PPC 65 (September 2000)
PPC 65 (September 2000)
Notes and Queries
A NOTE ON ARGON OIL from Andrew Dalby
Readers of the Oxford Symposium Documents will remember the front cover of the 1986 volume, The Cooking Medium, illustrated with a drawing by Soun Vannithone. It shows an enormous, spreading tree under which goats and sheep are browsing meditatively. Closer inspection reveals that some of the goats have climbed quite high into the tree, attracted by something to be found among the branches. The tree is the argonnier (its French name) of southern Morocco. It flourishes in the neighbourhood of Taroudant just south of the High Atlas. The picture accompanied a short ‘Note on Argon Oil’ by Caroline Simmonds. This was possibly only the third time that argon oil had been mentioned in English. I believe it remains quite unknown in Britain, but it is known, at least by a select few, in France, which once ruled Morocco and has a Moroccan emigré community. The powerful aroma of the oil – nutty, one might say; earthy, some would aver – suits it for use as a dressing; its high price, at least in Paris, deters anyone tempted to cook with it. Thanks to a neighbouring pharmacist, Olivier Lasfargeas, a connoisseur of edible oils, I can now add a little to Caroline’s information. She described the extraction of the oil thus: ‘The inhospitable nature of the foliage renders harvesting of the fruit … well-nigh impossible. Luckily goats roost (or whatever goats do) in the tree, and obligingly shake down the ripe fruit, from which the grateful locals press the oil.’ This, I am assured, must have been a bowdlerized version. The first sentence is spot-on: the second seriously underestimates the contribution made by the goats. They climb the tree not to sleep in it, though for all I know they may do this as well, but to get at the fruit, which is a favourite with them: so much so that they eat it greedily, stone and all. The stone passes more or less unscathed through the caprine digestive system and is, in due course, retrieved by ladies of the Women’s Cooperative of this district of Morocco. They break the stone to get at the oil-rich kernel, which is finally pressed. Can anyone else confirm this description of the process? Incidentally, Stephen Facciola lists the argonnier as a source of edible oil in Cornucopia (1st edn, 1990). He gives the botanical name Argania spinosa and the English names ‘argan tree, Morocco iron-wood’. He refers to three additional sources of information, including Paula Wolfert’s Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco (1973). My address is Le Bourg, 79120 Saint-Coutant, France: email email@example.com
PIE FLOATER from Barbara Santich
I’m pleased to report some progress with research on the pie floater, a meat pie served in a sea of pea soup with a slash of tomato sauce (PPC 64). I have learned it is not unique to South Australia; Joanna Savage informs me that it used to be available in Brisbane in the early 1960s, and it seems amso to have been sold at Broken Hill (New South Wales, but almost in South Australia). And Laura Mason alerted me to the ‘pie and peas’ suppers in Yorkshire, and to the mushy peas which are commonly sold as a take-away by English pie shops and fish-and-chip shops. The exact origins of the pie floater in South Australia – who and where and when – are blurred in a swirl of faded memories and vague hearsay, but I believe it could have been simply the result of fortuitous proximity. Pie stalls, which had been around since at least the 1870s, were often associated with another form of fast food, mashed peas. Louis Stone’s novel, Jonah, set in Sydney in the early 1900s, describes ‘a basin full of green peas, boiled to a squashy mass’ which were eaten sprinkled with pepper and vinegar (vinegar was an alternative to tomato sauce in the early days of pie floater, too). Yet another street food, saveloys, were also eaten with mashed peas. It’s not necessarily obvious, but one can understand the progression to a pie in thick pea soup. As for the name, an English slang compendium (John S. Farmer and W.E. Henley, eds., Slang and its Analogues Past and Present, volume III, 1893) records ‘floater’ as a suet dumpling in soup. According to Stephen Massil, in Suffolk something similar is known as a ‘Suffolk swimmer’. This he describes from an experience in a café in Walberswick near Southwold as a "dumpling that sat atop a winter broth and almost filled the bowl. They refused to divulge the recipe which may have included suet.’. Logically, then, a pie on a purée of peas, or in a thick pea soup, should be called a pie floater. It might be an adaptation and progression of an English custom, but unless anyone has evidence to the contrary, I can claim it as authentically Australian. My address is 13 King Street, Brighton 5048, South Australia: email Barbara Santich <firstname.lastname@example.org>
LEONARD WELSTED from the Editor
