The 4th of July: Mythology and American History

It's the 4th of July. A day of almost mythical proportions. For Americans. I got to thinking about the stories surrounding this day, a really special day in the history of the world. Consider the facts: A small, rather weak and geographically diverse conglomeration of settlers rises up like David against a powerful giant -…

Advertisements

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…

Day 6: Beef – Celebrate American Food History

 War and food, a timeless tale. Unfortunately. Today's story is about beef, the meat - as we all know - that become synonymous with Britain and went on to become a major force in the American economy in the nineteenth century, as well as providing for a rather mythological view of the American West. (Hint:…

Grits on the Menu: A Short Treatise on a Global Favorite

Big Hominy Grits (Photo credit: James Bridle) These days, when you drive through the endless piney woods of low-country Georgia and South Carolina, you will see fields of corn, and not so much cotton. And, if you're lucky when you stop for breakfast, there will be grits on the menu. Not just any old grits,…

Thinking About Rice in America: The Black Rice Theory – Mysteries, Myths, and Misconceptions

Note: My point here, and elsewhere, on my blog and in my work, is to present information in as truthful a manner as I can, in order to raise questions and, hence, awareness. The truth is that there are more than ways than one to look at issues. Blindly accepting points of view only serves…

Lettice Bryan’s Forgotten Cookbook, The Kentucky Housewife, and Squirrel Soup Two Ways: A Touch of Americana

It’s maddening, but true: we know very little about the authors of some of best cookbooks ever written in America. Thanks to today’s 24/7 media cycle, Paula Deen’s foibles and Rachael Ray’s battle with her weight are no mystery. But we know next to zilch about Lettice Bryan, who wrote an amazingly detailed, 1300-recipe cookbook,…

The South is Rising Again: The 2013 James Beard Nominees

In the culinary world, the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize or the Oscars comes down to the James Beard Awards. This year, the list of nominees includes a large number of Southern chefs, restaurants, and other food-related entities. What's so fascinating about this list lies in the evidence of increasing diversity - it's not all…

Are Pole Beans Like Cows? A Crashing Tale

Pole beans are sort of like cows. If you keep milking a cow, she produces milk. Likewise, if you keep picking pole beans, the plant keeps producing. Pole beans are not like bush beans, which render up a crop and then die back. I call them pole beans, but some people call them flat beans…

* “We raise the wheat, they give us the corn” : a reflection on life in antebellum Virginia

Not too long ago, before the snow fell and kept falling, I drove down to Critz, Virginia, the homeplace of Virginia tobacco baron, J. R. Reynolds. Reynolds's parents, Hardin Reynolds and Nancy Jane Cox Reynolds, owned  several hundred slaves, who worked the 717-acre Rock Spring plantation. One of these slaves went by the name of…

*”Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new”: A Sweet Potato Rhapsody

“Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new,” or so confessed St. Augustine, a Catholic saint born in 354 A.D., in what is now Algeria. And I, I could also say the same, about many things. One of them being sweet potatoes, a beloved Southern staple.** It was a Thanksgiving Day. I…

* A Cuisine Created by Slave Women: A Review of Kitty Morse’s Mint Tea and Minarets, and a Brief Word about Dadas**

Dealing with the death of beloved parents takes a great toll on people, leading them on journeys of self-discovery often not possible while parents still live and breathe and exert influence on their adult child’s life. Rarely does settling up an inheritance take sixteen years of patience and hair-pulling, constantly reminding the bereaved of their…

* Biscuits and Buttermilk: A New Year and New Directions

After a long fallow period, spent baking (and eating) many Christmas cookies, I have decided to bloom/cook where I am planted, so to speak. Lately I’ve become more intrigued by the cuisine that surrounds me, here in the American South.  After all, I've basically been a Southerner for over 30 years. Although many cookbook authors…

Savoring the Daily on the Fringes of the Coalfields

Although grocery shopping here in the United States doesn't quite reach the challenges I faced when grocery shopping in Morocco or Burkina Faso, the very act of buying food makes me think hard about eating and cooking and just plain living. Shopping for food entails making decisions. What choices do I make when my only…

