By Jessica Allen - Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 0 Comments
Faith Wallis, a professor at McGill University, was looking through a manuscript in Cambridge when she came across a series of food recipes. Realizing that they predated the previously earliest known Medieval recipes by about 150 years, I’m guessing she–an expert in medieval history and science–was ecstatic.
The latin manuscript consists of both food recipes, like “hen in winter”–essentially chicken with garlic, pepper and sage–along with ointments. “Some of the medical potions in this book seem to have stood the test of time,” Giles Gasper, a professor at the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies at Durham University told his institution. “Some emphatically haven’t! But we’re looking forward to finding out whether these newly-discovered recipes have done so and whether they also possess what you might call a certain Je Ne Sais Quoi – or Quidditas, to use the Latin.”
“The sauces typically feature parsley, sage, pepper, garlic, mustard and coriander which I suspect may give them a middle eastern, Lebanese feel when we recreate them,” said Gasper. “According to the text, one of the recipes comes from the Poitou region of what is now modern central western France. This proves international travellers to Durham brought recipes with them.”
On his website Eat Medieval, Gasper said that the recipes “would appear to date from the mid-later 12th century, which makes them amongst the earliest in the western tradition.” They were compiled and written at Durham Cathedral’s priory around 1160. (Footnote to film fans: interiors of the Romanesque cathedral were featured in the 1998 movie Elizabeth, starring Cate Blanchett.)
Gasper and his colleagues will attempt to recreate some of the recipes on Apr. 25 at Blackfriars, a restaurant housed in a 14th century Dominican friary. And if you live near Newcastle, you can taste some of the dishes yourself on the following Saturday when a lunchtime Medieval-style feast will take place, along with a lecture on “Food in Medieval England”.
The rest of us will have to wait for the cookbook, which is in the works.
By Jessica Allen - Friday, January 11, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
What’s not to like about a man who bakes his own bread?
Near the back of the Cookbook Store in Toronto on a November evening, two men lingered in the bread-making section. Shane Carruthers, a cook who’s started to experiment with baking bread, carried How to Make Bread by Emmanuel Hadjiandreou in an Indigo bag. And Matt Harris, who doesn’t bake, left with a copy of Nick Malgieri’s Bread—for his wife.
That gave store manager Alison Fryer pause, considering that in the past 30 years, she and her staff have observed that roughly 90 per cent of their bread-making books have been bought by men. “When you point it out to people, they’re not really aware of it,” she explains. “But then the penny drops and they go, ‘Oh, that’s right. It is all males.’ ”
What exactly fascinates men about mixing flour, water and yeast is debatable. It could have something to do with the fact that the most prominent European bakers of the past 200 years have been male, explains food historian Heather Evans of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. And although she notes that “cookery-book purchasing patterns don’t necessarily bespeak patterns of cooking,” the only bread-making cookbook Evans and her partner own in their vast collection was bought by him. “Perhaps,” she suggests, “all these bread-making books are being purchased with a view to integrating bread-making into the courtship process. What’s not to like about a man who bakes his own bread?”
By Jessica Allen - Tuesday, January 1, 2013 at 8:12 AM - 0 Comments
Sometimes it’s difficult not to grow weary in the face of keeping up with food trends. But there are writings relating to food of which I will never tire. Here are some of my favourites that’ve been covered really well in 2012 and that I hope to see more of in the year ahead.
1. Great profiles:
In 2012, I enjoyed reading more about people who make food rather than reading pieces devoted to food itself. There were some incredible profiles this year, from such big-name industry players as London’s Yotan Ottolenghi and Paris’s Apollonia Polaine–both from The New Yorker food issue–to local chefs like Toronto’s Keith Froggett, whom David Sax wrote about in The Grid. More please!
2. Heritage foods:
Speaking of profiles, remember when the New Yorker wrote about South Carolina locavore-extraordinaire Sean Brock in 2011? He’s the chef of Husk Restaurant who’s obsessed with bringing many of the region’s forgotten varietals of plants and animal breeds back to the table (he also has a cookbook coming out in 2013.) ”Since building a network of farmers, grain purveyors, food historians, and scientists during the past few years, Brock’s seed-saving mission has revived about 35 Southern plants, some of which might otherwise have gone extinct,” writes Cooking Light, which awarded Brock its Trailblazing Chef of the Year Award. In recent years, there’s been plenty of attention to paid to heirloom foods: from Red Fife, a Canadian grain that fell off our radars until Toronto chef Jamie Kennedy championed its virtues in 2006, to apples, of which there are thousands of varietals besides the ubiqitious Red Delicious, Granny Smith or Macintosh. And even though seed libraries, repositories that preserve seeds for generations to come, are nothing new (even Thomas Jefferson collected heirloom seeds), I hope to read more about them–and all things heirloom-related–in 2013.