The poem ‘Of APPLE-PYES’ that we printed in the last issue was, according to DNB, composed by this miscellaneous writer in 1704. We suggested that this was the correct ascription, not to Dr William King, the noted rhymer and pamphleteer on things gastronomic of the same period. One pamphlet he wrote is The Northern Atlantis…or York Spy, dated 1713. It contains the same poem on apple pie that we printed in the last issue. That outing provoked a letter from Mr Simon Hall of Crown-Lea, East Lane, Chieveley, Newbury RG20 8UZ who said, ‘Some years ago I purchased a collection of pamphlets associated with Alexander Pope. In this collection, two items were food-related…’ He enclosed photocopies of the apple pie poem, but with an opening six-line stanza and a closer of four lines which are not included in the version we printed here. This text is a small octavo pamphlet entitled Apple-Pye. A Poem. By Dr. King. Now first Printed from a Correct Copy. It is not dated. He also enclosed a second text from a pamphlet entitled Poems on Several Occasions, this one bearing the heading, ‘A Receipt for a Soup. Address’d to Dean Swift. By Mr. Pope.’ Take a Knuckle of Veal, You may buy it or steal) In few Pieces cut it, In a Stew-Pan put it. Salt, Pepper and Mace Must Season this Knuckle, Then, what’s joined to a Place, (a) With other Herbs muckle. That which killed King Will. (b) And what never stands still. (c) Some Sprigs of that Bed, (d) Whence Chilcdren are bread. This, much you may mend, if Both Spinage and Endive, And Lettice and Beet With Marigolds meet. Put no Water at all, For it maketh Things small, Which lest it should happen A close Cover clap on. Put in Pot of Wood’s Metal, (e) (That’s a boiling hot Kettle) And there let it be, (Mark the Doctrine I teach) About — let me see Thrice as long as you Preach. So skimming the Fat off, Say Grace with your Hat off; And then with what Rapture, Will it fill Dean and Chapter? (a) Salary. (b) Sorrel. (c) Time. (d) Parsley. (e) Copper. If any reader has a favourite food-related poem of the 18th century (the ‘long’ century, perhaps, no need to be literal-minded), I would be glad to hear of it. I harbour a wish to put together a small anthology.
THE RESTAURANT from William Woys Weaver
Some comments on Alan Davidson’s review of Rebecca Spang’s The Invention of the Restaurant in >PPC 64. Spang’s contribution to this niche of historical research is invaluable and I think all who are interested in the history of cuisine will thank her heartily for a job well done. However, I do want to add a few comments to the pot, if I may employ a culinary metaphor. They are basically refinements on a few points made by Alan Davidson and by Dr. Spang herself. Firstly, John Mariani’s Dictionary of American Food and Drink, which is not nearly as reliable as suggested, would have been improved very much on the subject of restaurants if some of the numerous American books written at the turn of the 20th century about old inns and taverns had been consulted. It was known even then that there were restaurants in the United States during the 1790s, and known by that French name. Jean Baptist Julien’s ‘Restorator’ of 1790s Boston (a picture of it survives) and Pierre Bossée’s ‘Nouveau Caveau’ in 1790s Philadelphia were both described in the period press as restaurants (or self-described, since the term appeared in advertisements). This should push back the appearance of the word restaurant in English another twenty years. Unlike Julien (an émigré from France), Bossée hailed from Haiti where he operated his old caveau in Cape Française (now Cape Haitien). That was an establishment run as a restaurant for rich French planters prior to 1793. Bossée also operated a French boarding-house in Philadelphia, which served food table d’hôte and should not be confused with meals served separately (mostly to gentlemen at late hours) in the restaurant. Lang may be correct in suggesting that the restaurant in France was originally a Parisian institution, but this should not exclude the quick proliferation of copycat establishments in capital cities elsewhere – for example in Berlin, Vienna, Dresden, Warsaw, or even in some of the rich French colonies (as in the case of Bossée). German cookbooks were using the French term by the 1770s (and arguing over its true meaning). Furthermore, German physician Johann Jacob Woyt alluded to the new popularity of restaurants (the food served there in any case) in his 1784 medical encyclopedia and even provided a recipe for a broth which appears to be French. My point here is that the concept of the restaurant underwent a very rapid metamorphosis in tandem with the Paris developments. I deal with the medical side of this tangled story in my forthcoming book Sauer’s Herbal Cures (Routledge, NY and London, fall 2000) based on the largely forgotten herbal of American apothecary Christopher Sauer II, issued in serialized format between 1762 and 1777. The restaurant figures in Sauer’s medical dietetics, a theme going back to the iusculumconsummatum of the Middle Ages and much discussed under Kraftbrühe in German culinary and medical sources of the 18th century. The other point I should like to make relates to Spang’s reliance on John Durbin’s 1844 remark about restaurants (or the lack of the Paris sort in the United States at that time). This has led her to the faulty conclusion that such institutions did not exist here. In fact, there were many: Parkinson’s and William Carel’s Simon Bolivar (both in Philadelphia) were known nationally at that time, and so was Delmonico’s in New York. The Delmonico menus of the 1830s even styled that establishment as a restaurant française lest there be any doubt. We might conclude that Durbin (a Methodist) did not eat in the best circles this side of the Atlantic. Actress Fanny Kemble’s copious opinions on the same subject from the same period might be held more accountable, since she spoke French fluently, dined well in Paris and London before coming to this country, and was thus able to make much better comparisons (not always flattering). However, even though they are quite often quotable, the opinions of one person cannot be read as the reality for a given period. This is Spang’s problem with Durbin, and a pitfall for many food historians in general. My address is: Box 75, Devon, PA USA 19333-0075.
