PPC 73 (July 2003)
Mary Evelyn’s ‘Œconomis to a Married Friend’ 1677 (PDF)
David Downie: Cooking the Roman Way: HarperCollins, New York, 2002: ISBN 0060188928: xxii+314 pp., colour photos by Alison Harris, h/b.
David Downie, Roman on his mother’s side, is a real, practical cook and a lively food writer with a burning concern for history and tradition. Rome’s is a very long tradition: admittedly ‘almost none of the dishes the ancient Romans ate are still prepared in the same way today, but many of the … favorite ingredients of centuries past are still popular,’ (p. xv) including, as specified later, black peppercorns. Imported, maybe, but ‘authentic Roman seasonings’ undoubtedly: when the Goths were weighing up whether to sack Rome, in AD 410, their ransom demand included three thousand pounds of Rome’s black pepper. You will enjoy this rich treasury of modern Roman food not only for the recipes, not only for the lovely, sharp, well-printed photographs, but also for the enlightenment that awaits on every page. Who is the Luciana of polipi in padella alla Luciana? Where do the best bakers and the best pork butchers come from? Why are the finest artichokes called mammole? And, by the way, why are the Latin recipes of Apicius so infuriatingly brief? Downie has thought about this too, and has the answer: ‘In Apicius’s recipe no. 184 for lentils with chestnuts, he blithely writes: “si quid deest, addes.” If something’s missing, add it … Roman cooks generally make notes and lists … Most of their cookbooks are glorified scrapbooks or rosters of ingredients, usually incomplete, without reference to tools, technique or timing because, after all, you’re expected to know what to do when and how, the way your grandmother did’ (p. xx). Downie loves words: only an obsessive logophile could have headed a discussion of tripe with ‘Simply Offal: Rome’s Gutsy Quinto-Quarto Cooking’, a total of three offal jokes, because quinto quarto, the proper name for Roman innards cuisine, is itself a paradox. What were the undertones of baptizing a turkey a gallinaccio? Why does abbacchio mean ‘suckling lamb’, and, by the way, what do you do with all the bits of this lamb? All is revealed. Any historian who isn’t sure whether ancient Romans grew spelt or emmer may study a neat disentanglement of these two wheat species. Any etymologist who thinks there are no more surprises should read the explanation of the name supplì al telefono for fried rice croquettes. Useful bibliography, good index. This is one of those cookery books that you almost don’t need to use – you get the tastes and smells of Rome as you devour the text and drink the pictures. But it demands to be used. ANDREW DALBY
Joan Morgan & Alison Richards: The New Book of Apples: Ebury Press 2002: ISBN 0091883989: revised ed.; paintings by Elisabeth Dowle: £35.
If you are interested in apples and did not get hold of a copy first time round, now is your chance. This is the apple bible. Maybe it is no coincidence that the book not only describes over 2,000 varieties, but has many historical and mythical titbits to attract the apple enthusiast. A bite here, a bite there and you are very much the wiser. The apple really is the fruit of wisdom… The new version includes a fair bit of new material about genetic experiments in the Tien Shan and here I do not mean GM apples but rather the sort of experiments that unravel the genetic history of the apple. And here it gets really interesting and there is mention of Vavilov, a Russian geneticist who fell victim to Stalin’s purges whilst seeking the source of Malus sieversii, now seen as the ancestor of our own apples. Extraordinary diversity is the clue and the apples trees grow wild in the forests of the Tien Shan around Alma Ata in Kazakstan.
From Russia with Love… This is the genetic homeland of our apples and it is also the source of all those Paradise/Garden of Eden myths. Mountain valleys where wild fruit just hangs from the trees…
Mouth watering already. But there is serious scholarship here and most of the new work is at the rear of the book, a section that has been a marathon job for Joan Morgan. There is now a fine bibliography and a hundred new varieties in the directory. What is delightful is that a definitive book can be updated. It has already been a great success and yet apples and orchards need all the help they can get before the Braeburn or the Granny Smith suffocates our indigenous fruit. Old English varieties have such excellent flavours, pedigrees, history, provenance and terroir. Apples need good names, good soil and a good climate. In England we grow some of the best apples in the world. But that doesn’t mean you can’t import the odd French name or two like Orleans Reinette, a firm favourite of mine. So what better way to understand the world of apples more fully than to sit in your garden or better still in your orchard and read about what you are eating. We should treat our apples and cider in the same way that the French treat their vineyards and wine, i.e. with respect and knowledge. We are so ignorant of our own food and drink history. Not a snip at £35, I grant you, but it is one of those books you can pick up time and time again. Wonderfully illustrated – a must for Christmas. This by the way is also a guide to European apples. Education should be a real pleasure and this book is constantly at my elbow. I hope that Joan Morgan may one day do the same for pears. JAMES CROWDEN
Corby Kummer: The Pleasures of Slow Food: Chronicle Books, 2002: ISBN 0811833798: 176 pp., colour photos by Susie Cushner, h/b, $40.00.
