PPC 67 (June 2001)

PPC 67 (June 2001)

 

Contents

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9 Memorial Harry Mathews
24 Elizabeth Fuller’s Cookery Manuscript, 1712 David Potter
37 Le Songe de Vaux Carolin C. Young
62 The Presence or absence of Mole in Mexican Fiestas Joy Adapon
76 What's Cooking? Michael Symons
87 Food Fit for a King… or for a Lord Mayor C. Paul Christianson
97 The Vinarterta Saga Jim Anderson
102 Down in the Dumps Nicholas Gray
113 Book Reviews  
120 Notes and Queries  
128 Our Addresses and Prices  

Notes and Queries

A BLACKBERRY & PEAR JAM from Gilly Lehmann

This is a recipe inspired by Christine Ferber’s book, noticed above, although she uses blackberries and vineyard peaches. My method is rather different from hers. The jam needs 6 oz of green apple juice, made by simmering 1.5 kg of green apples (picked in July), quartered with stalks removed, in 1.5 litres of water for 1 hour, then strained through a jelly bag with the juice of one lemon. This will of course make much more than needed: freeze it as ice-cubes and you can take out what is required for your recipes to help jams to set. 1 lb (450 gr) blackberries juice of half a large lemon 12 oz (350 gr) granulated sugar for later Rinse blackberries and put into pan. Put on low heat and bring to simmer. Set aside to cool somewhat. Then put through the liquidizer, adding lemon juice to rinse out liquidizer, and rub through sieve to remove pips. This should yield about 12 oz of pulp. Set aside; when pears are simmered and set aside (below), add sugar to the blackberry pulp, stir and leave to dissolve. 1.5-2 kg ripe Williams pears 1lb 12 oz (800 gr) granulated sugar juice of one and a half large lemons Peel, core and dice enough pears to yield 2lbs (900 gr) of flesh. Put into large preserving pan with sugar and lemon juice and bring to simmer. Set aside for at least 2 hours or overnight. Put together pear mix, blackberry mix, and 6 oz (weight) of green apple juice. Cook over low to medium heat until it boils. Boil at same temperature for about 15 minutes, until it reaches 220°F. Remove from heat as soon as it reaches this point and test for set. Pot into hot jars; it should make about 4 jars. Gilly Lehmann <gilly.lehmann@univ-fcomte.fr>

TWO BOOKSHOPS

The First is in France, with thanks to Gilly Lehmann for the information. Anyone passing through Beaune should make time to pause at the bookshop-cum-wine emporium, the ‘Athenaeum de la Vigne et du Vin’, 7 rue de l’Hôtel Dieu, opposite the main entrance to the famous Hospices. This is the place to Find all the latest books on food and wine, from the glossy coffee-table variety to the serious history. They stock pretty well everything you can think of, and the range includes an ever-increasing range of books in English as well as French. An excellent place to browse and even take surreptitious notes, and impatient partners can usually find entertainment in the gardening section or in the wine zone, which offers bottles as well as glasses and paraphernalia. If your visit is on a Saturday morning, don't miss the open-air market or the closed market under the roof of the tourist office next door to the Athenaeum – purveyors of interesting cheeses and breads, and a stall selling a variety of old-fashioned biscuits of a homely kind no longer to be found in pâtisseries. To us, coming from the hills of Franche-Comté, Beaune and its market are a breath of summer and the south when we’re still shivering, as now at the end of April, watching the snow fall the way it invariably does here at this time of year. Secondly, a note from Jim Anderson, the writer on vinarterta, above. He also deals in antiquarian books, with particular interest in food and cookery. He has an online presence and you can search through a catalogue of approximately 1500 books and pamphlets, mostly Canadian in origin. Elizabeth Driver, the author of Prospect’s nineteenth-century bibliography who is now in the thick of creating a Canadian cookery bibliography, is the route by which Jim Anderson navigated towards PPC. His address is Anderbooks, 3616 Grassick Avenue, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada S4S OY9. 001-306 586 1499; email <janderson@cableregina.com>; and his website through <http://www.abebooks.com/home/anderbooks>