Su-Mei Yu: Cracking the Coconut – Classic Thai Home Cooking: Wm Morrow, New York, 2000: ISBN 0-688-16542-7: 334 pp., colour and b/w photos by Alexandra Grabowski, h/b, $30.00. This first book from a charming and learned contributor to PPC is a delight. Having seen a proof copy, I composed with enthusiasm a word-bite for the back of the jacket: ‘A perfect marriage between the practical – wonderfully clear recipes – and the lyrical – beautifully written passages on Thai history and culture…’. Now, handling the book in its published form, I am enjoying anew the delightful passage about Thai kitchens, humble and grand; the section on the coconut which gives the book its title; the chapter on the Thai philosophy of food, explaining how the reign of King Narai in the second half of the 17th century saw the start of the evolution which has culminated in the Thai cuisine we know today; and the tempting array of recipes. Not every author has the gift of making recipes both inspirational (‘I can’t wait to do this’, e.g. myself after reading the recipe for steamed fish custard in banana-leaf pouches) and lucid in instruction (‘Now I see exactly how it's done’). Su-Mei Yu has the gift. A point for the next edition. The recipe for Chile Water from Lanna and the colour photograph with the same title need to be coordinated. At present, whether one starts with the photo and tries to locate in the recipe the things it shows, or first studies the recipe and then looks for its ingredients in the photo, bafflement ensues. A trifling matter, but a book so good deserves editorial perfection. AED Michael Ashkenazi and Jeanne Jacob: The Essence of Japanese Cuisine. An Essay on Food and Culture: Curzon Press, Richmond, Surrey, 2000: ISBN 0-7007-1085-X: 252 pp., b/w photos, notes glossary, references, index, h/b, £45. A serious, thorough and important academic study of Japanese culture, especially as it relates to food, this book approaches the subject from a highly personal point of view. The authors’ objective is to ‘provide a reasoned overview of the relationship between Japanese culture and its cuisine, and in particular to highlight how changes occur in this cuisine’. ‘The book is not aimed solely at a target audience of our fellow Japanese specialists’ state the authors, but it does seem to be primarily aimed at such people. This is a book for readers with staying powers and is certainly not a light read. It does, however, treat the subject thoroughly with a wealth of examples from personal experience of living in Japan. Topics presented include a theoretical introduction to the subject, Japanese food in its background, food events and their meaning, food preparation styles, food loci, aesthetics in the world of Japanese food, learning the cultural rules, the art of dining, and dimensions and contradictions in Japan’s food culture. The authors are to be congratulated on producing such an extensive and interesting study of a subject on which hitherto there has been very little written in English. RFH The Women of the First Congregational Church, Marysville, Ohio, compilers: Centennial Buckeye Cook Book: Ohio State University Press, Columbus, 2000: ISBN 0-8142-5039-4: xlviii + 352 pp., introduction and appendices by Andrew F. Smith, p/b, price not stated. This is a welcome new edition of a substantial and idiosyncratic book first published in 1876. The pleasing dedication is to ‘the plucky housewives of 1876 who master their work instead of allowing it to master them.’ Many such are identified as sources for the recipes. Insights into the lifestyle of famlies in a small Ohio town in the 1870s abound. Insights into the background and context of the publication are presented in full measure by Andrew Smith. A great book for browsing, especially for those who like cakes and students of old advertisements )of which there are many at the back of the book). My favourite little treasure culled from the 400 pages is from Mrs W.W.W.’s recipe for Chicken Pie. ‘You can scarcely have too much gravy’ is the climactic sentence, and one worthy of wider application. AED Paul D. Buell and Eugene N. Anderson: A Soup for the Qan: Kegan Paul International, London & New York, 2000: ISBN 0-7103-0583-4: 715 pp., appendix by Charles Perry, bibliography, index, h/b, £150. A large, expensive book, representing a major feat of scholarship, to do with the cuisine practised at the court established by the great medieval Mongol ruler in the Orient, none other than the mighty Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, two potentates whose names are now given more correctly as Quibilai-qan and Cinggis-kan. By 1276, Quibilai’s Mongols had conquered all China and established the Yuan Dynasty, whose empire spread far and wide. In 1330 there was presented to the then emperor a dietary manual, the Yin-shan cheng-yao. This is what we have here, in translation and with abundant commentary. Having used for many years the great Sino-Iranica by Laufer, I approached the present book with some knowledge of early exchanges between the Middle East and the Far East. Here, however, is much more, and a wealth of information about Mongol food and cookery and dietary lore (this last mainly Chinese). Charles Perry’s appendix on the grain foods of the early Turks is also a very interesting and relevant addition. This impressive and scholarly volume will at once become a major reference for food historians, and in many other fields of study too. HJS Daovone Xayavong: Taste of Laos: SLG Books, Berkeley, CA, 2000: ISBN 0-943389-32-1: 135pp., foreword by Alan Davidson, introduction