PPC 88 (August 2009)
PPC 88 (August 2009)
Notes on Contributors
KEN ALBALA is Professor of History at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California and author of nine books on food history including Eating Right in the Renaissance and Beans: A History. He is also editor of three food series for Greenwood Press and co-editor of the journal Food Culture and Society. ALASTAIR BLAND has written for PPC before. He lives in California and is developing a career in journalism and writing about food. LYNNE CHATTERTON lives in Umbria and grows olives. Her husband Brian Chatterton was formerly Minister of Agriculture in the government of South Australia and together they have considerable expertise in matters agricultural. MICHELE FIELD was formerly literary editor of the Sydney Morning Herald but now lives in London and writes extensively on food matters, especially where they touch on political and public life. PHILIP IDDISON is a civil engineer and an allotment-holder in Twickenham. His allotment diaries are a record of back-breaking toil and will be published in the next volume of proceedings from the Oxford Symposium. GILLY LEHMANN has recently retired from the Université de Franche-Comté and has written extensively on the food history of the eighteenth century. GILES MACDONOGH has written lives of Grimod de la Reynière and Brillat-Savarin as well as many books on German and Prussian history. GILLIAN RILEY is author of the Oxford Companion to Italian Food and omniscient about food in art. WILLIAM SAYERS is Adjunct Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature at Cornell University. He writes on medieval western European languages and literatures and works in collection development in the Cornell University Library system, with responsibility for new acquisitions in the areas of French, Italian, Netherlandic, and Scandinavian languages, literatures, and history.
THE COVER ILLUSTRATION
The photograph on the cover is of our top field cut for hay in possibly the best haymaking weather we have had for a decade. The small black dot in the middle of the picture is the motorized scythe with which I cut it. The disparity between the cutter and the cut took three days’ hard labour to resolve. The exercise reminded me how haymaking was never a solitary activity, that men with scythes and women with rakes were recruited by the battalion to fulfil the urgent task. We too, in previous years, have invited friends and neighbours to a bribing lunch which we designed to be not too heavy so that digestion could be eased by a spot of loading or gathering. This year it looked as if I was alone but the nature of farming work makes such isolation difficult to sustain. To start, the scythe, daunted by the scale of the job, repeatedly expired, requiring skilled resuscitation by our generous neighbour Philip White. Then I too rebelled at the thought of turning and raking, and possibly stacking, the harvest and succeeded in persuading complaisant farmers to finish the job by machine. Nowadays, of course, our old-fashioned gates are not large enough to admit the new-fangled giants from the tractor store. This adds a new dimension to the conundrum. But co-operation won the day and we have some fat, round bales ready for the barn.
THE LEEDS SYMPOSIUM
The twenty-fourth Leeds Symposium on Food History and Traditions took place in April in York (the migration seems now permanent). Its subject was the pig and it proved a very rewarding day, full of informative talks and excellent foods. Umberto Albarella of Sheffield University, Britain’s foremost authority on porcine history and archaeology, told us much about the archaeology. I rushed home to read his Pigs and Humans 10,000 Years of Interaction (Oxford, £93 – yes, £93) a set of essays by several hands, mainly archaeological, that tell you a lot about pigs here, in the ancient Middle East, in Papua New Guinea, and elsewhere. Archaeological work is difficult to digest: much space is occupied describing methods, charting ranges of possibilities, suggesting ways of interpretation. Surprisingly little is occupied with telling the reader things he might like to know. This is no criticism, merely a reflection on the form. But there are some good things, although Mr Albarella’s talk made far more sense to the layman. He is also associated with another study of the archaeological record of Britain’s fauna: The History of British Birds by D.W. Yalden (Oxford, £55) which is just out. This is much more accessible, indeed it might be said to be compulsory reading, not least for the fact that the most common British bird is the wren (who would have said that?). Everything at York this year was enjoyable, but I might single out the description of pig butchery and Lincolnshire customs, as well as a matchless stuffed chine, given by Mr Eric Phipps, the county’s star butcher and chine-maker. Peter Brears’ account of how to stuff a boar’s head was also very instructive and the more memorable for the chance to sample one he had made earlier. The text of the next volume of proceedings from the Leeds Symposium is now in my hands and will soon be in preparation. It is a study of cooking ranges and open-hearth techniques. It is called Over a Red Hot Stove and is edited by Ivan Day.
RICHARD GOUGH AND MYDDLE
When we met at York, Peter Brears was telling me of his latest project, a short history of food in Shropshire which is to be published by David Burnett’s Excellent Press in Ludlow. (By way of parenthesis, I am not sure I have reported that Peter’s Cooking and Dining in Medieval England won the André Simon Memorial Trust’s Food Book of the Year award, which was gratifying for author and publisher alike.) He reported his enjoyment of the early 18th-century book by Richard Gough The History of Myddle, a parish in Shropshire. It was reprinted in Penguin Classics not so many years ago, and was produced by the Folio Society in the same edition. Gough, who was a local yeoman-farmer with some years’ experience as clerk and assistant to a Shropshire JP and wealthy gent, hence better educated than his status might imply, told the story by recounting the family histories of all the pew-holders in the parish church, pew by pew by pew. It is an amazing ragbag of anecdote, Old Testament begat and begat again, and reflection on the previous century of social, political and religious turmoil. It gives pause to any who would undersell the trauma of the Civil War. Peter Brears was delighted to find that Gough includes reference to and anecdote about more than one professional cook – a social group that can sometimes seem pretty opaque. I will not spoil his discovery by retelling it here, but I could not resist the chance to reproduce two of Gough’s tales, both involving bread ovens. They give some flavour of the whole, which I cannot recommend highly enough. The first concerns a ne’er-do-well called Reece (Rhys to you and me) Wenlocke:
the greatest diskindeness that hee did to his neighbours was, by tearing theire hedges. And it is reported, that hee had made a new oven; and, according to the manner of such things, it was att first to bee well burnt, to make it fitt for use, and this hee intended to doe in the night. Att that time William Higginson dwelt att Webscott, and hee had a servant, named Richard Mercer, a very waggish fellow. This Mercer did imagine that Reece would teare his master’s hedges to burne the oven; and as hee walked by a hedge, which was neare Reece’s house, hee saw there a great dry sticke of wood, and tooke it home with him, and bored a hoale in the end of it with an augur, and putt a good quantyty of powder in it, and a pegge after it, and putt it againe into the hedge. And it happened, that Reece Wenlocke, among other hedge-wood, tooke this stick to burne in is oven; and when hee cast it into the fire in the oven, it blowed up the topp of it, and sett fire on the end of the house. Reece went out and made a hideouse crying, fyre! fyre! William Higginson, beeing the next neighbour, heard him, and called Mercer, butt hee sayd I know what is the matter; however, they went both downe to the Meare House, but Reece had putt out the fyre that was in the end of the house, and the oven was broaken to peices.
The second tells of mayhem between three ‘idle, drunken, rude fellows’, the first of whom is Richard Eavens, a man noted for his willingness to tangle and his general hot-headedness. One of the most interesting aspects of Gough’s narrative is the terrible effect of drink (not usually strong drink either) on the economic fortunes of countless families.