By Matt Kwong - Monday, December 24, 2012 at 8:06 PM - 0 Comments
Ask a Canadian: vinarterta has become a holiday staple in the homes of Icelandic expats
Few Christmas traditions are as culturally sacred to Canada’s ethnic Icelanders – nor as touchy, for that matter – as the baking of a 150-year-old fruitcake.
Vinarterta is a hefty, layered torte customarily served in rectangular slices, usually with coffee, and ideally by a doting Amma (grandmother). In thousands of kitchens across the continent this week, members of the Icelandic diaspora are almost guaranteed to devour the prune-filled, shortbread-layered confection.
But ask a native Icelander in the capital of Reykjavik how one prepares a classic vinarterta and expect a bemused look, and maybe requests to explain what that is. Put the same question to a Manitoban of Icelandic ancestry, though, and you’ll get an earful.
“When I first came to Canada, I was asked by people working with my husband at the University of Manitoba for my special vinarterta recipe,” recalls Margret Björgvinsdóttir, who left Reykjavik for Winnipeg in 1978. “I had to tell them the truth – that I really didn’t know what they were talking about.”
By Jessica Allen - Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 9:40 AM - 0 Comments
After travelling through Italy and America and pegging TV shows and books to their respective food cultures, Jamie Oliver turns to his home and native land. His latest book, Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain, is a beautiful ode to the gastronomy of the U.K. And if you love culinary history, the tome does an incredible job of reminding readers that Britain was once a top-notch leader. Thanks to young people with an interest in food (and Oliver himself, if you ask me) things are looking better than ever after that 50-year mid-20th century comestible blip.
Oliver will be in Toronto to promote his book, and a six-part television series attached to it, on October 19 at Massey Hall. The $49.50 to $99.50 ticket price tag to attend includes a copy of Great Britain, which I can’t seem to stop reading.
We had the chance to ask the chef via email about his latest–and very patriotic–project.
Q: I’m reading a book right now that chronicles the evolution of cooking using the history of kitchen techniques and tools. A chapter on roasting focuses on British food historian Ivan Day and his passion for Victorian spit-roasting roast beef. The author tries it and writes, So this is why there was such a fuss about the roast beef of England. In a sense, your book is performing a similar service of reminding folks that Britain used to cook food that people talked about. What did British food mean to you growing up? What does it mean to you now? What do you want it to mean in the future?
A: I never realized how lucky I was growing up in my parents’ pub until I was older. They served proper British food, always made from fresh ingredients, cooked from scratch by cooks who cared. My parents cared about good food. My mum’s Sunday Roast is still my favorite meal of all time. With this book, I wanted to share all of the amazing chefs, producers and artisans all over my country who are retracing old recipes, rediscovering great local ingredients and focusing on simplicity and quality.
By Anne Kingston - Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Tom Mueller
Extra-virgin olive oil is glorious, complex and slippery—as salad dressing and topic of journalistic investigation. That’s bountifully clear in Tom Mueller’s expansive, fascinating exploration that spans continents and centuries to delve into the traditions, chemistry, viticulture and scandals surrounding a distillate that is the lubricant of civilization itself. As vital in antiquity as petroleum is today, olive oil inspired Sophoclean odes and incited wars; the industry created fortunes and attracted crooks. Its use anointing male bodies even paved the way for homosexual love, Mueller posits, with the glistening male form “heightening the body’s erotic charge.”
Fast forward some 2,500 years and olive oil is still turning people on—now as a gustatory status symbol and as a source of bountiful antioxidant propenyls via the salutary “Mediterranean diet.” Today’s olive oil industry is as rife with corruption as ever, writes Mueller, who introduces the farmers, marketers, chemists and mobsters who animate it. The “extra-virgin” designation, established in Italy in 1960 to denote the highest-quality oil, complicated matters further. Labelling fraud is rampant; the priciest oil can be adulterated with cheaper oils and “deodorized” to remove bad flavours and inferior aromas. Yet legislation is scandalously lax, to the point that some producers wish for an exposé similar to Italy’s 1986 tainted-wine scandal to force reform.
Mueller, an American journalist based in northwestern Italy, animates his study with fascinating characters and information about what makes an oil great: “pepperiness, fruitiness, and bitterness” being the holy triumvirate. Occasionally the deluge of facts and multiple threads, including Mueller’s own olive oil obsession, reads like a well-written Wikipedia entry. The pruning essential to olive trees, ironically, could have come in handy here. But that’s a quibble. Mueller manages to fuse the poetry and business of olives into a riveting tale that also sheds light on food politics more broadly. The growing legion of olive oil aficionados are destined to adore it, especially the useful index telling them how and where to buy.