by John Bear, colour and b/w photos, glossary, index, p/b, $15.95. My approval of this book is manifest; I was ashed to provide a foreword for it, and gladly did so. Daovone Xayavong was born in the celebrated Plain of Jars in Laos and educated at a Culinary College in Vientiane – one which I think I remember visiting when I was working there in the mid-1970s. She has now been running a popular Lao restaurant in Berkeley, California, for nearly ten years. In her book she has sought to convey the authentic recipes which she uses, together with a fair amount of information about ingredients etc. The recipes are clear and practical and the reader is helped to visualize the finished dishes by colour photographs, for instance of Bag of Gold (Thong Thong) and Ant Egg Soup (Keang Khai Mood). By the way, the author is highly persuasive in recommending this soup, explaining that the best eggs come from the ants that live on the mango tree. I also enjoyed and learned from the recipe for Young Banana Tree Soup (Kang Youk) – indeed this is a great book for browsing and picking up new ideas. The formula of one recipe to a page is followed, an arrangement which I always find helpful. The one addition I would recommend is that of a consolidated index. AED Diana Kennedy: My Mexico: Clarkson Potter, New York, 1998: ISBN 0-609-60247-0: 550 pp., colour photographs by the author, indexes, no bibliography, h/b, no price stated. A highly personal book which is a delight to read as well as to use. The most celebrated writer on food and cookery in Mexico here offers a charmingly woven tapestry of what she has found and experienced on recent journeys throughout the country, together with memories from earlier trips. Intriguing recipes abound – including, I notice, many for particular species of mushroom – and are made all the more tempting by being set in their local contexts. I was fascinated, for example, by the account of a mushroom hunt and the Mexican mushroom gatherers. A must for everyone who enjoys fine sparkling prose and is interested in Mexican food. AED Anne Willan: A Kitchen in Burgundy: Cassell & Co., London, 2000: ISBN 0-304-33438-4: 304 pp., colour photos, glossary, index, h/b, £25.00. Some of you will be lucky enough to have been to Anne Willan’s Château du Feÿ; others will have to content themselves with this book to give them some idea of the beauty, charm, magnificence, etc. If you wanted a house in France, this could be your ideal. Langdon Clay’s photographs are handsome and evocative – the layout by turns ingenious and generous. The fact is, though, that so enraptured are the producers by the details and the landscape that there are hardly any pictures of the Château itself (two postage stamps and an old postcard). Like those lifestyle articles in the glossies, one’s impression is constructed by inference. Anne Willan has composed a narrative that marches paragraph by paragraph, each step interrupted by a recipe. There is structure there: we start with the view to a purchase, we finish with a daughter’s wedding, taking in staff, locals, the region’s food producers and restaurateurs and the life of La Varenne cooking school on the way. Anne Willan's recipes are very French and very good. We have long been fans, finding that their proof is in the eating – the instructions make sense. I was unable to work out why Mme Gillet is sometimes called Gillot, or why her ducks (according to text and captions) were in fact geese (in the photos) but presumed this was the ignorance of a Bostonian editor who had never seen live poultry, not an oversight of the châtelaine herself. Michael A. Ginor: Foie Gras - A Passion: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1999: ISBN 0-471-29318-0: 338 pp., colour photos, index, h/b, $49.95. Not many of us cook foie gras in the home, so the recipes in this book are probably by the way. Lucky, really, because the photographs do not make them appetizing (old hat photography and layout) and the food combinations will worry. Best to leave that part to the chefs. The preliminary matter, however, is a useful canter through foie gras, culminating in the establishment of Hudson Valley Foie Gras by Michael Ginor and Izzy Yanay. Their utterly American combination of enthusiasm and efficiency has resulted in the world’s biggest producer (of foie gras de canard, not goose liver). The history bit is contributed by Andrew Coe and Jane Ziegelman. They give the accolade for the transmission of foie gras from the classical world to Renaissance Italy to the Ashkenazi Jews of Germany, not the Gallo-Roman peasantry of Périgord. Indeed, the new American industry owes its existence to exposure of Michael Ginor to foie gras in the suburbs of Tel Aviv. And Casanova is witness to the Jews’ love of the stuff. He once fetched up, in some disarray, at a Jew’s house in Ancona, where he boarded for a while: ‘I was given a meat dinner prepared entirely in the Jewish fashion, and Leah [the lovely daughter] herself came in with the liver and sat down opposite me without any ado, but wearing a fichu over her beautiful bosom. The liver was exquisite, and since it was not large we ate it all, washing it down with Scopolo wine, which Leah declared was even better than the liver; then she got up to leave; but I objected: dinner was only half over. Leah said she would stay, but that her father would not like it. I told the maid to ask him to come up, for I had something to say to him. I told Mordecai that his daughter's appetite doubled mine, and that he would be doing me a favour if he allowed her to eat with me whenever we had goose liver.’ The book is also good on British tastes. Until well into the Victorian period, wherever a French source would have goose liver, the British translation or interpretation would happily suggest chicken, calf’s or any other liver you liked. Gavage was not a British habit. Will Studd: Chalk and Cheese: Purple Egg, South Melbourne, 1999: ISBN 0-9586195-0-6: 248 pp., colour photos, index, h/b, in the region of £30. A very handsome book; the photographs are by Adrian Lander; the text is by an Englishman who went to Australia in 1981, having already worked in food in his homeland (he was one of those incredibly acceptable and attractive undergraduates that Justin de Blank used to people his stores with), and who then went on to establish himself as a white-hot cheese expert in a country that was rapidly discovering that it could make good cheese too. When he first arrived he started bringing in European cheeses, so rare were the indigenous. Twenty years later, he can describe 120 serious Australian cheeses. The book is emphatically Australian in its particulars, but the general underpinning is valid for all cheese, so anyone will learn some useful facts about rinds, goats, rennet et al. There are even some recipes. Under the direction of Dorothee Rippmann and Brigitta Neumeister-Taroni: Les Mangeurs de l’an 1000: L’archaeologie et l'Alimentation. Fondation Alimentarium, Vevey, 2000: ISBN 2-940-284-04-0: 277 pp., colour illus., p/b. This book accompanies an exhibition of the same name at the Swiss food museum, L'Alimentarium. As we now seem unable to absorb any facts unless they are presented in a sort of multi-media garb, this will do nicely. The print, the graphics, the pictures are delectable; the paper and white space generous. The book is generally about archaeology and what it offers to food historians, and particularly draws upon Swiss and near-French sites and survivals. The contributors are international (Massimo Montanari) but mainly Swiss, German or French. One site, Colletière in the Isère, north of Grenoble, gets perhaps the most allocation of space, because it has been so well accounted for: it is a settlement that was abandoned in the 11th century as the waters of the lake at its edge crept up and smothered it. Every description of archaeology gets a section (and a graphic in luminous colours): dendro-, -botany, -zoology, plus anthropology and the science of sign language (in 11th-century monasteries). An eye-opener. Tenth Symposium of Australian Gastronomy: Beyond the Tuckerbox - Securing the Future: Divine Pty Ltd., 1998: ISSN 0815-3728: 191 pp., b/w illus., p/b., Aus$35.00 including postage. This is the one where they camped – in the Grampians beyond Melbourne. The Australian Symposia are shoot-from-the-hip affairs and some of the tensions pervade this volume: the accounts of discussions make good reading, as does the introduction by Marieke Brugman. They also include quite a lot of hot air in their intellectual recipe, but it can be inspirational – just as yabbies and baby emus are delectable (consumed here in giant quantity). The al fresco arrangement was meant to pull the Symposium back to its Australian roots: away with Epicurus and Brillat-Savarin (though Michael Symons was there to urge their reinstatement), in with the aboriginal and indigenous. Every section of the book has its points, but that relating to international trade, environmental degradation, food policy and consumer involvement (John Fitzpatrick, Eric Rolls, Barbara Santich and Gae Pincus) had some really good points to make. Copies can be obtained from Lois Butt, 2 Hodgson Street, Kew 3101, Victoria, Australia with your currency equivalent to the Aus$ price, cheques payable to Symposium of Australian Gastronomy (Victoria). An email address is <email@example.com>. Linda Collister & Anthony Blake: Country Bread: Conran Octopus, London, 2000: ISBN 1-84091-117-4: 176 pp., index, h/b, £20.00. Page 135 has a fine photograph of our pond and barn at Allaleigh, so I have to be in favour of the book. Photographer and author have combined to ensure instruction and enjoyment on all levels as Linda Collister makes her way round the world talking to bakers (and some millers), as well as John Thorne of Simple Cooking (and below). There are some excellent recipes for sensible breads (nothing too wildly postmodern) and great photographs from a master and enthusiast. I particularly liked the explanation of Sardinian crispbread, but German rye bread, P. Koffmann’s baguettes, or Indian flat breads may be your favourites. John Thorne: Pot on the Fire - further confessions of a renegade cook: North Point Press, New York, October 2000: ISBN 0-86547-564-4: 377 pp., p/b, $25.00. It is sometimes difficult to explain (and sell) John Thorne’s writing to British people. There is a measured deliberation that causes impatience. It might be encapsulated in these phrases from the blurb for this latest collection of essays and recipes from his newsletter Simple Cooking: ‘it celebrates – and, in classic Thorne style, ponders, probes and scrutinizes – a lifelong engagement with the elements of cooking…’. But a Thorne essay is a wondrous thing. It makes you say, ‘Please, no more navel-gazing, or minute dissection of life's everyday norms.’ But without notice, it draws you in, entraps you in its maze of reference, alerts you to other people and their thoughts, picks up a nice distinction or verbal dissonance and provides a basket of recipes that you know to the essence of your being have been well tried, considered and judged. When you reach the end, you feel you have touched on a subject that otherwise would have never broken through; you feel richer, more knowledgeable, and often happier. Clever stuff. The preoccupations in this volume include bread (in several guises), pasta (ditto), restaurants, dumplings, rice, and beans. Alan Warde and Lydia Martens: Eating Out – Social Differentiation, Consumption and Pleasure: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000: ISBN 0-521-59969-5: 246 pp., index, p/b, £14.95. The hardback is £45, paper should do for us. Sociology is an acquired taste; most people advisedly keep their distance: page after page of twaddle. Every statement a truism, beyond the sociological, the world seems a mystery to the authors’ brains. Eating-out in this case extends to friends’ houses as well as in restaurants. The subjects were resident in London, Bristol and Preston in Lancashire: Bristol contributes the fact that it likes eating in pubs above all else; London is distinguished by the number of times people go to ethnic restaurants in contrast to the other two cities. Amongst the tables I sought to find one fact to astonish, but failed. I began wondering if the subjects were in indulging in fancy (like those performance figures in surveys of other aspects of private life). We are to believe that 5% of the population entertains strangers (to a main meal) several times a week; 14% once a week; 13% once a fortnight; 22% once a month. Misanthropy has nothing on me, then. World Food Ireland: Lonely Planet, Hawthorn, Victoria, 2000: ISBN 1-86450-093-X: 238 pp., colour photos, index, p/b, £6.99. World Food Turkey: Lonely Planet, Hawthorn, Victoria, 2000: ISBN 1-86450-027-1: 262 pp., colour photos, index, glossary, dictionary, p/b, £6.99. Two more volumes in this sassy series, which has something of the up-to-date and young about it that more staid productions do not. Enthusiasm coupled with experience on the street make them potentially helpful to the traveller (plus good glossaries – though none for Gaelic). When describing something closer to home, the generalizations come a little too thick and fast which may also be true of more foreign climes: but here the blind are leading the blind. Rosemary Barron: Flavours of Greece: Grub Street, London, 2000: ISBN 1-902304-28-4: 370 pp., colour photos, index, glossary, h/b, £18.99. Colman Andrews: Flavours of the Riviera - Discovering the Real Mediterranean Cooking of France and Italy: Grub Street, London, 2000: ISBN 1-902304-21-7: 367 pp., b/w and colour pictures, index, h/b, £17.99. Grub Street, here offering one entirely new book and one by the editor of Saveur already published with acclaim in the United States, seem intent on girdling the Mediterranean (well, and the Caspian too with Margaret Shaida’s Persia) with their monographs of one cuisine or another. All are authoritative, all decently produced (love the covers on this pair). Both of these have characteristics in common: a knowledge of the area, a usefully systematic tendency, a good set of recipes, a wish to convert, to proselytise. The choice of region, straddling nation-states, is especially delectable in Mr Andrews’ book – quite taking one back to the 18th century; the overall approach – treating of ingredients, wines, food and foodways – in Ms Barron’s is to be especially valued. We ave not space enough to do them credit; but they should be on one’s shelf as works of reference and reading as well as source for another lunch. John Allemang: The Importance of Lunch and other real-life adventures in good eating: Random House, Canada, 1999: ISBN 0-679-30986-1: 375 pp., h/b, $32.95. The author wrote a food column on the Toronto Globe and Mail for many years (now he’s turned television critic), ‘acting as a public defender for simple pleasures’. This book is a collection of his essays, alternately short and long, from that period (1980s-ish), each with a handful of appended recipes (for good old favourites). If there is a line it is: that pleasure is paramount; it exists where you find it yourself, not where you’re told to; that most foodlovers’ fixations (regional food, ethnic authenticity, the preeminence of trend or fashion, matching wine to eatables) are to be avoided. The style is discursive – the pieces range across Chinese cookery (in N. America), Italian and English cucina rustica, French provincial, ethnic American, bread and risotto, and more – the intellectual base both homespun and Anglo-European (Mr Allemang cut his gastro-teeth when helping Christopher Driver and Aileen Hall at The Good Food Guide). For strangers, the essays may cause some adjustment of their view of Toronto – as culturally varied a city as many more famously polyglot further south. His humour is attractive – I liked a demolition of ‘tall food’ in restaurants; and he enjoys his kitchen literature – a nicely turned appreciation of Elizabeth David, and an interesting assessment of Martha Stewart (something of a preoccupation for him – and maybe for millions). He has one thing absolutely right: when you choose a place of work, make sure that lunch is going to be good. My few years of office-life were blighted by the absence of lunch (or blessed by its presence when I struck lucky on location). How a day can pass without lunch is beyond me – and John Allemang too. Andrew Dalby: Dangerous Tastes – The Story of Spices: British Museum Press, London, October 2000: ISBN 0-7141-2720-5: 177 pp., glossary, h/b, £16.99. I only have a proof copy, and it is possible that the subtitle, when published, will be ‘Spices in World