When Eavans called and Bassnett opened the doore, and when Mr Eavans saw him, hee said, Dam ye thou art not mine host. What provoakeing words Bassnet gave I know not, but Mr Eavans drew his sword, and Basnett shut the doore and talked with him throw the window. What passionate words passed I cannot tell, but I have cause to thinke they were such as is too usuall amongst drunken persons. Basnett stept out at the back doore and Hinton with him, and comeing to the oven on the backside Basnett tooke a peele with which they put bread into the oven, and Hinton tooke a pole which they call an oven proaker. – (Invenit arma furor.) – They leaped over the hedge and meeting with Mr Eavans as hee was going from the house Basnett strooke him with the peele which broake at the first blow, and Hinton comeing behinde Mr Eavans gave him a blow with the pole on the hinder part of his head which made him couch downe to the horse’s necke, and with a second blow hee strucke him off his horse; some say hee gave him severall blowes when hee was fallen. They went againe into the house and made fast the doore and left Mr Eavans wallowing in his blood in the highway. The people of the house did not come out nor call the neighbours, but Price who was his companion came into the towne and inquired for the constable, and sent him and severall of the neighbours to him. It was halfe-an-hour, some say an hour before any one came to him; and when they came they found there was life in him, but neither sense nor motion. The neighboures desired Mary Benion to open her doore that they might bring him in and lay him on a bedde but shee refused. But when Bassnett and Hinton were fled out at the backe doore and the constable threatened to breake the door shee opened it.
Mention of Eric Phipps, the chine-maker from Lincolnshire, reminds me of the existence of Good Taste. The Magazine from Tastes of Lincolnshire. It is now in its ninth issue and manages to arrest its headlong dispatch to wastepaper by having something worth reading, as well as decent presentation. The editor Mary Powell brings credit to the idea of regionalism in British food. It costs you nothing (www.tastesoflincolnshire.com).
I realize, with a small shock, that it is sixteen years since I took the reins of Prospect Books from Alan and Jane Davidson. This is longer than I am usually married. There have been reforms and revolutions this year. I wish I could be announcing the appointment of a CEO, or perhaps a CFO would be more to the point, but I am glad to announce the conclusion of an agreement with a new firm of trade representatives. We were bereft of such a service with the demise of Troika in 2007 and have had many diversions since that date. I hope that our new alliance with Signature Book Services Limited, 20 Castlegate, York will result in wider distribution of our titles in the English trade. The importance of the Internet grows daily and in a short while our website will be reconstructed thanks to the proximate early retirement from other duties of our webmaster, Andrew Gosling. I hope that our site will assume a new and sparkling guise and that we will re-establish a shop facility with even the chance of secure on-line credit card transactions. The prosperity and survival of small publishers is a constant preoccupation whether lying in bed, giggling at our MPs, or pounding the keyboard. This is mere preface to a whinge so divert now if you can’t take self-pity. For readers of that hue, I should immediately agree to the proposition that there are good small publishers and bad. The good survive, the bad do not. I would plead for a third category: the woolly. The woolly are not bad, they might sometimes be good, but they are a trifle amateur; or they may be single-minded and unwilling to fuss with the necessary evils of success. Or they may just be a little woolly. In a kinder environment the woolly survive because their heart is in the right place. Currently, the woolly have a tough time. The structure of the British book trade is pretty weird. The necessary deductions from a book’s retail price before the publisher gets any revenue are surprising to say the least. Let us take Peter Brear’s Cooking & Dining in Medieval England as an example. It costs £30; the author takes 10 per cent royalty; the bookshop requires its discount, either 35 or 40 per cent; the bookseller’s discount will effectively be higher if he is supplied via a wholesaler, which is a new layer in the trading structure, not much more than 25 years old, who takes books from publishers’ distributors and sells them bit by bit to subscribing booksellers. The wholesaler will expect a discount of 50 per cent. At this point, the distributor will take his cut which is usually 12 or 15 per cent and, if it is a trade sale, the trade representative or salesman will ask for 10 per cent (these last two are percentages of the invoice value to shop or wholesaler). In mathematical terms this looks like this: £30.00 - £3.00 - £10.50 - £2.92 - £1.95 = £11.63. If the deal was with a wholesaler we have £30.00 - £3.00 - £15.00 - £2.25 - £1.50 = £8.25. If our arrangement was an exclusive via Amazon, they might expect a discount of 65 per cent. This would not be subject to a commission to our trade reps but we would have to pay the distributor’s commission if the shipment goes through them. The sum would then look like this: £30.00 - £3.00 - £19.50 - £1.57 = £5.93. This is for a nicely produced book of 550 pages which cost £4.50 a copy to print enough stock to last 18 months. The only way this really works is to either print hundreds of titles or sell thousands of copies. If you don’t have enough capital to print hundreds of titles and you produce books that sell in tens rather than hundreds, then it is quite difficult to rub along. The giants of the world of books will urge you to endorse and support their schemes because they increase your sales and hence your income. Whether it is Amazon or Google or even, to be frank, Waterstones on the High Street, I spit upon their ambitions. Rather as the small food producer is cajoled by Tesco/Sainsbury, so the small publisher should have as little to do with these people as possible. Whatever they think up is for their profit, not yours. We, like a goat’s cheese-maker of the lower Wym valley, should encourage personal contact, direct sales, engagement with the end-user. Hence perhaps our projected improvement of the website. A concrete example of the Amazon effect is Peter Brear’s book used above. If you order that from Amazon today they will quote you a price of £19.50 with free delivery. The Book Depository on the same site quotes £17.94 plus £2.75 delivery. The only way that either of these organizations can obtain this book is via the wholesalers to whom we give 50 per cent discount. Given that the wholesalers must allow some profit for themselves, and that there are now two postal movements to absorb, the price of £17.94 is ludicrous. They cannot be making more than 50 pence. Who does this benefit? It makes a nonsense of the retail bookseller on the High Street; or it makes a nonsense of our insisting on only giving 35 per cent to that retailer. Were a customer to come direct to me I would be happy to give them a full trade discount because I would be pocketing all those commissions that otherwise would have been paid and the customer would be as happy as going to Amazon. And Amazon would be bankrupt – whoopee! A cautionary tale on this angle is the greed of other publishers. I wanted OUP’s edition for the British Academy of The Diary of Ralph Josselin. Not available in any bookshop nearby, I dreaded the long delay in supply if I ordered in the normal fashion. Therefore, I telephoned OUP’s direct line to get it through the post. They had the gall to charge not only the full price but the postage too. Another solution is to charge more for the books. As far as I can see the structure of the trade (and at this point I should just observe that every deal between publisher and seller is reversible in the seller’s favour; very few of these transactions are firm sales, all on a sale or return: not only do they take our revenue but they expect us to capitalize them as well) results in a terrible increase in the cost of books to the reader. Of course, titles that are expected to sell well are priced low to promote that end, but titles of indisputably minority interest are hammered to extinction. The only reason that Oxford University Press charges £93.00 for Pigs and Humans (above) are the