The wonder of this book lies in all these people who, using their hands and their heads, come alive on the page thanks to the light touch of the ‘Dark Horse’ who tells the story. This is a kind of miracle given that these disparate individuals from different origins are united only in their devotion to labouring in closest contact with Mother Earth and her so various animals, fruits and plants which they have contemplated and put to use with, one can say, fresh eyes, whether looking back to old traditions or facing current needs of altered appetite in an industrial age, as food for the human race. If we have always suspected that the author was concealing something in the every day, through inborn modesty, this beautiful book reveals an astonishing virtuosity in delineating an evergrowing number of gifted and capable men and women who offer, not only to gastronomes but to all kinds of hungry people, what I call ‘real food’ rather than slow food. It has taken thirteen years from the beginning in Piedmont for this story to emerge in all its fascinating detail in many places across the world, the first part. The second part is about how you can begin to cook in this way at home, if you are not daunted by the glowing illustrations, dreamlike, shimmering throughout the text and printed in China, to remind you that cooking is an art. In the back flap of the cover is a portrait of the ‘Dark Horse’, Corby Kummer, looking out from a background of leaves, serious, as if he were thinking: ‘How will you take this?’ I say writing is also an art, of which his story is a perfect example that may well inspire others to follow in embracing slow food as real food. PATIENCE GRAY
Nawal Nasrallah: Delights from the Garden of Eden – A Cookbook and a History of the Iraqi Cuisine: 1st Books, 2003: ISBN 140334793X: 646pp., b&w photos, p/b. For more information about purchasing, call 1-888-280- 7715 or visit www.1stbooks.com or www.iraqicookbook.com.
This is a labour of love, all 650 pages of it, and a monument to energy, knowledge and enthusiasm. It is an account of origins and development as well as of the complex ethnic make-up of present-day Iraq – although the author herself, formerly a professor of English at the universities of Mosul and Baghdad, now lives in the United States. The book offers a capacious rummage for the lucky reader to extract innumerable pearls – either of wisdom and history, or of cooking instruction. We enjoyed her recipes when we tried them and profited from her information ‘boxes’ liberally scattered through the text that attack such topics as buraniya, the origin of the sandwich (you’ve guessed, it was Arab to start with), beer in ancient Mesopotamia and the development of drinking straws. It takes quite a lot of footwork to scale all the slopes, for the index is rudimentary, although there are other guides to help the wayfarer.
Marlena Spieler: Pasta: Headline Book Publishing, 2003: ISBN 074270279: 192 pp., colour photos, h/b, £20.00.
As pasta is currently our children’s favourite, it helps to have a useful book like this to ring the changes and to give them some practice in the kitchen. Not difficult to follow and full of sensible ideas.
Frances Harris: Transformations of Love – the friendship of John Evelyn and Margaret Godolphin: Oxford University Press, 2002: ISBN 0199252572: 330 pp., h/b, £25.00.
Some reference to this book has already been made earlier in this issue and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is an account of the intense yet unsettling (to modern readers) friendship of John Evelyn and the young Margaret Blagge (later Godolphin), a maid of honour at the court of Charles II. Was he just a dirty old man masking his sexual appetites beneath a veneer of right-thinking morality and devotion? Or was this a ‘seraphic’ friendship, platonic in every sense, more commonplace in the seventeenth century than in the late twentieth? Frances Harris, who has charge of the Evelyn MSS at the British Library, defends the honour of both Blagge and Evelyn (particularly against the imputations levelled by an earlier scholar, W.G. Hiscock, who used to have charge of the manuscripts when they were held in the library of Christ Church, Oxford). While so doing, she explains with elegance and sensitivity the nature of friendship in early-modern England as well as the workings (often easy to misinterpret) of John Evelyn’s mind. She succeeds in combining the best of scholarship with a style of writing that borrows from the current renaissance of the biographical genre: readable as well as instructive. At the same time, there is quite a lot about Evelyn that is decidedly weird which she perhaps ignores (he did have an unhealthy penchant for instructing young women but then, so did many scoutmasters for teaching young men). Her reading list (except for its failure to include John Evelyn, Cook) is inexhaustible and impressive.