History’. Reading Andrew Dalby is sometimes reminiscent of Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, not for the gloom or human oddity, but for the breathtaking succession of classical sources, each less familiar than the last. He has deployed his reading to good effect, and has plundered other cultures and eras for lots more supporting material. Spices are a heady ingredient: each one might form the base for a Longitude-style micro-monograph (cinnamon already has, I think). Each section of this catalogue raisonnée historique has its own romance. Andrew Dalby writes lightly but clearly, the various strands left to plait themselves together in the brain. A humane and readable book. Sue Shepard: Pickled, Potted and Canned – The Story of Food Preserving: Headline, London, 2000: ISBN 0-7472-2334-3: 353 pp., b/w illus., index, h/b, £15.99. The subject is broad, the account all-embracing, with especially good use being made of the material presented at various British and Scandinavian symposia such as that at Oxford. This is a narrative history, not a scientific account so not too much space is taken by equations or calculations. A synthesis such as this will be of real utility for reference and perspective, though supporters of one sort of preservation over another may complain that their preferred method (natural fermentation for example, or freezing) has not had sufficient space allotted it. That would be unfair; an overview like this is needed, and it is most welcome. Paul Richardson: Cornucopia – A Gastronomic Tour of Britain: Little Brown, London, 2000: ISBN 0-316-64817-5: 278 pp., h/b. Paul Richardson was a youthful editor of Taste and Wine magazines in London in the ’eighties. He took off for Spain, wrote a couple of books, did some travel journalism, then returned to undertake the tour he recounts here. He is a fair journalist with a ready, flowing pen. He moves from county to county to meet people producing food or cooking it, telling something of his conversations, something of their lives. And he supports life the while, reflecting on the state of British ‘food culture’ after many nights of B&Bs and desolate visits to Grimsby and towns of that ilk. The message is not heartening point de vue British food, or British catering, but the book is an enjoyable way of spending a wet afternoon. The noise we make about food does not necessarily translate into happiness on the plate. To achieve that, you have to hunt the madcap supplier, squirrel away guidebooks as insurance against fetching up in an unfamiliar city, work more at the thinking and planning than the eating itself to avoid irritated indigestion. Lindsey Bareham: A Wolf in the Kitchen. Easy Food for Hungry People: Penguin Books, London, 2000: ISBN 0-140-26245-8: 237 pp., p/b, £9.99. Ms Bareham’s second book in this issue of PPC is a new title, a Penguin Original – looking as unlike a Penguin as any I've seen. The cares of motherhood have prompted her to consider how to impart her knowledge to the next generation. We have a how-to book from first principles of chopping and batterie to shopping and seasons. Care, mostly successful, is taken to avoid patronising; information is rapidly dispensed. The index shows the big hits to be pasta, tomatoes and stir-fries, seconded by soups, potatoes and eggs. Rice is a third. Pork and chicken are the meats of choice; beef hardly gets a look-in. Mother has no compunctions about using cans when necessary, nor about delivering fast, highly flavoured, bold cooking, with most fussy corners omitted. Even so, her recipe for pilaff is more complicated than mine. Maybe I should set up stall in the local Students’ Union. Anthony Bourdain: Kitchen Confidential. Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly: Bloomsbury, London, 2000: ISBN 0-7475-5072-7: 308 pp., h/b, £16.99. This was a book that I did not want to read. The pre-publicity had put me off. Wrong, wrong: it’s good. The description of a working day in a restaurant kitchen is a tour de force. At least three-quarters of the book is gripping, though the meal-like structure, a memoir in courses, falls apart towards the end when it starts to resemble jottings over coffee. Comparisons with Orwell's Down and Out (or Nicholas Freeling, a line less followed) are by the way. Worth it for its own sake. This is Jamie Oliver with balls. Bourdain is a cartoon chef – fuelled by drugs and booze (the place of drugs in modern professional kitchens is parallel to that in cycling – the human frame pushed beyond natural endurance). This character exists in many plots: Orwell and Freeling, Dickens, Peake’s Ghormenghast, and alas in reality. The world he inhabits is by turns brutish and lovable. But it's the upside-down attraction of the prison, the barracks or the public school: inhabited by men alone (or men-like women), indulging in unfathomable stupidity, cruelty, violence, extremes. This way of life is unnecessary, as Bourdain himself admits, for the food does not taste any better. In a chapter which cuts the ground of the book from under its feet, he describes a kitchen run by calm, sweet rationality. And the food does taste better. The insistence of chefs on the necessity of baptism by fire for anyone learning the craft is much the same as in hospitals, where junior doctors live through hell because surgeons say it did them good in their youth. Equally stupid; sexist; brainless. There is much to ponder here, and too little space in these pages to do it justice. I was especially interested by the prevalence of Latino culture in New York kitchens. Ecuadorians and other