crazy discounts and commissions which force the price up and up until there is some acceptable fraction remaining for the producer. These prices appear to me also to be the consequences of publisher greed, it’s not just the fault of someone else. The way in which university libraries were held to ransome by academic publishers and learned journals in the years since the infamous Robert Maxwell at Pergamon Press is shocking. It has also queered the pitch for enterprises like Prospect. They swallow the libraries’ limited budgets leaving nothing for us. Our programme for the next year or two is in a manner of speaking fixed. A lot of money will be swallowed reprinting old favourites: an improved version of Honey from a Weed is about to appear (I’ve given it paperback flaps); Cooking Weeds is about to be reprinted; Building a Wood-Fired Oven has gone to its thirteenth or fourteenth impression. Then there are some titles which we have programmed but not announced which I mentioned in the last issue. The titles we have announced are as follows: Taste or Taboo: Dietary Choices in Antiquity, Michael Beer, £12.00. This is a short book on the significance of food and what was eaten to the classical world; what they meant to one’s perceptions of oneself or of others; how they contributed to a world view. The Fruit, Herbs & Vegetables of Italy, Giacomo Castelvetro, ed. and trans. Gillian Riley, £12.00. This is a reprint of a wonderful book, first published by Viking. The text is reset (under the supervision of Gilian Riley herself), and it will be printed in two colours. There will not be the generous illustration of the first edition, but it will be a seemly production. The Centaur’s Kitchen, Patience Gray, £15.00. This is a reprint of Patience’s last published work (though written before Honey, etc.). It was her advice and instructions to the cooks of the Blue Funnel shipping line’s Centaur, plying between Fremantle in Western Australia and Singapore. The new edition, in paperback and smaller format than our first, will retain some of Miranda Gray’s lovely illustrations. Over a Red Hot Stove: Essays in Early Cooking Technology, ed. Ivan Day, £30.00. This is the next volume of the proceedings of the Leeds Symposium and discusses early cooking technology, particularly the cooking range, the clockwork spit and open-fire spit roasting. Food & Drink in Archaeology 2, ed. Sera Baker, £20.00. The next volume of archaeological papers from the Nottingham University conference. Sir Hugh Plat: the Search for Useful Knowledge in Early-modern London, Malcolm Thick, £30.00. This is the first full-dress biography of Plat and an extended discussion of his inventions, projects, writings and contribution to food, cookery and much else. Lots of new, solidly researched material here. The Realm of Fig and Quince, Ria Loohuizen, £9.99. Another of Ria’s little books on trees. Good recipes and nice lore. Vegetables: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, 2008, ed. Susan R. Friedland, £30.00. A further volume of this series, some good stuff on a chewable topic. The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie, Kt., Opened (1669), ed. Peter Davidson and Jane Stevenson, £15.00. A paperback reprint of this, my favourite seventeenth-century cookery book. Digby was just such a cracking chap. Trifle, Helen Saberi and Alan Davidson, £9.99. A reprint with a new cover, etc., of the first of our English Kitchen series. It’s such fun.
A NET OF EELS
Jake Tilson has announced an exhibition which he describes as ‘of new work by British artist/writer/cook Jake Tilson and Japanese photographer/cultural commentator Lyoichi Tsuzuki, “A Net of Eels” is a playful and evocative exploration of the complex cultural and culinary significance of the Eel in Japan and the UK.’ The show runs from the 10 July to 23 August at The Wapping Project, Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, Wapping Wall, London E1W 3SG. As might be expected, Jake Tilson is offering a wealth of photographs, information and enlightenment, together with his pleasing graphic tricks such as this deceptive map.
I was contacted by the author of the book The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice whose name is Michael Krondl. The book was published in 2007 (now Ballantine Books, 2008). I confess to not having seen the book but am impressed by his extensive website providing a footnoted text so you can chase his references, as well as interactive features (http://www.spicehistory.net). Mr Krondl is currently writing a book on the history of dessert and one of the chapters will be on the Middle East and Ottoman Turkey.
COOKING WITH KANTOROWICZ
As a young student of history, there was no medievalist more impressive than Ernst Kantorowicz, biographer of the Emperor Frederick II and the author of The King’s Two Bodies. The imagination tended to overheat when faced with the speculative and theoretical style of European historians such as Kantorowicz and Panofsky, especially if you had been brought up on T.F. Tout and Powicke. So it was with tremendous pleasure that I opened a letter from Ian Jackson in Berkeley, California containing his latest pamphlet (four pages) titled as above. The style is all Jackson, the subject is the historian’s recipe for a beefsteak with a sauce diable entitled ‘Diable Surpris’. I will tell you no more for fear of spoiling the many-layered jokes and sense of intellectual community that always seem present in Jackson’s writing. Five hundred copies were printed last month and you can obtain one free of charge if you write to PO Box 9075, Berkeley, CA 94709, USA.
DR ROBB-SMITH AND E. DAVID
One of the thrills of this month has been picking up palpable bargains as Liz Seeber clears her house of past stock-in-trade. She wishes me to announce very firmly that she has now ceased the business. We wish her well, and rue its passing. Very kindly, she sent over to me some correspondence between the late Elizabeth David and the bio-bibliographer of Hannah Glasse, the late Dr Alistair Robb-Smith. This reminded me of the gripping bibliographical conundrum that was posed by Prospect’s first facsimile edition of Glasse’s Art of Cookery. This problem was solved when we reissued the facsimile with a new introduction and prefatory essays. I’m not sure, however, that it was ever explained, though this may be another instance of memory’s fragility. If you own the first and most handsome edition, the pages in question are 55 and 56, most specifically the latter. There, after two and a half recipes, is the chapter heading ‘Chap. V. To Dress Fish.’ There follow an introductory paragraph and three recipes. The catchword to this page is ‘To’. This catchword is not picked up on page 57 which starts ‘A Ragoo of Livers’. What seems to have happened is that the printer in 1747 made some form of error and should never have started chapter 5 on page 56. Readers of the modern facsimile will realize this when they encounter a second commencement to chapter 5 on page 60. There is obviously something funny going on. Because of the way the books were put together, the printer’s solution was to print a correct version of 55 and 56 and then remove the incorrect version once the pages were gathered for binding. This is what happened to the vast majority of copies. But not all of them. Dr Robb-Smith found five copies where the printer or bookbinder had failed to cut out the original cancelland. At this point we encounter Murphy’s Law. Alan Davidson had used Mark Cherniavsky’s copy of the 1747 edition as his photographic source. Where any pages in this copy were defective beyond improvement then a photograph of the page from the copy in the Brotherton Library at Leeds was substituted. Page 56 in the Cherniavsky edition was obscure so was replaced by a Brotherton version. It just so happened that the copy in the Preston Collection was one of the few where the cancelland had not been removed. Thus the substitute page was in fact an error and not the one seen in the finished 1747 edition.
I ran out of space in this much-delayed (my apologies) issue. So I was unable to mention my favourite current cookery book, Jojo Tulloh’s Freshly Picked, Kitchen Garden Cooking in the City (Chatto & Windus, £20). Excellent recipes and engaging commentary. Another interesting book, timely indeed, is Lamees Ibrahim’s The Iraqi Cookbook (Stacey International, £24.95). I was also unable to descant on my plans for establishing an online presence of PPC. However, all that must wait for number 89.
