Recently by Sara Davis:

   

“No one ever heard of man canners when I was a girl,” said Sarah Tyson Rorer, who spent her lifetime teaching dietetics and cooking skills to young women — and, eventually, men. Whether married or single, men too wanted to make soap, buy groceries economically, and take part in other domestic duties. According to Rorer, the division of gender roles in the private sphere was changing: The modern technologies that made it easier and more efficient to cook at home essentially despecialized household labor. With the increase of both single-person households and dual-income marriages, men and women alike needed to sharpen their knife skills. For Rorer, this is a highly desirable outcome. When domestic work is shared and when women are encouraged to have interests outside the home, she notes, they make better companions to their husbands.

More…

   

What are we talking about when we talk about food?

It’s almost easier to describe what food isn’t. Eggplant and potatoes become food if you cook them long enough to soften their tough fibers; if you did the same thing to paper, you could swallow it but not sell it as the hot new restaurant trend of 2013. Jell-O wobbles onto the dessert plate by way of proteins boiled out of animal bones, cooled, then boiled again at home; few other foodstuffs would still be considered comestible if subjected to the same treatment. Even plants and animals whose tissues are digestible, palatable, and nourishing might be overlooked as foodstuff if we are not taught to eat them: There were certainly many years that I threw away the leaves… More…

A marriage may be between two people, but weddings tend to be between the couple and everyone else. Wedding guests called upon to bear witness to the ceremony, and to shower a new couple with verbal and financial blessings, can shape the proceedings and meanings of marital rites as much as the bride and groom do. I’ve played a number of performative roles in the weddings of loved ones — bridesmaid, maid of honor, toast-giver, poetry-reader, choreographer, and stage manager — and from the wings, I’ve observed how often the friends and family of the new couple feel entitled to weigh in on what is and is not done properly. Personally, I lucked out: My own parents’ rules for the ceremonial passage into a hallowed state of matrimony were simple and few.

Rule 1: Don’t get married until you’re 30.

Rule 1b: But you don’t have to get married ever,… More…

What do we make of Michael Pollan’s seventh book, Cooked? Is it, as the subtitle suggests, a “natural history” which examines the science and paleoanthropology of cooking? Is it, as many of Pollan’s promotional interviews suggest, a polemic and a manual that tells us how and when to cook in order to repair the social fabric and national health of the United States? Is it a memoir of meals past, with ample nostalgia for a simpler time measured out with head shaking over the bustle of the modern world? Is it the foodie equivalent of a travelogue, tracing the author’s encounters with cooking techniques in such exotic locales as Korea, Portugal, and North Carolina? Is it an intellectual history of cookery, attempting to establish the cerebral value of the culinary arts through the theories of French anthropologists and philosophers? Or does this book and its promotional tie-ins comprise an elaborately… More…

   

When I studied abroad in Rome a few years ago, my travel packet included a primer for ordering espresso from the little museum café around the corner from our classrooms. To begin with, we were warned, don’t order espresso, a term which refers to a technique and not a beverage. Instead order caffè — short for caffè espresso, there’s no other kind — and embellish the word with lyrical phrases to indicate how long to let water seep through pressed grounds and how much milk to add and when.

The primer did not include instructions for finding a place to sit down in order to drink the coffee. Not even the café in a museum neighboring the school had seats; we took our mid-morning break up to the museum’s rooftop patio and perched on concrete planters… More…

   

When I was young, I didn’t find too many vegetables palatable. I liked carrots, peas, and lima beans — all boiled and buttered — but would otherwise only eat produce to fill the quota to be excused from the table. When I started college, however, I was prepared to add more roots and leaves to my diet. To my mind, salads belonged to the world of adults; I was determined to belong to that world, so for lunch and dinner I dutifully filled a small bowl of raw vegetables to eat alongside my Southern college refectory’s chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes.

Pierre Bourdieu, a 20th century French sociologist, would argue that my transition into a dedicated eater of plants was not just a metamorphosis into maturity, but also a shifting of social position. In his… More…

   

In the 16th and 17th century, when the renowned painters of other European countries largely painted religious scenes and royal portraiture, the Netherlands developed genres of painting that reflected the mercantilist, increasingly secular culture that produced them. Wealthy merchants and other upper-class landowners had buying power to rival the Catholic church, and their patronage encouraged guilds to practice highly technical, sumptuous paintings of things: seashells and flowers, musical instruments, fine silver, and of course food — all improbably arranged onto an overflowing table and rendered in luminous layers of oil.

Lit as if by sunlight pouring in through a window over your left shoulder, the wine shimmers in its heavy glass goblet and the brown crust of an eggy bread roll glows. But though the edibles are appetizing, they are also in disarray: the… More…

   

I’m not sure how it came about, but one day my co-workers and I literally stood around the water cooler and casually discussed the pocket-sized items that we, or someone we knew, had smuggled out of restaurants and hotels.

The first impenitent confessor was a coworker whose family takes a cruise every winter. Every year when they were small, she and her younger sister would pocket a fork from one of their dinners on board. Many years later, my colleague created a mobile of the “souvenir” forks and gifted it to her younger sister. It’s a sweet story, but I was initially astonished that the coworker, to all appearances a steady and law-abiding character, shrugged off this youthful indiscretion as a fit of childhood caprice, a sweet and whimsical memory.

But as it turns… More…

   

There’s nothing romantic about February. In most of the northern hemisphere, the shortest month is also the dreariest: a gray, wet, slog through yet another winter month, with spring a little too far away to offer much hope. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that some of the world’s most madcap celebrations take place in the February gloom: Mardi Gras and other pre-Lenten bacchanals tend to fall in this month, and the young men of ancient Rome celebrated Lupercalia mid-February by running naked through the streets and slapping young women with strips of leather.

Between the middle ages and the industrial era, St. Valentine’s feast day had something of this carnivalesque character in England, though more restrained. February 14th was one of several feast days that offered a brief reprieve from the grind of work and prayer,… More…

   

I once heard that more avocados are consumed on Super Bowl Sunday than on any other day of the year. This is wrong: Super Bowl Sunday doesn’t touch the 14 million pounds of avocado consumed on Cinco de Mayo. Still, about eight million pounds of avocado have reportedly been mashed into guacamole in honor of the big game in recent years — about 5% of total sales, nothing to scoff at so long after the crop’s seasonal peak.

Most of the avocados we buy to make a summer dip in the dead of winter are Hass avocados, grown in coastal California or, since 2007, in Mexico. (The avocado tree originated in Mexico and Central America, but those zones were closed off to U.S. importers until recently due to an apparently unfounded fear of fruit flies.) Avocados… More…