ARGAN OIL from Mark Nesbitt and Ruth Hajioff

Andrew Dalby (PPC 65) is quite correct in stating that argan oil (a more usual spelling than argon) comes from the argan tree of Morocco, Argania spinosa. This tree grows wild in abundance in the calcareous semi-desert of southwestern Morocco, taking the place of olive as a source of forage, oil, timber and fuel in Berber society. The trees give an average yield of fruit of 8 kg per year. The olive-sized fruits have a thick, bitter peel surrounding a sweet-smelling but unpleasantly flavoured layer of pulpy pericarp. This surrounds the very hard nut, which contains one (occasionally two or three) small, oil-rich seeds. The fruits fall when black and dry, in July; until then, goats are kept out of the argan woodlands by wardens. Rights to collect fruit are closely controlled by law and by village traditions. The leaves are an important browse after harvest. Villagers agree that fruits were and sometimes are gathered after consumption by goats, as mentioned by Andrew Dalby, but this is not the case for oil produced for the market. The most labour intensive part of oil-extraction is removal of the soft pulp (used as animal feed) and the cracking by hand, between two stones, of the hard nut. The seeds are then removed and gently roasted. This roasting accounts for part of the oil’s distinctive, nutty flavour. The traditional technique for oil extraction is to grind the roasted seeds to paste, with a little water, in a stone rotary quern. The paste is then squeezed between hands to extract the oil. The extracted paste is still oil-rich and is used as animal feed. Oil produced by this method will keep 3-6 months, and will be produced as needed in a family, from a store of the kernels, which will keep for 20 years unopened. Dry-pressing is now increasingly important for oil produced for sale, as the oil will keep 12-18 months and extraction is much faster. The oil contains 80% unsaturated fatty acids, is rich in essential fatty acids and is more resistant to oxidation than olive oil. Argan oil is used for dipping bread, on couscous, salads and similar uses. A dip for bread known as amlou is made from argan oil, almonds and peanuts, sometimes sweetened by honey or sugar. The unroasted oil is traditionally used as a treatment for skin diseases, and has found favour with European cosmetics manufacturers. The future of the argan tree is a matter of grave concern. Demand for charcoal has led to destruction of at least half the arganeraie forests in the last hundred years, and charcoal-making, grazing, and increasingly intensive cultivation all threaten the argan trees today. They now cover some 828,000 ha and are designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Perhaps the best hope of conservation of this fascinating, multipurpose tree, is indeed its oil. Sold in Morocco as a luxury item (although difficult to find outside the region of production), and of increasing interest to cosmetics companies in Europe, the oil is produced by several women’s co-operatives in the region, as mentioned by Gert von Paczensky (PPC 66). The argan tree is endemic to Morocco, but cultivation trials are now under way in the Negev desert of Israel. A wide range of argan products is available from an online retailer in Paris (http://www.lutecium.org/argania/sommaire.htm), and one of us (RH) is now importing argan oil to the UK. Several trees can be viewed in zone 24 of the Temperate House at Kew. Further reading: H.D.V. Prendergast & C.C. Walker (1992) ‘The argan: multipurpose tree of Morocco’, Kew Magazine 9(2): 76-85; J.F. Morton & G.L. Voss (1987) ‘The argan tree (Argania sideroxylon, Sapotataceae), a desert source of edible oil’, Economic Botany 41(2): 221-233. M’Hirit et al., 1998 L’arganier: une espèce fruitière-forestière à usages multiples, Pierre Mardaga, Hayen, 11-4140, Sprimont, Belgium, price 97 FF (available from www.amazon.fr). Website: http://www.casanet.net.ma/arganier. Our addresses are Mark Nesbitt, Centre for Economic Botany, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AE; email: m.nesbitt@rbgkew.org.uk; Ruth Hajioff, 6 Wildwood Grove, London NW3 7HU; email: ruth@wildwoodgroves.com PS: Mark Nesbitt sent later a copy of an article in The New York Times for 3 January 2001 by Florence Fabricant, ‘A New Oil (Keep the Goats Away)’. ‘The import might even eclipse white truffle oil in the drizzle department,’ she reports – hot news from the pantries of the most swish American restaurants. Suppliers of the oil (and of the honey from the argan blossom as well as amalou, a sweet argan paste) in New York are detailed as follows: Fairway, 2127 Broadway and 2328 12th Avenue; Todaro Brothers, 555 Second Avenue; and Citarella, 2135 Broadway and 1313 Third Avenue. The British are not too far behind: argan oil was described by Matthew Fort in The Guardian in February or March.

