Welcome to The History Kitchen!
My name is Tori Avey. I’m a food writer, recipe developer, and creator of the award winning food blog, The Shiksa in the Kitchen. I explore culinary anthropology and the story behind the food – why we eat what we eat, how the recipes of different cultures have evolved, and how yesterday’s food can inspire us in the kitchen today. Welcome to The History Kitchen, a website dedicated to a deeper exploration of food, history, and culture.
The History Kitchen is the culmination of a journey that started when I was a little girl. As a child, I spent a lot of time with my paternal grandparents, Grandpa Clarence and Grandma Lois. Grandma and Grandpa did their best to enrich my days with art, music, film, and history. Weird kid that I was, I soaked up the culture like a sponge. Grandpa Clarence screened old historical films in the living room like Cleopatra, Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments. Grandma Lois, an artist, set up a small easel in the barn so I could paint alongside her while she told me about the lives of her favorite artists – Van Gogh, Monet, Degas. Grandpa showed me maps of the world in old atlases he’d collected, pointing out the ancient city of Troy and spinning tales of Helen and the Trojan Horse. We weeded the vegetable garden and harvested the sweet, fresh tomatoes from the vine while we chatted about Thomas Jefferson and his garden at Monticello. Grandma and I cooked dinner together using the fresh produce I’d picked with my own two hands—always a dish that was slightly exotic, with a new spice from India or couscous from Morocco. Then after dinner, my favorite part of the evening, they would set up a projector and show me slides from their travels, giving me a glimpse of the world beyond my small California hometown. Because of my grandparents, I grew up curious and excited about world history.
In my twenties, I explored many different career paths, but none of them really “fit.” At a certain point I paused to reevaluate my path. I knew I loved history, reading, and writing, but I wasn’t sure how it all fit together. I also had a passion for something entirely visceral and seemingly unrelated—food. Cooking had become a major focus of my life. I’d always been comfortable in the kitchen, but I wanted to be a great cook—a real “balabusta,” as they say in Yiddish. I was inspired by the exotic meals I’d cooked with my Grandma Lois, as well as the flavors of my husband’s Jewish roots—the Middle Eastern Sephardic cuisine of his mom, and the Russian Ashkenazi cuisine of his dad. I learned to cook the old fashioned way, from friends and family members who generously shared their recipes and cooking know-how with me. It’s a learning process that continues to this day.
As I became more skilled in the kitchen, I began to collect vintage and historical cookbooks. It started as mere curiosity. I wanted to know how my Great Grandma Arnold made a pie from scratch, so I bought a cookbook published in 1908 from her home state, Nebraska. Then I started wondering about that pie’s journey… where does strawberry pie come from? What are the origins of pie? Did pie start sweet, or savory? I looked for historical cookbooks that could point me in the right direction—The Good Housekeeper by Sarah Josepha Hale (1841) led me to American Cookery by Amelia Simmons (1796), then back to The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse (1747). The further back in time I went, the more questions I had. I became a food sleuth. Everything I cooked was a mystery, and I made it my mission to dig up the roots and origins of every dish I cooked.
In 2010, I started a food blog called The Shiksa in the Kitchen. As a writer who loves food, it was a natural progression. Originally the focus of the blog was Jewish food—I’m a convert to Judaism, and my husband grew up in Israel, so I had a particular interest in the roots of Jewish cuisine. There I blog about my adventures in the kitchen and my favorite recipes, both Jewish and non-Jewish. The site quickly gained fans from all over the globe; the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Readers especially enjoy the historical research behind my posts. I absolutely love writing The Shiksa Blog. At the same time, my nerdy food historian side has been yearning to delve deeper into culinary anthropology and the roots of our food.
Over time, my broader interest in food history led me to create a website for exploring all facets of food history, from ancient Mesopotamian meals to the cocktails of Mad Men and everything in between. The History Kitchen was born!
Food is a way of communicating; the energy we pass on through our cooking feeds the body as well as the soul. By writing this blog and taking a journey into food history, I am learning right beside you. I do not have a PhD in history, nor am I a classically trained chef or a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu. I started this blog to learn more about our culinary roots. Consider this our shared virtual culinary classroom– a place where we learn not only how to cook delicious food, but how that food came to be in the first place. Every kitchen has a heritage and every recipe has a writer. Knowing the story behind the food– the ancient history, or the family history, or even the history of one particular ingredient– can infuse a dish with meaning. And then a meal becomes more than just food, or something that fills you up physically. Food takes on a deeper significance, and ultimately becomes more nourishing.
This is a space for us to learn and explore food history together. I’m excited to take this journey with all of you. Welcome to The History Kitchen!