You will never get out of pot or pan anything fundamentally better than what went into it. Cooking is not alchemy; there is no magic in the pot - Martha McCulloch-Williams* †
With respect to Ms. McCulloch-Williams (Who I am fairly certain would bristle at the honorific “Ms”. Good.) cooking is most certainly alchemy.
The bringing together of base materials which, through the manipulation of four basic elements (air, fire, water and earth), are transmuted into something sublime. If all you care about is nourishment, try Soylent. If you want to create a spagyric or an elixir of life, you need the magic that is cookery.
Is it mere coincidence the resemblance between my chosen totem – the alchemical still known as the alembic – and the portable stove designed by Alexis Soyer for the British Army? A stove known colloquially as the “Magic Stove”?
Nowhere is the overlap more apparent than the paintings of previous centuries depicting both kitchen and laboratory – some of which are in the slideshow below. But Heerschopp’s work caught my eye, even over other alchemical paintings of his. There is a bit of the Sorcerers Apprentice in the image. A student so engrossed in his tome that he loses track of what’s cooking. The results are explosive.
It just spoke to me – reminded me of my belief that a good cook is always a student. So take a look at the gallery I have assembled and tell me what you think.
* Williams, Mrs. Martha McCulloch, litterateur, author, was born in Montgomery County, Tenn. She is the author of Field Farmers; Two of a Trade; Next to the Ground; and over two hundred short stories. Herringshaw's National Library of American Biography: Contains Thirty-five Thousand Biographies of the Acknowledged Leaders of Life and Thought of the United States; Illustrated with Three Thousand Vignette Portraits
† The author, christened Susan Marsha Ann Collins, was the fourth daughter of Fannie Williams and William Collins. She was born and grew up near Clarksville, in Montgomery County, northwest Tennessee. She grew up in a privileged world of leisure and abundance, but after the Civil War the family fell into genteel poverty. After her parents' death, she and a distant cousin, Thomas McCulloch Williams, left together for New Yea city where she created a new name (Martha McCulloch-Williams) and a new career for herself. It is unclear whether she and Thomas ever married (MSU biography). - History of Worcestershire Sauce (1837-2012), William Shurtleff, Akiko Aoyagi