SYMPOSIUM OF AUSTRALIAN GASTRONOMY IN HOLIDAY MOOD, Wellington (New Zealand), 16-18 March 2001

from Michael Symons The now twelve Symposia of Australian Gastronomy have similarities not only with the Oxford symposia in being interested in culinary history but also with the Slow Food movement in having meals that ‘make a statement’ and papers that engage with contemporary issues. But, unlike Slow, the Australian symposia have followed a ‘dinner party model’, which has meant deliberately no formal institution, no sponsors, no public pronouncements, no prizes and no fleeting TV cameras. Rather than Slow’s more narrowly hedonic ‘taste’, the emphasis has generally been on informed practice, bringing in Brillat-Savarin’s ‘reasoned comprehension’. Accordingly, while Slow boasts 65,000 members in 45 countries after fifteen years, the tiny Australian symposia have finally, after seventeen years, made it across one relatively open national boundary to New Zealand. Yet the symposia have had considerable impact. The intense talking, experimenting and morale-boosting have fostered creativity and intellectualism among Australia’s gastronomic leadership, whose work has improved growing, cooking and appreciation throughout a much wider community. Against the common enemy of the globalizing food industry, the need in the New World has often been less to preserve traditions than to invent them. A further contribution has again been made by the 11ath Symposium of Australian Gastronomy, which was held in Wellington (New Zealand), 16–18 March 2001. Slow Food has also recently been gaining pace across the Tasman: having reached Australia about a decade ago, the movement was discussed by a panel at the largely sympathetic Wellington forum. While one or two speakers raised doubts about Slow Food’s centralized structure, marketing methods and appeal to some members more interested in cachet than the cause, everyone applauded the movement's manifesto and endorsed its challenges to conformity and legislated destruction. The strange numbering of the ‘11ath Symposium’ comes from Wellington filling an unusually long gap between the Hobart symposium in 1999 and another in Adelaide in February–March 2002. Finding himself in New Zealand, the founder of the symposia, Michael Symons, got together with venerated cookery writer, Lois Daish, one of a small number of New Zealand symposiasts over the years. Along with writer David Burton and bookshop manager Laura Kroetsch, they gave themselves less than two months to organize a relatively spontaneous, intimate event, with an eventual 41 participants slipping into, according to the sub-title, ‘holiday mood’. The New Zealand capital is a big city with a small population. It has a strong culinary scene (even without a history of symposia), and the well-fed conference was held in a spacious demonstration kitchen above a local institution, a culinary department store called Moore Wilson’s. An espresso machine was installed to show off another local strength, the exceptional café culture, whose decade or so of history was analysed in an important paper by Chris Dillon, principal of one of the local firms of coffee roasters. Thirteen papers covered such other topics as ‘our word of mouth/their marketing’ (Michael Symons), religious fasting (Marion Maddox), the fine cooking of rural mothers and aunts (Barbara Keen), urban growers’ markets (Jane Adams), the two fledgling olive oil industries (Zannie Flanagan) and recent biographies of culinary change (Roz Dibley). Having written books on cookery under the Raj and now in French colonies, David Burton re-examined the clichés of French arrogance and British blundering. Completing a PhD on cookery books, Jennifer Hillier was cross enough at the entry in Alan Davidson’s Companion to re-open the debate on the origins of the ‘national dish’ of both countries, the pavlova. Participants had been invited to bring a bottle of their local wine (often demonstrating not strict geography but that home is where the heart is) and these were sampled during a discussion led by Margaret Brooker on the regionalism of New Zealand food. As to the meals, the cuisines of their grandmothers were recaptured on Friday evening by Vim Rao (Malaysia) and Sunday for the ‘Slow Lunch’ by Maria Pia Klein (Italy). Young New Zealand-born chef Jacob Brown was flown from Sydney to contribute Saturday's landmark ‘Lazy Lunch’ of six courses alternating with papers from 9 am until 9 pm. Beginning memorably with scampi Newburg and including possum stew, the chef's marathon labours developed a distinct ‘holiday mood’. The weekend climaxed with a stand-up party at the smart Icon restaurant for which chef Peter Thornley devised an extraordinary formal menu for the fingers – a succession of mini-dishes starting with avocado soup in shot glasses and including a tiny cone of fish and chips, a black pudding tart tatin, and fruit tarts that almost needed tweezers to pick up. It was like a dolls’ banquet for grown-ups. For copies of the Proceedings of the Symposium of Australian Gastronomy in Holiday Mood, contact Laura Kroetsch, 2 Plunket Street, Kelburn, Wellington, NZ. Email: laura.kroetsch@vuw.ac.nz

