How Carrots Won the Trojan War

by Rebecca Rupp

The answer to the question is this: The soldiers holed up in the Trojan horse ate carrots to “bind their bowels.” (That could have been a very long night otherwise!) This remarkable history of vegetables includes everything from mythology to medicine. Way too many vegetables have been considered “sex foods,” including asparagus (merely phallic?), onions (found in the brothels of Pompeii) and celery (reportedly Casanova’s favorite). Beans were said to have lifted Europe out of the Dark Ages by providing much-­needed nutrition. Celery was used for wild animal bites, hangovers, insomnia and as a laxative. Lettuce was recommended by Pliny the Elder as a mouthwash, as well as for tooth­ache, scorpion stings and spider bites. My favorite cure was using cabbage to treat shrew-­mouse bites. This was a common problem? Some vegetables caused health issues. A heavy corn diet—common in the American South in the 1800s—causes pellagra, with symptoms akin to vampirism (sun sensitivity, dementia, etc.), and some historians ascribe the legend to this disease. And vegetables can be remarkably versatile. During WWI, Germans transformed turnips into everything from coffee to marmalade to bread.

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Bourbon Land

By Edward Lee

Edward Lee is best known for his restaurant 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Kentucky, his award-winning book "Buttermilk Graffiti" and his work during COVID using the LEE Initiative to feed people and help struggling restaurants. As for bourbon, many books have been written on the topic, but Lee gets it right—it’s fun, informative and entertaining. The first question is, "What is bourbon?" Lee avoids the usual 51 percent corn definition. Instead, he states that bourbon has five elements: fire, corn, oak, yeast and copper. The history is compelling—early stills were erected to put excess crops to good use. Non-aged distillate is called "white dog," but it ain’t bourbon—during aging, the color changes and the flavor mellows. I was fascinated by the theory that charred white oak barrels (a bourbon-making essential) may have come about because those barrels had been used for something else, even for storing fish, and charring was the best way to remove residual flavors. Many bourbons (Pappy Van Winkle, Jim Beam, Basil Hayden, etc.) are named after real people. Lee also has some good recipes, including bourbon onion jam, chilled corn and bourbon soup, and bourbon soy butter. Bourbon is my favorite alcoholic beverage, and in the last 20 years, it’s coming full circle.

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Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts

by Crystal Wilkinson

The publishing landscape is well seeded with cookbooks married to personal narratives of distant shores—places and people who lived lives far from the modern world. Some of these books resonate, while others are too slapdash to immerse the reader fully into the past. Crystal Wilkinson is among the former—her story about Black Appalachia rings true. She was raised in Indian Creek by her grandparents, whose ancestors were deeded land when they were emancipated. Yes, she grew up with cornbread, jam cake, biscuits and poke greens, but the more telling details bring her world to life. There was always "something dead in the kitchen," and her Aunt Lo did not put up with complaints. (During winter, when the fare was uninspired, she would say to Wilkinson, "Eat it or die!") She was also raised on frog’s legs, lamb fries, neckbones, fried chicken livers and gizzards, plus biscuits topped with rhubarb butter and sugar. Christmas was a special time; every year, Wilkinson recited speeches that had been written for the occasion by her grandmother. The dead appear in Wilkinson’s kitchen and help out with the cooking, offering advice on cake baking and the like. If you live in a haunted house, these are just the type of ghosts to have.

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