One of the enjoyable moments of the last nine months was my introduction to Hotspur, the most original parish magazine in England. It is the creation of Jamie Warde-Aldam. If you google ‘Warde-Aldam Hotspur’ you will get an example from 2006. The format and theme of each issue are different, the most recent topic being ‘Somewhere’. You can guarantee some strange and oblique connections, both verbal and visual, to the matter in hand and these will refresh and amuse you. I particularly like the fact that it is paper-based and not really of the Web. I urge you to find out more. The editor’s e-mail is <firstname.lastname@example.org>. As reinforcement of these statements I print below Mr Warde-Aldam’s creative solution to encouraging subscription and support. Maybe it will inspire you.
IN THE DINOSAURS’ WAITING ROOM
A special story for Hotspur patrons by the editor. In the first months after Joanna left, Dudley kept his own company. The silence of the house was something he needed, it bolstered his pretence that she was still there, in one of her extended, mute sulks. Switching on the wireless was like breaking a spell. Even the rustle of a newspaper was sacrilege to the quiet he cultivated. Mrs Abingdon, the cleaner, had continued to come in two mornings a week and, he reflected, did her level Christian best for him. But his leaden glooms and irritable shushings defeated her generous nature and she’d given in her notice. Now of course it was different. 18 Basset Grove was like a TV stage set for a bachelor sitcom. A fridge full of gin, tonic, olives and white wine, Mozart on the music centre and, this morning, the heart-quickening snap of elastic on bare thigh, as Julie got herself ready for a lunchtime shift at the Black Horse. They’d met shortly after he’d decided to smoke himself to death. A neat way to avoid the stigma of suicide, he thought: slow and, he’d read, relatively painless. It wouldn’t take long at his age. He’d left the house for the first time in months and walked nervously towards the pub over the damp common. It was midday and their eyes locked before either had time to speak. Dudley forgot about change for the cigarette machine and asked for a gin and tonic. He was a well kept sixty-five year old with a slightly ruffled look and nicely tailored trousers. She had chestnut hair, green eyes and a smoky laugh which suggested everything unsuitable you’d care to imagine. Twice married, she’d recently finished with the last in a longish line of sulky young men from the local cricket team. She informed Dudley that she was looking for someone she couldn’t steal sweets from. He’d bought her a bag of gobstoppers and a bottle of Bailey’s that afternoon. Their relationship was founded on a mutual sigh of relief that the world had suddenly become less complicated. Life revolved around the Dirty Donkey as the regulars called the place. Tarquin, the landlord, had cleverly targeted the ageing Gin n’ Jag set and there wasn’t a lunchtime where retired doctors, bank managers and stockbrokers weren’t queuing for gastro-pub fare. Younger drinkers usually took one look at the wrinkled contents of the saloon bar and fled. There was something almost shocking about witnessing senior citizens in such glowing health: talking, flirting like teenagers and downing expensive-looking drinks as if there was no tomorrow. The Black Horse was a club in essence, much like the milk bars Dudley had hung about in as a teenager, and the pub back rooms where he’d skulked in his undergraduate years. There was no need for a door policy: sheer terror kept everyone else away. Subscriptions were rolled into Tarquin’s stealthy and exorbitant mark-ups and the dress code was a particular English smart/casual which spelt money and little else. And so, Dudley was content to all outward appearances. He didn’t think about Joanna very much. And when, occasionally, his expression became melancholy and Julie asked tenderly if he was thinking about ‘her’, he’d change the subject. She wouldn’t have understood the other void in his life, where his loss, although minor in comparison, was perpetual. Twenty-five years ago, in one of his spurious financial spring cleans, he’d thought he could dispense with an amateur publication called The Hotspur and had let his patronage slip. Little had he anticipated the longueurs, dull conversations and the sheer predictability of his resultant, corporately spoon-fed existence. No other periodical or activity had ever succeeded in replacing that small but significant ray of sunlight for him. Into every life a little rain must fall, he thought with an overused sigh. But, deep down, he knew it wasn’t good enough. He reached for his cheque book.
BOOK REVIEWS by Michele Field
Creative Commons License These reviews are published under the legal arrangements of Creative Commons (see www.creativecommons.org.uk). You may reprint the reviews – as many of them as you like – without cost, provided that (1) you acknowledge the source (PPC) and the authors, (2) you do not make commercial use of them or alter them, and (3) you attach the CC symbol to your re-use, so the spirit continues. In other words, the ideas and information should circulate – to everyone’s benefit. Is Food The New Sex? Mary Eberstadt Hoover Institution Policy Review | no. 153 | Feb-Mar 2009 | also: www.hoover.org:80/publications/policyreview/38245724 Where sex practices were the basis of the old ‘morality’, today it’s beef steaks. De gustibus – food as a matter of individual taste – withers when food is plentiful. To compensate for the plenty we seem to hone sharp edges on our principles. Social rifts which used to be religious are now created by food camps – organic, vegetarian, etc. Eberstadt dates a switchover from about 1977 when an important NY Review of Books article compared recipes to the writing in sex manuals. A view, but no great insights. Globesity. A Planet Out of Control? Francis Delpeuch et al Earthspan | 2009 | 180pp| £17.99 I accept what the UK branch of obesity studies publishes on this health crisis, until it claims that it has its own prescriptions for agriculture and says ‘the proliferation of supermarkets’ are at the heart of the issue. My least favourite chapter is ‘The Levelling of Culinary Cultures’, as if too much taste for Mexican fat and maize, or for fermented Japanese soy produce, are sitting on the waistlines of the world. The Vital Ingredient Royal Society of Chemistry | 2009 | 88pp | www.rsc.org A useful statement of all the food issues that chemistry should address. Technology is developing ‘model mouths’ which can analyze flavour much better than human mouths can. We need feed from soy, rape, etc., to feed to farmed fish instead of fishmeal; and low-energy alternatives to the 15% of total energy we spend on food refrigeration. The list is concise but exciting for its optimism about meeting the threats of peak-oil, peak-soil, and expiring fish stocks. Fighting the Banana Wars and Other Fairtrade Battles Harriet Lamb Rider | 2008 | 246pp | £8.99 If you ask the CEO of a company to write an overview of an ‘issue’, you get this: a narrative but otherwise not much different from a the company’s PR. Lamb is CEO of the Fairtrade Foundation, and the book is informative about the business requirements – e.g. usually the grower cannot be a single-owner (like this magazine’s) but must be configured as a cooperative. The more salve this label applies to consumers’ consciences, maybe the more dangerous its one-size-fits-all approaches. The Dining Nobility. From the Burgundian Dukes to the Belgian Royalty P. Janssens and S. Zeischka, eds Brussels University Press | 2008 | 266pp. | 39.95 euros About half of the 13 essays are in English – one is very good research on 19th-century exoticism as it affected desserts shaped like pavilions. The diversity of fruits and the unexpected aesthetics paved the way for genuinely ‘foreign’ food in the 20th-century diet. Albala’s piece on how 17th-century attitudes to fish changed from the wary to the gastronomic (except for the wierdly bloodless squid, which remained suspect) is brilliant. Bite Me. Food in Popular Culture Fabio Parasecoli Berg | 2008 | 168p | £55.00/£16.99 Scholars staying on top of food politics is now like clowns walking on a ball. Parasecoli balances well but makes little progress. His thesis is that the range of food choices messes with our minds, and it’s well supported. The chapter on food in race issues perhaps would be best written by someone who has read less but mixed more socially. However, ‘Black Men in Fat Drag’ is a stunningly unconventional topic in high-minded food books. Eating India Chitrita Banerji Bloomsbury | 2008 | 266p | £8.99 This author from Calcutta went to the States as a student. She is a journalist rather than someone who knows specifically about food, and she tries for a naive tone when reintroducing herself to Bengali meals. She casts herself as the wide-eyed outsider, and yet there is something cloying and condescending about her