FRONTISPIECES II from C. Anne Wilson

My enquiry about Hannah Glasse‘s unusual ‘frontispiece’ of an advertisement for her habit-maker’s business (PPC 66, p. 33) has borne fruit. Gilly Lehmann has kindly sent me a reproduction of the full text of the advertisement as it appears, uncropped, in the British Library’s copy of the fourth edition of The Art of Cookery, 1751. It shows clearly that only the last line has been lost from the Brotherton Library’s copy. The text had therefore been designed to fit the octavo volume, and was presumably issued in frontispiece position in all the books of the fourth edition. And unlike the title-page, where authorship is ascribed to ’A Lady’, it gives us the earliest, though indirect, indication that Hannah Glasse was author of The Art of Cookery. It must be almost unique in appearing so prominently in a cookery book to advertise the author’s skills in a totally unrelated field. C. Anne Wilson, c/o Brotherton Library, Leeds LS2 9JT.

MORE MASTIC from Sylvia Lovegren

The one aspect of mastic and its history [detailed by Andrew Dalby in PPC 65] that I find almost the most interesting was not addressed: why would anyone want to eat the stuff? I came to mastic late, having married into a Greek family. It was not a spice that was used in this family, but I did hear and read about it so that when my husband and I spotted a small bag of mastic in a Greek grocery store, we brought it home. It being near Christmas, I decided to incorporate the mastic into the classic Greek cookie, kourambiedes (this is not a common flavouring, in fact I did not see it in any of the recipe books I consulted, but hubris is not only a Greek failing). The first hint that mastic and I might not be meant for each other came when a few of the little beige mastiha ‘pebbles’ went into the mortar: such an odd odour! It seemed possible that mastic might be one of those things that smells horrible and tastes lovely. Four pounds of butter and acres of powdered-sugar kourambiedes later I decided that mastic baked into cookies smelled even worse than unbaked mastic. And the taste? – it could be described as melted pink plastic with sick-sweet overtones. Even my husband and son, greedy for sweets as they usually are (and fans of kourambiedes), could not bear the taste or the smell. But what to do with all these exotically-spiced cookies? The three of us debated their fate, plumping for the backyard. There, the squirrel in our apple tree, who apparently belongs to a species unaffected by peculiar smells, went into transports of delight, covering himself and the trunk of his tree with clouds of powdered sugar as he alternately ate and stored dozens of butter-rich cookies. A few days later, when I mentioned this culinary débàcle to my Greek in-laws, they dismissed it as unsurprising. ‘I’ve never liked mastic,’ said my mother-in-law. ‘It always reminds me of burning plastic.’ Sylvia Lovegren, 614 Garden Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030.

Book Reviews

Claudine Brécourt-Villars: Mots de Table, Mots de Bouche: Dictionnaire étymologique et historique du vocabulaire classique de la cuisine et de la gastronomie: Stock, Paris, 1996: ISBN 2-234-04693-9: 429 pp., p/b, FF160.

This is a useful glossary of French culinary terms which starts from the classic dictionaries (Grand Robert, Larousse, Trésor de la langue française) and the cookery-books for the earliest attestation of culinary terms, and goes on to discuss meanings and origins, with quotations which are mostly from the nineteenth century although the author does go back as far as Taillevent on occasion. The book is better on modern and nineteenth-century definitions than on earlier history, and the author has not always delved deeply enough into the texts she cites: her description of a ‘poupeton’ does not quite tally with the receipts. With its five hundred entries, the book does not pretend to be exhaustive, and the reader seeking enlightenment about eighteenth-century dishes such as the ‘oille’ or the ‘nulle’ will be disappointed. Another disappointment is the cavalier treatment of gallicized English terms (‘Welsch Rarebit’ dismisses the original ‘rabbit’ as a deformation, and the description of a ‘pudding’ is inept to say the least). But this is an entertaining book to dip into, especially for its quotations and references which are the result of a systematic search among nearly 150 culinary and gastronomic texts, and a large number of literary works mostly from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is interesting to compare this with John Ayto’s Diner’s Dictionary (1993, aka The Glutton’s Glossary, 1990) – the two books have different approaches, and sometimes one is more precise and authoritative, sometimes the other. How reliable is it? Good as far as first attested uses go, perhaps less so when it comes to the origins of some of the terms, although the author approaches the standard anecdotes with proper caution. G.L.

