independence rang out in Philadelphia, George Washington ate the following Christmas brunch. Betty, the only sister of his…

The Washington Post on Best Cookbooks (Gifts) of 2008

An interesting and REAL list (for the most part) of cookbooks for serious and not-so-serious home cooks. Some of the 18 titles anointed and blessed  by The Post include: A Platter of Figs, by David Tanis (So popular right now that it can't be had from any of the big online --- or local ---…

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,…

After Pizarro: Food in Colonial Peru and Today (Conclusion)

In Lima, a city more Spanish than perhaps any of the other seats of Spanish viceroyalties in the New World, the Spanish elite built huge mansions from the money raised by the tribute demanded of the natives and other less noble members of the society. Tribute usually consisted of the ubiquitous silver, but also included…

Mrs. Charles Darwin’s Recipe Book

Nearly everyone on the planet, or at least those with access to education --- unfortunately many areas of the world and even this country lack miserably in the teaching of the young --- will know the name of Charles Darwin, as the blurb below allows. Now, maybe  some people don't buy into the theory of…

After Pizarro: Food in Colonial Peru and Today

In 1531, the world of the Inca of Peru changed forever. That year, Francisco Pizarro and his three brothers, from Estremadura, Spain, began their successful conquest of Peru. Not only did the Pizarros bring Spanish law, culture, and religion to the region later known as the Viceroyalty of Peru, which included all of South America…

First You Settle the Pampas: Food in Colonial Argentina and Today (Conclusion)

Throughout the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata, the Roman Catholic Church proselytized the vast distances and founded convents. And the nuns who lived in those convents, and their Indian servants, soon became known for intricate sweets and other confections that had roots in the sweets that predominated in Moorish-ruled Spain for eight centuries until the…

First You Settle the Pampas: Food in Colonial Argentina and Today

What was cooking in colonial Argentina? What do cooks still cook there today? Answer: lots of dishes, but especially meat. Years ago, when I lived in Fram, Paraguay as a Peace Corps volunteer, going to Encarnacion, Argentina was the delight of the month --- as long as I went on a day when restaurants featured…

Election Cakes

Leafing through some files the other night, I came upon these recipes, squirreled away for some future use. It's late in the game --- the 2008 election is over and others have blogged this, no doubt --- but I think that those of you who eat, drink, and obsess as much over politics as you…

All the President’s Tables: James A. Garfield’s Inaugural Reception Menu

On March 4, 1881, people lucky enough or well-placed enough or ambitious enough entered through the doors of what is now the Smithsonian's Castle, in Judiciary Square, to celebrate the inauguration of President James A. Garfield, the last of the U.S. presidents born and raised in a log cabin. A contemporary account states that: The…

Election-Day Menu: Food from Our Greatest Presidents

Hands down, my vote for the greatest presidents we've seen in this country goes to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. John Kennedy might have been a truly great president, but he died before he could prove his mettle, though his stand against the USSR during the Cuban Missile Crisis counts…

GOULASH, BY GOSH!

A few weeks ago, while leafing through Lidia Bastianich's Lidia's Italy, I came across a recipe for goulash made in the manner of Trieste. I couldn't wait to get to my stove and start cooking. Now Trieste, which lies in the northeastern part of Italy, relishes a very diverse historical past. Under the rule of…

Home Cooking, More Necessary Than Ever

When I got home from the grocery store the other day and turned on the computer to read my Google Reader news feeds, several "food-is-getting-expensive" articles popped up: Web wire with "Rising Food Prices---Gather Your Family Back Around The Dinner Table," about Martha's Vineyard restaurateur Carol McManus's new cookbook, Table Talk: Food. Family. Love. A…

THE FUNGUS AMONG US

Mushrooms are not really food, but are relished to bully the stomach into further eating. ~~Seneca, Stoic Roman Statesman Toadstools, devil's work, fairies' rings, mysterious, deadly, the deeply superstitious people of medieval Europe applied all these monikers to mushrooms. Fungi they are, botanically. Everyone's culinary favorite, they are not. Their names invite punsters to unite:…

Pizza

Bet you thought that "pizza" as we know it just magically appeared in the United States one day. Or maybe that Americans invented pizza, not the Neapolitans. Nope. (Though in a way, Americans DID invent pizza, but we'll leave that controversial subject for another conversation.) Now, for the $64,000 question, "How in the world did…

Making Pizza Dough FAQs: A Slice of Pizza and History

Frances: Have you ever made a pizza? Claire: ... I suppose if I put my mind to it, yes, I could make one. ... Frances: What would make you feel uncertain abut making one? After all, you say you've made bread before and and you've made things similar to tomato sauce. Claire: The toppings perhaps,…

CHOCOLATE, CHOCOLATE, & MORE CHOCOLATE

I wait upon the Lieut. Governor at Dorchester and there meet with Mr. Torry, breakfast together on Venison and Chockalatte; I said Massachusetts and Mexico met his Honour's Table. ~~The Diary of Samuel Sewall,* 1697~~ Chocolate, gotta love it. Most people do, although I've known a couple of die-hard chocolate haters. Then there are the…

GHERKINS: A Little Etymology on the Side

Gherkins (Cucumis anguria) Today begins a new series on "Gherkins & Tomatoes." After delving into the frankly scatological history of  "chocolate" the other day, I realized just how much fun learning about food-word histories can be. And since "Gherkins & Tomatoes" aims to clarify food history as much as possible, it seems only natural to…