Salah Jamal: Arabian Flavours: Recipes and Tales of Arab Life: Souvenir Press Ltd., 2003: ISBN 028563674X: 208 pp., b&w illus., h/b, £14.99.
This book was first published in Spain in 1999 and has already gone through five editions in that country. The author is a dermatologist who has lived in Barcelona for many years. By means of recipes he takes steps into his Palestinian childhood and his carefree years as a student in and around the Mediterranean (and not so carefree, given his nationality). Rather neatly, another reviewer made the quip that this book could ‘equally have been titled Make Food, Not War’. His choice of recipes runs through the absolute essentials of Arab cookery, from hummus and tabbouleh through macaroni and mulukhieh, to kofta, stuffed chicken, stuffed lamb and all the way to kadaif (which he spells katayef). The recipes are obligingly straightforward, with lots of variations. The big problem is the transliteration which has the novice in Arabic chasing wildly through Claudia Roden’s index in order to do some comparing and contrasting. An invigorating book which would do well as a present to someone wishing to start cooking in this style.
Andrew Dalby: Food in the Ancient World from A to Z: Routledge, 2003: ISBN 0415232597: 408 pp., b&w illus., h/b, £45.00.
This has to be the first book to begin with a Postscript (which treats of the transliteration of Greek words). Each entry of the dictionary itself (and they span everything from places to people to foodstuffs to preparation methods) is succinct, but never at the expense of wit and a prose style lending colour to the bare bones of fact. As do the best encyclopaedias, it soon has you hopping from article to article in pursuit of greater knowledge. Students will rejoice at and amateurs will wallow in so compendious a gathering. Not only is there narrative, but a very extensive bibliographic foundation. It will become an essential first step in anyone’s reading about the classical world and its foods.
Nick Clarke: The Shadow of a Nation – The Changing Face of Britain: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003: ISBN 0297607707: 277 pp., h/b, £20.00.
I turned to this book when feeling weak after sickness. What a tonic it proved. Racy, informed and entertaining, its energetic author is the presenter of the daily lunchtime news programme The World at One. By means of biographies, he tries to interpret our passage from the solid world of our postwar childhoods to the more nuanced (in terms of real and unreal, or observed and involved) situation today when, for example, we can admit an interest in cooking yet eat almost exclusively pre-prepared, shop-bought meals, or we can know more about a celebrity’s personal life than the most intimate of their friends, yet never have met them in the flesh. The reason for noticing it here is a chapter devoted to Elizabeth David and Delia Smith and Britain’s relationship to food, cooking and recipes. It hits several nails on the head. And the book as a whole gives the usually forgetful among us the chance to reprise the lives of those so utterly familiar, from Princess Margaret, to David Frost, Arthur Scargill and Charles Saatchi.
Susan Chan: Flavors of Burma (Myanmar) – Cuisine and Culture from the Land of Golden Pagodas: Hippocrene Books, 2003: ISBN 0781809479: 221 pp., b&w illus., h/b, $22.50.
Giovanna Bellia La Marca: Sicilian Feasts: Hippocrene Books, 2003: ISBN 0781809673: illus., h/b, $24.95.
Marina Chang: Tastes of the Pyrenees, Classic and Modern: Hippocrene Books, 2003: ISBN 0781809495: 290 pp., illus., h/b, $24.95.
Virginia Jerro Gerbino & Philip M. Kayal: A Taste of Syria: Hippocrene Books, 2003: ISBN 0781809460., 235 pp., b&w photos, h/b, $24.95.
Four more titles from the indefagitable Hippocrene, each with their own particular qualities and utility for those new to the cookery of the countries in question. Endearingly, there is virtually no common design running through the series: each is unique. And the texts, too, vary in their standpoint and origins. The Pyrenees book is a work of research and enthusiasm by an American-born author; that on Burma is by a Burmese woman who has long lived in Australia.
Ben Rogers: Beef and Liberty – Roast Beef, John Bull and the English Nation: Chatto & Windus, 2003: ISBN 070116980X: 207 pp., illus., h/b, £17.99.