Jean-Marie Amat & Jean-Didier Vincent: Pour une nouvelle physiologie du goût: Odile Jacob, Paris, 2000: ISBN 2-7381-0907-1: 244 pp., p/b, FF130.

A book by a superior cook (Amat) who presides at the St-James restaurant at Bouliac near Bordeaux (one Michelin star in 2000 and 2001) and a professor of neurobiology (Vincent), cast in the form of dialogues over dishes concocted by the chef and analysed by both. A lot of fairly heavy science is involved in discussing how we taste and why and how we react to what we taste. The chef’s teasing of the professor keeps the erudition of the scientist to manageable proportions for the un-scientific reader, and the often execrable humour of the remarks comes close to the hilarity of the comments on good and bad French food and wine in the two volumes by Pierre-Marie Doutrelant, Les Bons Vins et les Autres (1976) and La Bonne Cuisine et les Autres (1986). This is a book to be taken in small doses. To leaven the science even further, the chef provides some very unusual recipes: pigeons with a rose sauce (yes, an ounce of dried rose petals) or spaghetti with umami (monosodium glutamate to the uninitiated) in the form of marinated sardines, alongside more classic items such as duck with cherries or the famous cannelés of Bordeaux; in total 38 recipes, although one of them produces a totally uneatable result (you won't want to try it) and is given only to illustrate the thin line between desire and disgust. G.L.

Gilbert Garrier: Histoire sociale et culturelle du Vin: Larousse-Bordas (Collection In Extenso), Paris, 1998: ISBN 2-03-750042-4: 768 pp., bibliography, glossary, appendix, index, p/b, FF160.

This was first published in 1995 and the In Extenso edition not only brings it within reach of modest pockets (although without the illustrations), but adds a substantial glossary, ‘Les mots de la vigne et du vin‘ (pp. 471–740) which is very much more extensive than in the original publication; the appendix (also in the original version) lists wine museums throughout France. The history begins in the fifth century bc and ends not today but tomorrow, looking at trends for the future. This is a comprehensive account: the influence of English tastes on French wines is dealt with here, well before Jean-Louis Flandrin’s piece in Eighteenth-Century Life 23 (May 1999); Dom Pérignon is given his due credit, but not as the ‘inventor’ of champagne; the rise of the apéritif wines at a time when French wine sales were in the doldrums is discussed – the information one looks for is here and is easily accessed by the index and by the detailed ‘sommaire’ at the beginning of the volume. Not a book anyone interested in wine should be without. G.L.

Christine Ferber: Mes confitures: Payot, Paris, 1997: ISBN 2-228-89095-2: 216 pp., colour photos, p/b, FF119; Mes tartes sucrées et salées: Payot, Paris, 1998: ISBN 2-228-89157-6: 319 pp., colour photos, p/b, FF129.

Two books from the queen of French jam-making, who sells her jams and pâtisserie from her native village of Niedermorschwihr in Alsace. The jams have gone round the world, selling in Tokyo and New York, and the books offer a chance to test some of her flavours at home, season by season. One good feature of the books is the precision of the recipes: no worry about what size egg or how much fruit you should have after puréeing or straining or whatever – Ferber tells you exactly how many grammes you should use at every stage. Only one gripe: there is no index, so you have to remember what season each jam or tart belongs to to locate the recipe. And the photos are sometimes more evocative than illustrative of the result produced. Of the two books, I find the jam one the more exciting. The unusual is represented as well as the more classic: if you're a chocolate fiend, here is pear and chocolate jam (‘Belle Hélène’ – what else?); her ‘pêches des vignes au pinot noir et â la cannelle’ is terrific and, as she says, reduce the quantity of sugar and you have a wonderful red soup for serving with cinnamon ice-cream or with an almond tart. My only problem now is laying my hands on enough of the red-fleshed vineyard peaches! Ferber’s recipes in both books are an inspiring source and send me scuttling off to the kitchen (see Notes & Queries, below). Ferber has also produced other books more recently, but I haven't yet had a go at them. Her fruit book (Ma Cuisine des fruits, 2000), looks especially enticing. G.L.