Latin Americans are the squaddies of the cooking army, Italians, French, Americans the officer-class. Bourdain's happy acceptance of the division – or his support of it, because the Ecuadorians will do what they’re told, not try any artistic flourishes of their own (a line-cook is a craftsman, not a creative) – has something of the Roman Empire about it as, indeed, does much of American civilization. Hunter S. Thompson is a baleful influence on modern prose style and one might wish this book were less overheated, over-cooked even. The relentless modern illiteracy sets up dissonances, even misunderstandings. While a coke-snorting bad boy, Bourdain still found time to write novels and think, even to read and absorb the writing of one of his employers-to-be as homework for an interview. It’s rather like meeting a leathered and chained Angel, the last night spent head-banging, reading Nietzsche and Wittengenstein for elevenses. James Crowden and Pauline Rook: Bridgewater. The Parrett's Mouth: Agre Brooks, Bridport, 2000: ISBN 0-953800-01-6: 96 pp., b/w illus., p/b, £9.99. Sarah Hudston’s piece about the Scillies, above, is also from Agre Books. I would not include mention of this title (though the photographs by Pauline Rook are fine, and the poems and notes by James Crowden readable and informative) but for its description of Bath scouring bricks, manufactured by collecting, compressing and baking the alluvial slime deposited by the River Parrett, and once sold to maids countrywide because of its magic combination of silica and alumina which brought up to a shine any amount of metalwork. Hattie Ellis: Trading Places. Europe’s Finest Specialist Shops: Mitchell Beazley, London, 2000: ISBN 1-84000256-5: 160 pp., colour photos by Jill Mead, h/b, £14.99. Sixty-odd odd shops across the continent. Reading this may save you money by allowing chair-bound window-shopping: much cheaper. Ms Ellis does not only select the absolute brand leaders, so there are bound to be places you’ve never heard of. For a shopping virgin such as I, the pornographic cake maker in Amsterdam or the paper shop in Stockholm were a revelation. Ideal bathroom reading. Siri Lise Doub: Taste of Latvia: Hippocrene Books, New York, 2000: ISBN 0-7818-0803-0: 246 pp., b/w photos, h/b. $24.95. Beetroot, cabbage, salt herring, grain porridges… many of the recipes will sound familiar, in general if not particular. Ms Doub, who has lived in Latvia though is not Latvian herself, puts much folklore, pagan myth and folk poetry into her mix. Yet another in the growing pile of Hippocrene national cookery texts: soon they will cover the world.
Christine McFadden and Michael Michaud: Cool Green Leaves and Red Hot Peppers: Frances Lincoln Ltd., London, 1998: ISBN 0-7112-1615-0: 208 pp., colour photos, index, p/b, £14.99. It was good in hardback, this is a welcome paper reissue: full format, inexpensive. Lindsey Bareham: The Big Red Book of Tomatoes: Penguin, London, 2000: ISBN 0-140-26244-X: 374 pp., b/w illus, index, p/b, £8.99. A very welcome reissue in paperback. I had not noticed before that she interprets ‘Poulet Minerva’, from À la Pym, the book of Barbara Pym’s recipes we published a few years ago. I am sure that Miss Pym would have been over the moon to have made the grade into a book that will remain a culinary standby. John L. Hess & Karen Hess: The Taste of America: University of Illinois Press, Champaign, 2000: ISBN 0-252-06875-0: 390 pp., index, p/b, $18.95. The Food Series of the University of Illinois Press have had the wisdom to bring this ‘philippic’ (the authors’ description) or ‘diatribe’ (a critic’s) back into print, with an appended 1997 review of Noël Riley Fitch's biography of Julia Child, and a new introduction titled ‘The Taste of Y2K’. The new additions show that the Hesses’ zest for debate has not waned in the 25 years since the book was first published – wow! Julia Child and Ruth Reichl (and, of course, The New York Times) are hammered flatter than baking foil. After a three-week tour of D.C. and the Carolinas, when the food and physiques on display left the family (aged 83 to 13) in deep shock, I quickly realized why the Hesses needed to write their book. And why they want to repeat the message today. La plus ça change, etc. Great stuff. Anne Dolamore: A Buyer’s Guide to Olive Oil: Grub Street, London, October 2000: ISBN 1-902304-23-3: 128 pp., colour photos, h/b, £9.99. Anne Dolamore was the first to write about olive oil in English (1988) and she confirmed her niche in this market with her first buyer's guide in 1994. As with wine guides, the need for reissues to keep pace with change is very great. Here it is. Elizabeth David: Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen: Grub Street, London, October 2000: ISBN 1-902304-27-6: 280 pp., h/b, £12:99 Grub Street have a nose for books of recent memory that deserve reissue. It seemed inevitable, and only right, that they should catch E. David in their net. Here is the latest instalment: the moment the author shifted into historical gear. Sri Owen: Healthy Thai Cooking: Frances Lincoln, London, 1997: ISBN 0-7112-1117-5: 160 pp., colour photos, index, p/b, £12.99. Another reissue in handsome paperback from this house. Generous format; good photos. Someone has given a dietary breakdown of every recipe in the margins: ‘Oh goody, here's one full of selenium’, said my aunt as she prepared her shopping list for the night ahead. We are all fans of Sri Owen, her food always tastes good, her recipes are clear, no-nonsense directions.
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