appreciation of her old country. Eat Love Marije Vogelzang BIS Publishers Amsterdam | 2008 | 160pp | £32.50 Dutch humour can sometimes be mysterious, but this artist has done a few very inventive installations. My favourite is ‘Faked Meat’ where she has used other food to create a menu of ‘meat’ from imaginary animals. There is an animal who lives in Canadian maple trees, for example, thriving on the syrup and tree-leaf – and tasting like his diet. I also like ‘Food Wave’, which is a line of canapés, each with three ingredients – with just one ingredient different from the canapé before it. A tasting exercise but teasing too. Let Them Eat Junk Robert Albritton Pluto Press | 2009 | 259p | £17.99 In a time when Western politics has receded from polemics, it is astonishing that food battles can be so fierce. This is an angry book subtitled ‘How Capitalism Creates Hunger and Obesity’. Someone must have supported the arguments at Pluto, but in the general press I have not seen them supported. However, if you have a battle to win (either with this army, or against it) the author’s references are useful and academic. For me, it was like walking into the wrong pub. The Spaghetti Tree Alasdair Scott Sutherland Primavera | 2009 | 255p | £14.99 The 1960s history of trattorias in London is a story about the role that patrons play in an Italian fairytale. Eating out becomes a pastime beneath downlights, and people on different tables pretend to know one another as well as everyone in the kitchen. This is a charming piece of nostalgia, but there is also a sense of Gordon Ramsey’s TV shows lunging towards us. I myself want a clear line between having a good time with your food and having a good time with your ambiance. Sushi and Beyond: What the Japanese Know about Cooking Michael Booth Cape | 2009 | 329pp | £12.99 Booth went to Japan naive about the food and he used his young sons (sometimes more naive, but not always) as a foil for his gee-whiz approach. The glossary at the back suggests more depth than the author tackles. However, there are some useful small facts, such as the brownness of the tempura depends on the geography of the diners: the west likes it pale, the east of Japan goes for golden brown. And in the 19th century, all of the whale was eaten, even the faeces. Feeding the Whole World Louise Fresco TED broadcast http://www.ted.com Fresco is an Amsterdam academic who created a fracas by discussing the merits of different ways of making bread to an intellectual audience in America. Why so many academics and food critics jumped to stab her back is like the Susan Boyle phenomenon in reverse: outsiders are left puzzled. However, it is proof that fame follows when you deviate from the food world’s ‘consolidated’ opinion. (Go to the TED site and search for Fresco.) ‘Go Ahead. Spoil My Appetite’ Geoff Nicolson NY Times Sunday Book Review | 3 May 2009 | p.23 | also online Nicolson is a witty writer of uncommon subjects – a book on the history of walking, another on people who collect sex memorabilia. Here he argues that we read fiction partly to enjoy our disgust with the characters’ meals. He find so many good examples that American bloggers are now fully engaged with this ‘game’. He also puts out evidence that Kafka once thought of opening a restaurant. A classic essay. Agriculture in Urban Planning Edited by Mark Redwood Earthscan | 2009 | 248pp | £65 In these 13 chapters on city farming – or ‘UA’, urban agriculture, as researchers call it – the focus is on marginal economies in African and South American towns. Unlike British allotments, in developing countries UA is a livelihood for many and needs the protection of town-planners and the dreaded ‘zoners’. The research on which approaches work has largely been done since 2003 – and more remains to be studied on pollution solutions, health issues in markets, etc. Why the Chinese Don’t Count Calories Lorraine Clissold Constable | 2008 | 223pp | £8.99 A Yorkshire woman lived in China for four years and probably intentionally took the naive tone of television’s food-and-travel programmes here. Among the 15 ‘secrets’ she offers are ‘Take liquid food’ – that means tang or soup, which she says is Taoist advice but I think is unlikely to be trimming. And any advice about eating that includes the word ‘cleansing’ sends the wrong signals to me. The Wild Life: A Year of Living on Wild Food John Lewis-Stempel Doubleday | 2009 | 293pp | £16.99 The promotion of this book led me to believe it was as romantic as most ‘wild food’ books, but in fact once the author harvests his caterpillars he argues that ‘their consumption would do nothing for one’s self-respect’. That’s the toss-up with wild diets: where they compromise the environment, as most do, and where they may compromise your idea of being noble in your peculiar agenda. If you are inspired to write your own ‘wild’ advice, read this sensible book first. Food: The Key Concepts Warren Belasco Berg | 2008 | 158pp | £14.99 This American academic has written a very clear outline for his students describing the arguments about food (not only if you’re an American). He does not have a view from inside the food industry, and he writes well on soil and its relationship to food, and on trade agreements. American academics have built a moat around their castle where their Heart Is In The Right Place. However, this is a good overview from the angels’ perspective. Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal Tristram Stuart Penguin | 2009 | 451pp | £9.99 Stuart believes in top-down solutions such as penalties on those food companies whose processing wastes too much, stopping farm subsidies based on output, segregating meat waste from food that could be used as pig swill, and perhaps restaurants surcharging diners for the food that’s left on their plates! The author has identified problems of both surplus and waste, but the relentless ‘less is more’ argument might be better for more irony. Street Food www.youtube.com 2008-2009 | free The broadcaster You Tube has created about 25 films, each between 10 and 12 minutes long, on street cusine. Most show Third World delicacies as they appeal to American tourists, but they remind me of that old Time magazine series of cookbooks from new geographies which was so exotic in its day. If you can find your www way to You Tube, any Street Food film will throw up other suggestions. No recipes, no star chefs, and – though sorely missed – no aromas. Bad Science Ben Goldacre Harpers | 2008 | 370pp | £8.99 The chapter ‘The Nonsense du Jour’ in Goldacre’s fine book demolishes some of the ‘advocacy’ that the food world has made itself susceptible to. Goldacre, an NHS doctor, here has nutritionalists in his gun-sight, but he has done wider reading in the research than either they did, or I have. Eating curry (for turmeric) to prevent prostate cancer? – he can make us laugh at ourselves. The question is why food studies have so many snake-oil salesmen nowadays, and why they sell so many newspapers. Shoot the Cook David Pritchard Fourth Estate | 2009 | 266pp | £16.99 The author wanted to be at the front of the camera, not behind it, but his ‘take’ on food and chefs has had more influence this way around. His talent, starting with Keith Floyd, was to encourage a sense of risk in the flambé. Viewers in their own kitchens know this feeling and it translated into Rick Stein’s series, where chewing your thumb is a prelude to chewing your food. The TV producer is telling the chef to relax – but it is at-home cooks who take his advice. TvTropes www.tvtropes.org Look away now if you think the references are too obscure. This is a website that will direct you to any subject – food included -- which has been part of an American TV programme. I tried ‘Eat That’ – which is the link to reality shows that shows people eating obnoxious things. Dozens of citations and links. ‘Tropes’ were a rather fanciful idea of literature professors 40 years ago: now they are a web-way of organizing wiki content. Scientific and Gastronomic Lexicon Harold McGee, introduction Alicia Foundation, Alicante | 2009 | www.worldsofflavorspain.com/food-and-technology This is a project of the foundation of which Ferran Adrià has been director since 2004. The book (not yet in English though McGee’s introduction is) intends to describe all the processes that we call ‘molecular gastronomy’. McGee explains how the rise of this ‘science’ had little to do with meetings or books – and he is very modest about his own role. ‘Spider Plant’ at Try African Food www.try-african-food.com In London I am in a world where markets make information necessary, as I buy and then try to understand why. For a niche website, this is good. Spider plant is not as scary as it sounds, and although the website looks at its traditional health benefits, for cooks it is virtually spinach with a hairy stem. When climate-change makes alternatives to garden spinach necessary, perhaps this half-bitter leaf will step into our kitchens. With butter.