Jennifer Brennan: Tradewinds & Coconuts. A Reminiscence & Recipes from the Pacific Islands: Periplus, Boston, 2000: ISBN 962-593-819-2: 304 pp., illustrated by author, recipe directory, glossary, bibliography, general and culinary index, menu suggestions, h/b, $34.95.

The idea for this book by the author of the enduring The Original Thai Cookbook and the wonderful memoir Curries & Bugles was planted in the author’s mind 15 years ago when she was resident in Guam and observant of the fact that modernization was taking its toll on traditional foodways. Thus began a culinary odyssey throughout not only Micronesia, but also Polynesia, Melanesia, and Australia, the vastness of Oceania, ‘to capture the basics of the island cuisines before they disappeared under the deluge of fast food franchises’. This goal of salvaging local culinary knowledge evolved over the years to produce a work more ambitious and more diffuse, both geographically and in terms of the culinary registers incorporated into the work – from hotel maid to yacht-club chef. One could argue that this is not a good thing, that the sharper focus may have produced a better, more valuable work. However, the book at hand is a rich mix of gastro-ethnography, history, geography, travel vignettes from the author and classic travellers’ accounts, pleas for the importation of Pacific foodstuffs, and a first-hand account of culture change through the lens of food and cooking. Not surprisingly, then, the recipes – delicious are the ones I’ve taste-tested – run the gamut from resort and contemporary Australian specialities to damper, canned corned beef delights and poi. There are detailed instructions on how to build your own earth pit oven, as well as tenderize an octopus Chamorro (Gaumanian)-style – toss it into a top-loading washing machine! And some appear to be Brennan creations and recreations inspired by memorable meals or settings. The chapters dealing with seafood of various kinds are the best to my mind because here Brennan explores the traditional cultures in more detail and gives a chart of local fish and acceptable substitutes (though learning about the adoption of curry powder, soy sauce, Tabasco Sauce and other commercial products is equally informative). Brennan may not have completely realized her original object of talking to the old people and collecting their recipes, but she has documented both a culinary period and space. When reading cookbooks like Tradewinds & Coconuts, my mind drifts to Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques. He comments while in Lahore, Pakistan, back in the 1950s, that someday someone will long for his experience; he, of course, wishes he had been there some time earlier. Don't we all? Rather than a culinary salvage job, Brennan has recorded, with some exceptions, the cooking of Oceania in the present. Relish it now; we'll soon wish we were there. R.W.L.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: The River Cottage Cookbook: HarperCollins, 2001: ISBN 0-00-220204-2: 448 pp., photographs by Simon Wheeler, h/b, £19.99.

The book which arose from the author’s series on TV that touches on living in the country, cookery, self-sufficiency, food gathering and smallholding. I recommend it. The recipes are robust and cheerful; the instructions on and contemplations of small-scale agriculture and life in the raw give some form of structure to an urban gourmand's world view; the style is direct and without gush but properly enthusiastic. It would not do as a manual, but presumably his readers and viewers live mainly in the suburbs. Some of the photographs hit the spot, the bulk do not. It is a pity they were not more instructive, less in search of the mood. The book is victim of a designer but benefits from a generous accountant who made it good value.

John Wilkins: The Boastful Chef. The Discourse of Food in Ancient Greek Comedy: Oxford University Press, 2001: ISBN 0-19-924068-X: 465 pp., bibliography, indexes, h/b, £55.

Were this a manual on Land Rover maintenance for morons, I would be better qualified to judge. As it is not, a preliminary notice, with a promise of more to come from those more able, must suffice. I had not appreciated, until I read John Wilkins’ and Shaun Hill’s account of Archestratus, that food in ancient Greek literature should not necessarily be taken literally. Nor that many of the literary forms referred and reflected, often significantly, to other ways and means of expression. Thus Archestratus wrote a parody of heroic, epic verse and the subject matter, food, was in itself parodic. So, too, with comedy (Old, Middle or New): it refers to other forms; its content is chosen with a point in view. Hence its preoccupation with food (absent, in large part, from tragedy) which both informs the action and is used as one of the dramatists’ weapons of meaning. This meaning is here dissected, in great detail. It is stressed that what is being studied is the discourse of food, not the food itself; indeed, Wilkins takes issue with Dalby about the relationship of appearance to reality. In his view the ‘revolution’ in ancient Greek cookery was literary, not culinary. Serious stuff. To be pondered.

