kate christensen

novelist


chicken


The Shmoo was the brilliant 1948 invention of Al Capp, the cartoonist who brought us Li’l Abner. Essentially a self-sacrificing blob with a face, a Shmoo met all human needs. Fried, its meat tasted like poultry, broiled, like steak. As a species, the animals lived to be eaten, and they bred copiously, so their supply was inexhaustible. They also could be made into leather or lumber, even…


chicken


The Shmoo was the brilliant 1948 invention of Al Capp, the cartoonist who brought us Li’l Abner. Essentially a self-sacrificing blob with a face, a Shmoo met all human needs. Fried, its meat tasted like poultry, broiled, like steak. As a species, the animals lived to be eaten, and they bred copiously, so their supply was inexhaustible. They also could be made into leather or lumber, even…


broccoli


Broccoli gets such a bad rap. This is perplexing to those of us who love that green, treelike stalky vegetable.

Back in March 1990, then president George H. W. Bush famously declared, “I’m president of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!”

Roy Blount, Jr., put it more wittily but no less insultingly: ”The local groceries…


the cashew


It’s interesting to try to imagine how early humans discovered what was edible and what wasn’t. Who figured out that when you cooked stinging nettles, the sting would go away completely? How many people had to die before the relative toxicity of wild mushrooms became widely known? Who was the first human to survive a feast of fugu, the Japanese blowfish whose liver and other organs…


ham


The pink, tender, bouncy butt of the pig traditionally is eaten by Christians in America to celebrate both the birth and the resurrection of Jesus. And also in Europe: In fact, during Holy Week in the Basque Country of deepest southwest France, there is a five-hundred-year-old festival dedicated exclusively to the air-dried, orange-colored Bayonne ham, which is similar to prosciutto.


the pineapple


Although the pineapple had been widely disseminated for centuries among the native peoples of South and Central America, it didn’t figure in European history until 1493. That’s when Christopher Columbus first encountered it on the island of Guadalupe, heaped among other fruits next to a pot full of stewing human body parts. (It’s interesting to imagine his reaction.)


honey


Honey might be the most miraculous food, and also the most poetic. It’s certainly one of the oldest. Bees fossilized in Baltic amber date from fifty million years ago, when the first primates appeared in Africa and South America. These insects differ less from present-day honeybees than those first primates do from us humans. In fact, the earliest bees likely produced a sweet ambrosia very…


Les Courgettes


The following is an excerpt from Kate Christensen’s Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites, out from Doubleday on July 9.

During the year after I graduated from high school, I worked as the fille au pair for two immensely kind, impecunious, scattershot, warmhearted teachers named Vivian and Pierre della Negra, taking care of their four little boys…


rosemary


Whenever I think of rosemary, I hear in my mind’s ear the accompanying line from Hamlet: “That’s for remembrance; pray you, love, remember,” from Ophelia’s sad, mad little speech to her brother, Laertes, right before she dies. She was onto something. Not only have various scientific studies proved the veracity of the centuries-old belief that the smell of rosemary helps and preserves…


the prune


Plums, and therefore prunes, exist only because of grafting, one of the weirdest forms of genetic engineering I’ve ever heard of, and also one of the oldest. I’m hazy on the actual methods, but as far as I understand it, a branch from one plum tree is cut off. Another plum tree is given an incision. The new branch is taped to the tree so that the surfaces of the two wounds are joined…


the leek


The suave European cousin of the working-class, lowbrow onion, the leek is sweeter in flavor, more genteel in mien. It bears the marks of good breeding — it lends itself to more esoteric preparations and its non-sulfuric acids make no one cry. Its silhouette is impeccably handsome, too, a decorous fan of dark green fronds emerging from a slender, long, white shaft, a scallion on…