Long Ago, When Chickens had Teeth …*

I've never had to kill for my dinner, unless you count the time I mangled a lobster at the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris, crying silently as I tried to plunge the knife in the right place but failing to quickly put the creature out of its misery. I doubt I would have known…

Ode to the Great Pumpkin [Pie]: Speak, Memory*

What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye, What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie? ~ John Greenleaf Whittier, "The Pumpkin," 1850 Some people moan and descend straight into mourning with the first frost. Not me. You'll find me in my kitchen, with clanging pans and steaming windows, eager to put…

‘Tis now the very witching time of night*: Lessons from a Rotting Pumpkin

Oh!—fruit loved of boyhood!—the old days recalling, When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling! When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin, Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!** Every October, a nearby farm family celebrates the harvest by opening up their land to the surrounding community. Hundreds of cars…

The Curse of Corn: Poverty and Politics and Pellagra

Dr. Joseph Goldberger stands watching the children eating. He's about to prove his hunch that pellagra occurred in the face of nutritional deprivation. He devoted years to discovering what caused the curse of corn, pellagra. Although the fat cats in the South of the time, and we’re talking early 20th-century here, didn’t want to spend…

The Ancient Sin of Gluttony: What’s Really Behind the Shunning of Paula Deen

We need strategies that do not drag us back to the dispositional focus of the Inquisition's witch-hunts, that propelled the notion of the "Satan Within," when much good and evil is the product of situational and systemic forces acting on the same ordinary, often good people.  ~~ Philip Zimbardo  It’s been with a great deal…

Coming Home to Roost: The Chickens of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

"If I had to choose between trees and people, I think I should choose trees." ~~Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings If you've ever read The Yearling, you know the name and work of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Miz Rawlings owned a 72-acre homestead and citrus grove in Cross Creek, Florida, not that she was a native Floridian or…

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…

Cabbage and Black-Eyed Peas, Oh My! A New Year’s Tradition in the South

New Year's Day, coming up fast. Planning your menu, are you? There's a good reason to hesitate, to take your time, because there's really only one thing to eat that day. Black-eyed peas, a gift from a part of Africa ruled by the French for a long time. They were there as early as 1659 at St.…

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…

Thomas Jefferson and His Magic “Maccaroni” Machine

Thomas Jefferson, rightly or wrongly credited with first bringing pasta to the tables of Americans, drew a picture of  a pasta-making machine. This drawing, now in the Library of Congress, resulted from a trip to Italy taken by Jefferson in 1787. Don't forget that "macaroni" served as a generic name for pasta and doesn't necessarily…

Buttering Up

Peppermint flavoring, almond extract, gooey candied fruit, thick dark molasses, perfumey cardamom … the list could go mouth-wateringly on and on. Christmas cooking and Christmas baking demand many ingredients not normally used in everyday cooking. And that’s what makes the holiday season such a sheer delight for those besotted with all things culinary. But one…

Christmas Dinner at Mount Vernon, 1790

George Washington's Virginia plantation, Mount Vernon, served as the backdrop for many scrumptious dinners, cooked by Washington's slave cooks. Just reading this menu* makes my lips twitch and my fingers itch for my wooden spoons. Note that even at the relatively late date of 1790 and independence from England, there's a soup called King's Soup…

Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg

Now Christmas comes, ‘tis fit that we Should feast and sing, and merry be; Keep open house, let fiddlers play, A fig for cold, sing care away; And may they who thereat repine, On brown bread and small beer dine. Virginia Almanack 1766 To paraphrase former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld: There’s the Williamsburg Christmas…

Jane Carson’s Colonial Virginia Cookery: Procedures, Equipment, and Ingredients in Colonial Cooking

Colonial Virginia Cookery: Procedures, Equipment, and Ingredients in Colonial Cooking, by Jane Carson (1968, reprinted 1985). Filled with the kind of details that come only from wallowing in primary sources, Jane Carson's synthesis of several cookbooks written by a number of seventeenth- and and eighteenth-century English cookery authors offers modern readers an interpretation of how…