Eric Schlosser: Fast Food Nation. What the All-American Meal is Doing to the World: Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 2001: ISBN 0-713-99602-1, 356 pp., paperback, £9.99.

For once, a book whose blurb does not over-sell. It is a cracking read. If you are up to speed with McLibel, the facts will be familiar (although the emphasis is more American). If you are not, it is an eye-opener. History is given due attention and, as with all such great leaps forward in the affairs of man, is as enthralling as its consequences were dire. The book is not solely concerned with McDonalds. It takes the whole fast food nexus as its subject, including soft drinks, and extends its remit to cattle raising, slaughter and processing as well as potato production. Mr Schlosser’s objections concentrate on the way the industry has picked on the young, to their dietary detriment (America’s obesity is the result); the way it de-skilled the production process, whether in slaughterhouses or restaurant kitchens, thus exploiting a vulnerable workforce (although willing victims in the case of many); how it rode roughshod over any government regulation (or wish for same) thus permitting grotesque commercial sharp practice and the easy spread of the grey blanket of uniformity over American cities (and world-wide too) as well as pummelling the small farmer to extinction; and, finally, for hypocrisy: espousing brutish capitalism while happily exploiting federal grants. His portrait of an America doctrinally unwilling to accept big government while sitting open-mouthed, force-fed discreet fiscal subsidy masquerading as defence expenditure is good fun. All this must be praised, as must be his reiteration that the rise of industrial fast food was not inevitable. Here, he sounds like an anti-trust crusader: the kind face of capitalism. On the other hand, when you accept the macro-economic givens of all men and women in paid work outside the home, someone has to do the cooking, and the likelihood (in America at least) is that that someone will be an interstate giant of commercial acumen. The book gives rise to the thought that the real secret of American success has been size: small wonder Europeans dream of federation. Schlosser is plenty critical, but there is a void where his heart should be. All his points are those of application, never radical. ‘The aesthetics of fast food are of much less concern to me than its impact upon the lives of ordinary Americans. Most of all, I am concerned about its impact on the nation’s children. During the two years researching this book, I ate an enormous amount of fast food. Most of it tasted pretty good.’ I nearly stopped here. He brands critics of the aesthetics and taste of fast food elitist. More fool him. Had he disliked fast food in the first place – as anyone over the age of fifteen must do – then the problems he tackles would have been solved at the start. All food, and honesty of purpose, is probably a matter of elitist aesthetics and it would help if we accepted the fact.

Sam and Sam Clark: Moro. The Cookbook: Ebury Press, 2001: ISBN 0-09-187483-1, 288 pp., many photographs, h/b, £25.00.

Moro is one of the palpable restaurant hits of the last year or two. People bless its consistency and inventiveness: a difficult double-act. The wood-fired oven and the breads come in for praise too. This book by the two young owners lays bare their inspiration: the cooking of the west, south and east Mediterranean, with an emphasis on Spain and its Moorish connection. Italy and Greece do not really figure. Spanish cooking has not fared well in London (although I remember fondly the por—n-toting waiters at Casa Pepe in Dean Street) but the scene is now transformed by energetic food importers such as Brindisa – without whom, perhaps, restaurants such as Moro would have difficulty surviving. The recipes are well expressed, not impossible, for food that translates easily into domestic surroundings (although some of the shopping may be arduous). This is a book which deserves extended road-testing.

Geert Mak: Jorwerd. The Death of the Village in Late Twentieth-Century Europe: Harvill, 2000: ISBN 1-86046-803-9, 274 pp., p/b, £12.00.

There is no publisher like Harvill for bringing us the best of modern European literature. Jorwerd was first published in Holland in 1996; the translation seems admirable and gives the appearance of great care. It is an account of life in a Friesland village emphasizing the rise and fall of modern agriculture and its consequences on the community. Its origins may be particular but it is easily universalized. I recommend it. Much of what has happened in Holland will soon be apparent in England where the parallels have not already been drawn.

Price: £7.00

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