MORE REVIEWS – by the Editor and others
This was a review I filed with The Guardian in April:
It was pleasing when a book I published – Cooking and Dining in Medieval England by Peter Brears – was named last month Food Book of the Year by the André Simon Memorial Fund: gratifying for the author, and confirmation to me that the history of food was a subject that had traction. The story of everyday things has a lot going for it: it humanizes distant times and unexpected or outlandish practices; it gives meaning to things we take for granted; and it supplies grist to millstone after millstone of miscellanea. Many a casual encounter can be spiced up by remarking that Napoleon liked his ladies unwashed, or that the original custard was not the yellow stuff we serve with rhubarb but the pastry crust in which the first custards were baked (just as the word pâté referred to the pastry carcass, not its meat filling, so that when the first word drifted from its moorings, the strangely tautologous pâté en croûte was recruited to supply the omission). On a broader level, food can grind the lens through which we view the big facts. Wars were often food-related, no matter the specious reasons advanced by belligerents, and often won by superior logistics, not strategy or tactics. Human performance, capacity and stamina were dependent on diet, irrespective of the innate brilliance of the protagonists, just as the emotional temperature of an age or an emperor might well have been more to do with meals than culture or civility. And this says nothing about intellectual endeavour: prehistoric man took giant leaps in brainpower in step with improvements in his diet; the twelfth-century renaissance that gave us Heloise and Abelard was due mainly to better agriculture and more protein-rich legumes than heightened sensibility or appreciation of the classics: for Abelard, not so much cherchez la femme as cherchez la bean. These are some of the thoughts provoked, though not always advanced by Tom Standage’s An Edible History of Humanity (Atlantic Books, £19.99) which is a readable guide to some aspects of this field. Of course, it can’t live up to its title in 244 pages, but it can give useful pointers. A journalist by profession, he writes with an eye to comprehension and a sure touch with anecdote and illustration. Each chapter can be digested with the ease of a Sunday supplement, be it discussing the birth of agriculture, the Columbian exchange, the adoption of the potato, the Berlin airlift, Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward famine or the spice trade over fifteen centuries. For my part, I found him more interesting on the far-flung history than the more up-to-date stuff and reckon his account of the shift from hunter-gathering to settled agriculture a masterpiece of summary and explanation. It is always a mystery why we gave up the sunny pleasure of picking our favourite foods Adam-and-Eve-style from the forests around us for the daily slog of weeding, feeding and mucking out the cowshed. It’s even more mysterious when we read that early farmers were smaller and sicker than their hunter-gathering friends. Why on earth, when and how did it happen? He makes a brilliant stab at bringing sense to the table. The history of food may well include its absence, its lack – pretty germane to those who suffer from it. Standage does famine, so – to the exclusion of everything else – does Cormac Ó Gráda in his Famine: A Short History (Princeton University Press, £16.95). It’s not quite a history, more an analytical look; if you want a blow-by-blow chronicle, go elsewhere. But it’s gripping stuff. There is so much about famine that is counter-intuitive, at least to the man on the ’bus. Most are caused not by lack of food but market failures, administrative incompetence, political intransigence, mere brutality and loathsomeness. Most people in famines don’t die from hunger but from infectious diseases. Those who were conceived during famines are more likely to suffer from obesity. More men than women are more likely to die during famines. The list could continue, and Professor Ó Gráda will doubtless have an apposite table or graph. The reader will be struck by the incredible staying-power of the Malthusian interpretation, and by the remarkable modern achievement in nearly getting rid of famine altogether. Rather like smallpox, we just don’t do it anymore (exceptions excluded). If there is one chapter that needs repeated broadcast, it is that which deals with Cassandras of yesteryear. There’s Malthus of course but, closer in date, there are people like Paul Ehrlich, William Dando and Wallace Aykroyd who were all loudly convinced (from the ’60s to the ’80s) of the coming ‘Great Die Off’ from endemic famine and overpopulation. It’s a small consolation to those who worry about global warming. Books about food and the history of food usually think of dinner as a commodity, they rarely tackle the question of cookery. It is easier to get your head round the concept that growing more wheat is good, or that less is bad, than working out whether one culture that cooks its wheat as a gruel has something over another which converts it into bread. So we have a surfeit, I would say, of discussions of foodstuffs and not nearly enough about dishes. Yet the whirlwind success of something like Margaret Visser’s Much Depends on Dinner points to the perennial allure of the topic, if only one can draw meaningful conclusions. Does the fact that Lloyd George was a big fan of pig’s head brawn hold the key to the ins and outs of the Versailles Conference? Probably not. Which is why the new Edible Series from Reaktion Books is to be welcomed. Three more have appeared: Pie by Janet Clarkson, Hot Dog by Bruce Kraig, and Spices by Fred Czarra (Reaktion, £8.99). Short and sweet, they should address the question of cookery. Alas, they don’t. The spice book wanders almost incomprehensibly through the dense and complex history of the spice trade, ignoring how people used spices and which were the preference of this culture or that period. The pie book fails to include most pies from beyond Britain, and relies on anecdote not structure for its British account. And the hot dog book is fine as an American history, but who likes hot dogs? Writing and conceiving short books is a great art.