This is a nicely written and entertaining essay on the linkage between our national diet, symbols and identity. It explores the origins and development of our taste for roast beef as well as the political symbolism of the eighteenth-century distaste (on paper at least) for French cookery and French dietary preferences. He is particularly strong on Hogarth and satirical cartoons and very enlightening on the use of food to make various points in Georgian drama and on some of the theoretical and practical consequences of beef-eating: John Bull, bulldogs, our love of bull-baiting and similar sports, the place of butchers in political discourse. Exemplary.
Wynkyn de Worde: The Boke of Keruynge: with an introduction by Peter Brears: Southover Press, 2003: ISBN 1870962192: 121 pp., b&w illus., h/b, £13.50.
Somewhere in the midst of our family album are photographs of a man sporting the parish-church choral robe (conveniently scarlet) topped off by a shocking-pink, broad-brimmed sun hat. His role was that of Cardinal Wolsey, assumed for a day at the village school where he was coaching the children in the rituals of early Tudor feasting. If only that man had been lucky enough to own this edition of The Boke of Keruynge. As he instructed the children to kneel hither and yon, folding napkins, bowing to the salt, wandering aimlessly around the village hall, he had every possible doubt in his interpretation. Surely this cannot have been what they meant, he muttered while feverishly thumbing his copy of Antiquitates Culinariae. Amazingly, by and large it was. But Peter Brears’s sensational introduction and illustrated explication, together with Ann Bagnall’s facing-page transcription of the original black-letter text of this manual would have given extra detail (tuition in medieval dressing) and, most important, lashings of confidence. An essential for the library.
Clarissa Hyman: Cucina Siciliana: Conran Octopus, 2003: ISBN 1840911832: 160 pp., photos by Peter Cassidy, h/b, £18.99.
The photographs are exceptionally evocative, their colours quiver and shimmer, lending lustre to the prose. And this does its job too, with the recipes giving English readers every opportunity to explore aspects of this island’s cookery, though I was rather looking forward to a version of the macaroni pie familiar from Casanova and Lampedusa (and which can be essayed in a less rich version in La Marca’s book, above).
Ardashir Vakil: One Day: Hamish Hamilton, 2003: ISBN 024114132X: 292 pp., h/b, £12.99.
The reason for my noticing this novel is that one of the protagonists, an English teacher at a notorious comprehensive school in Westminster, is also a cookery-book writer engaged somewhat disaffectedly in a new work on fusion food. The subject may be emblematic, for the polyethnic Islington society in which he moves is a human version of the cuisine. It had me in my isolated backwoods rivetted, as a rabbit in headlights. However the food is not centre-stage and this is a book to borrow from the library rather than preserve on your shelf of modern firsts.
Raymond Sokolov: The Cook’s Canon – 101 Classic Recipes everyone should know: HarperCollins, New York: 2003: ISBN 0060083905: 272 pp., p/b, $25.95.
Professor Bloom has his literary canon (as do we, but it’s not the Professor’s): Raymond Sokolov suggests a culinary version. One could witter for days on whether this or that should be included, but here is not the place, save to point out that 101 is opportunity enough to include an awful lot of things you may have thought of: Omelette, Onion Soup, Osso Buco, and Oysters Rockefeller are the Os, just to list a sparsely represented letter in this alphabetically arranged manual. The recipe instructions are feasible, even for Bstilla. But what will make this book a certain candidate for everybody’s kitchen will be the short essays prefacing each entry: witty, informed, to the point (even when it’s an hilarious anecdote), in short, brilliant. So brilliant that the kitchen is not where this should be, but the bed or bathroom with a second cooking copy so you don’t giggle into your Sauce Nantua.
R. Elwyn Hughes: Dysgl Bren a Dysgl Arian: Y Lolfa: 2003: ISBN 0862436605: 317 pp., p/b, £14.95.
In my studious youth, learned theses in Swedish, Finnish and Flemish used very kindly to include English or French precis at the back of the book. Quotation from these works certainly added class to your essays, for you never had to admit the crib. Elwyn Hughes’s book is entirely in Welsh and has no precis. Nor does the Advance Information Sheet from the publisher. Therefore, the only thing I can tell you is that the title translates into English as ‘Silver Dish or Wooden Dish: notes on the history of food in Wales’. There is an essay on scurvy; another on Welsh indigenous drinks such as liquor from the Mountain Ash tree; a third on wild plants and their place in the diet; and that is about as far as I can penetrate this evidently learned and fully referenced work.