Alan Davidson: The Pleasures of English Food (Penguin; 112 pp. £4.99) Penguin has had the doubtless brilliant idea of a series of little books under the rubric ‘English Journeys’. Drawing on their overflowing and nostalgic balance of Penguin Classics, they have put together a couple of dozen compilations from largely dead writers. Life at Grasmere from the Wordsworths, A Wiltshire Diary from Francis Kilvert, The Beauties of a Cottage Garden from Gertrude Jekyll are three instances. More recent authors feature too: Ronald Blythe, James Lees-Milne and Simon Jenkins; as well as Alan Davidson whose great Companion to Food first appeared in hardback with Oxford University Press and then in softcover from Penguin. The Penguin version does not include the revisions incorporated by Oxford in a second edition. It was my privilege to superintend that recent slight updating and correction, so I had to assume a mask of ignorance and forgetfulness (not difficult) to assess this present volume. The current (nameless) editor has had on occasion to mince and mangle an entry from a book that was notable for its inclusivity – of people, genders, nations and cultures – so that the new distillation should be an entirely English concentrate. He or she also had to draw upon articles that were not actually written by Davidson – who was the editor of everything and author of more than 80 per cent. The original authors, however, are not acknowledged. And in their narrow-focussed interest in things that are only English, they have excluded much of the joy of the book as well as creating a strange pudding of a cuisine consisting largely of cakes, biscuits, steamed suet and stodge. However, some of the inimitable lightness of Davidson’s writing does come over, together with his nicely judged wit. He had the ability to explain things clearly, yet wear his learning as if weightless on his shoulders. This can sometimes mean an article is deceptively slight, but when closely studied it is found to contain everything of necessary value on the subject. So we should welcome this revival for its display of proper writing, but not use it to illustrate what is meant by English cookery. For that, the reader should dive into the deep end of the Companion itself. (I contributed this to Jessica Mitchell’s Food Magazine.) Susan Pinkard: A Revolution in Taste: The Rise of French Cuisine: New York: Cambridge UP: 2009, hardback: ISBN 9780521821995: xv–317pp., $32 This new book on the transformation of French cuisine in the period 1650–1750 covers what is by now familiar ground in the history of cookery. The major outlines of the shift away from medieval cuisine, involving the rejection of spices and of sweet-savoury mixes, and the development of buttery, creamy, well-flavoured sauces, were laid out by Barbara Ketcham Wheaton in 1983, and numerous other studies, in French and English, have followed since. What differentiates this offering is its scope: the author’s aim is to combine the analysis of cookbooks with a hunt for the sources of change in ‘the history of material culture and the social history of ideas’ (p. xiii). The focus is thus on the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of the ‘revolution in taste’ as much as on the description of what that revolution meant in purely culinary terms. The result is an important book which ranges widely, examining the demographic, economic and social contexts, plus the history of ideas (essentially medical and philosophical) which created the conditions for the culinary transformation. Given the scope of the enquiry, the book often relies on secondary sources, as is to be expected; unfortunately, this reliance sometimes extends to the specifically culinary. Nonetheless, the attempt to integrate different strands into the narrative is particularly welcome, as other accounts have tended to focus on only one explanation, whether medical (Jean-Louis Flandrin), medical and scientific (T. Sarah Peterson), socio-political (Stephen Mennell), or intellectual and philosophical (Beatrice Fink, whose Liaisons savoureuses, 1995, is never mentioned). Pinkard engages with these themes, alternating chapters on the culinary developments with sections on their context. One of the most interesting chapters covers the pre-conditions for change in the period 1600–1650 (pp. 51–94), when cookbooks are conspicuous by their absence. This begins with an account of the ‘reconstruction’ of Paris after the wars of religion in the late sixteenth century, showing how its development into the capital of a powerful monarchical state favoured both the supply and demand sides of a new market in premium-quality foodstuffs. The next aspect discussed is changes in medical theories. Here, Pinkard is sceptical about the impact of the ‘revolution in medicine’ on mid-seventeenth-century cookery, largely because of the timing; oddly, she makes no mention of the discourse on La Varenne’s cooking as dietary corrective – a thoroughly medieval concept – which is developed in the bookseller’s address in the 1651 edition. Another strand which is examined are the changing patterns of luxury, an idea suggested by Braudel in 1979; Pinkard develops this, arguing very convincingly from a wide variety of angles that seasonal ingredients now took over from spices as the expression of conspicuous consumption. Finally, she casts a critical eye at the notion of the pervasive influence of the ‘court society’, developed by Norbert Elias and taken up by Stephen Mennell to account for the rise of fine cooking in France, arguing instead that it was the refined atmosphere of the salon and the more relaxed atmosphere of the Parisian dinner-party, rather than the conservatism and rigid etiquette of the court, which created the conditions for the culinary revolution. This is another well-documented piece, in which the argument derived from secondary accounts of aristocratic norms of civilization is elegantly combined with details of table service from the cookbooks. Later, Pinkard discusses the impact of the philosophical and scientific debates opposing the ancients and the moderns in the eighteenth century, whose culinary version is found in the polemic launched by the avertissement to Marin’s Dons de Comus (1739). She goes on to the dietetic theories of George Cheyne, explicitly mentioned in the preface to the second edition of Marin’s book (1742) and which advised moderation and light foods, and the literary-philosophical promotion of the simple life by Rousseau. Here, the arguments are interesting but sometimes less convincing. Pinkard juxtaposes her account of Cheyne’s recommendations with an analysis of the contents of the Suite des Dons de Comus (1742), noting the convergence of the two but prudently refraining from suggesting that the author of the recipes, a professional cook, could have been influenced by the medical text. This seems unlikely, especially as Cheyne praised plain cooking and inveighed against ‘Made Dishes, rich Soop, high Sauces’, all emblematic of French cuisine to English eyes (An Essay of Health and Long Life, 1724, pp. 28–9). Cheyne is wheeled out again in the chapter on wine, but his theories go entirely against the trend towards deeper-hued, more flavoursome wines whose development in the eighteenth century is charted here: Cheyne promoted bland flavours, not the haut-goût of French cookery. When Pinkard gets to the conflicting impulses towards the contrived and the simple, discussed in terms of aesthetics through the paintings of Boucher and Chardin, the writings of theorists such as Diderot and the more practically-orientated contributions to the Encyclopédie of Jaucourt (who was influenced by Cheyne), and finally the promotion of an ‘anti-cuisine’ by Rousseau (p. 197), the argument picks up again, with an impressive range of primary and secondary reading to support it. The book offers the most satisfactory reading to date of the background to the ‘revolution in taste’. What about the more strictly culinary? Here, I am less convinced, especially by Part 1, on what came before. The revolution is made more revolutionary by the emphasis in the first part on the continuity of an ‘artificial’ style of cooking from Antiquity to the late Middle Ages. Pinkard wants to show the shift as one from ‘complexity and artifice’ to ‘naturalness and simplicity’ (p. 6). But in doing so, she overstates the case for continuity between Roman and medieval cooking, and she exaggerates the similarities between European cuisines. The frequent references to the combination of spices with sweet ingredients in medieval cooking (pp. 16, 20, 21) wilfully ignore the fact of the ‘French exception’ to this taste for sugar: as Bruno Laurioux has pointed out, it was not until about 1400 that sugar came to play a significant rôle in French cooking (unlike in Italian and English cooking); sugar was no more present in the early versions of the Viandier than it was in La Varenne. Laurioux’s findings are relegated to a footnote (p. 66), and yet the brevity of the period of enthusiasm for sugar suggests that French cuisine in the seventeenth century was reverting to earlier preferences as well as creating new ones. The Arabic-Islamic source for the ‘sweet and aromatic style’ is far from proven, and the example given by Pinkard, of the derivation of blancmanger from ‘isfidbadj’ [sic], was comprehensively demolished in 1989 by Charles Perry in PPC 31. Sixteenth-century French cookery is dismissed as being a ‘continuation of the late medieval style’ (p. 29), and there is no reference to any of the new cookbooks and recipes produced in the 1530s, which do mark changes: the use of butter, acid fruits such as bitter orange and gooseberries, more herbs, recipes for artichokes and cucumber. Neither is there any reference to the books on ‘confitures’ of the 1540s and 1550s, whose existence Jean-Louis Flandrin suggests contributed to the disaffection for sugar in later cookbooks (in Flandrin & Montanari (eds), Histoire de l’alimentation, 1996, p. 670). The arrival of new foodstuffs from the New World is presented as further evidence of continuity, since only items which could fit into existing patterns found rapid acceptance. The real changes which did take place, and which are documented in Ken Albala’s The Banquet (2007), are ignored. Furthermore, the examples of recipes which are discussed in Part 1 come almost exclusively from secondary works offering anthologies of early recipes for the modern cook. When we get to La Varenne and his successors, the author’s focus is on the increased use of vegetables, the attention to the quality of ingredients and the development of sauces, with as much attention paid to Bonnefons as to La Varenne. This section amplifies earlier comments by Barbara Wheaton, and goes rather further in emphasizing the radical nature of the recipes which suggest serving foods unsauced, in their natural juices (pp. 120–122). The discussion of the next generation of cookbooks focusses on Massialot, and again it follows Wheaton, albeit in more detail, in emphasizing the ‘modular’ nature of French cookery, and in analysing the basic preparations such as jus and coulis which were fundamental to the production line. What it does not do is discuss the baroque aspects of Massialot’s style, and it is thus less surprising to find Massialot’s style later described as ‘rococo’ (p. 237, 240), which seems to me anachronistic as well as inaccurate. The brief account of ‘French cooking in England in the age of Massialot’ (pp. 143–151) – the age of Massialot apparently extending to 1760 – is too brief to be useful and is poorly informed. Vincent La Chapelle, included in the section on England, receives scant attention. Pinkard discusses only one of his recipes, paraphrasing the analysis by Wheaton (who gives a much more balanced account of La Chapelle’s book), to demonstrate the excessive complexity of the preparation; this ignores the many ways in which La Chapelle was a precursor of the simpler ‘nouvelle cuisine’ of the 1730s. But revolutionary change makes for a better story, that of the aspiration to simplicity which Pinkard develops through her analysis of Marin, even though the apparently simple result might well be the product of considerable labour in the kitchen, as she shows. The rival impulses to simplicity and complexity were both present in Menon, but Pinkard deals exclusively with La Cuisinière bourgeoise, which offered a simplified style for one-woman kitchens, and not with Menon’s more upmarket works such as Les Soupers de la Cour. The lure of complexity is evoked briefly (p. 181), using an example described here as ‘rococo’, but more accurately characterized by Wheaton as ‘medieval’ (Wheaton, p. 206); it is Wheaton who supplies a better account of post-1740 developments. Excellent as the analysis often is, the account of the later eighteenth century is incomplete and rather one-sided. A final gripe is about points of detail. There is a high incidence of mistakes, mostly though not exclusively spelling mistakes, throughout the text, including in the notes and the bibliography. Furthermore, in a book devoted to French cookery, it is alarming to find so many elementary French mistakes in the text, including even in quotations from the originals. The word saucière is used to mean ‘sauce-maker’ instead of ‘sauce-boat’ (p. 120), propre is translated as ‘hygienic’ instead of ‘neat’ or ‘clean’ (p. 157), Menon’s 1742 cookbook is referred to as Nouvelle traité de la cuisine (p. 156), and there are allusions to the esprit de system (p. 141), cuisine bourgeois (p. 206) or vin du table (p. 221). There are many more. On occasion the tin ear goes further, as in the section heading cuisine ‘au naturel’, which sounds bizarre to French ears, or in remarks on the use of the terms sincère and sincérité in relation to wine (remarks inspired by Lionel Trilling), which seem unjustified in the light of Martine Coutier’s authoritative Dictionnaire de la langue du vin (Paris: CNRS, 2007), which gives the earliest attested dates for their application to wine as 1948 and 1987 respectively; the earlier term was franc, attested in 1223–4. There are gaps in the sources: the author quotes from Vehling’s notoriously poor translation of Apicius rather than from the Flower and Rosenbaum version of 1958; the chapter on wines uses Roger Dion’s Histoire de la vigne et du vin en France, first published in 1959, rather than the more recent synthesis by Marcel Lachiver, Vins, vignes et vignerons (1988), and Louis-Sébastien Mercier’s Tableau de Paris is quoted secondhand, although the text is now available in a modern edition (ed. Jean-Claude Bonnet, 1994) and provides useful evidence of how contemporaries perceived the development of eighteenth-century cookery. The book concludes with an appendix containing modern versions of historical recipes, designed to illustrate the ‘revolution in taste’. Regrettably, the original texts are not given, and the adaptations are not always faithful to the originals: the recipe for sautéed mussels with sauce blanche (pp. 284–5) makes the sauce separately (whereas La Varenne’s original makes the sauce in the pan), and omits the nutmeg seasoning. A quick trawl through the other recipes from La Varenne reveals that the recipes are indeed often adapted, either in method or in ingredients. The reader wishing to re-create the originals needs to have the original text to hand. GILLY LEHMANN Philippe Meyzie: La Table du Sud-Ouest et l’émergence des cuisines régionales (1700-1850): Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes: 2007, paperback: ISBN 978-2-7535-0373-1: 428pp., 22€ This is an abridged version of Philippe Meyzie’s doctoral thesis, defended in 2005 to the unanimous applause of the jury. One member of that jury, Daniel Roche, has provided the preface, which underlines the richness of the documentation behind the analyses, and the variety of methods applied to the demonstration of the existence of a shared regional food culture; for Roche, the book also demonstrates how the study of material culture has shifted in the past ten years, away from a purely socio-economic perspective and towards a socio-cultural approach. The list of primary sources is impressive. The author has made an exhaustive search of the archives of six départements: Dordogne, Gers, Gironde, Landes, Lot-et-Garonne, Pyrénées-Atlantiques; yielding a substantial haul of inventories, accounts, bills, menus, recipes, commonplace books, official reports, and travellers’ narratives. These sources are supplemented by 63 printed travel narratives and guides, 27 printed cookbooks and gastronomic manuals, plus local newspapers, as well as a variety of documents published by local historians. This diversity gives access to an image of a regional culinary culture (seen through the prescriptive and descriptive texts which both record and disseminate that image), and the reality of day-to-day consumption. Furthermore, they enable the author to attempt a panorama of the eating habits of a society as a whole, and not simply of its élite. But the very wealth of documentation, and the author’s comprehensive exploitation of his findings, makes for a less readable book than one might hope: some of the text enumerates in rather wearisome fashion the foodstuffs available, or the range of domestic equipment, and the reader is left wondering whether all of the examples are useful; by the time one reaches the third part of the book, a certain degree of repetition creeps in. There are also criticisms to be made of the way the author organizes his analyses. It is surprising to find that the section on the food of ordinary people (le peuple) deals with such a wide range, from the institutionalized indigent to the better-off artisans, who are mentioned as a group once, in the context of a corporate feast (pp. 224–5). Since the author has managed to find 62 peasant inventories for the period (p. 202n) out of a total of 171 for his wider social group (p. 217), one wonders why the inventories of the peuple as a whole have been lumped together in some of the analyses. The text offers no discussion of the differences between the urban artisan class, the urban poor, and the rural peasant, so that the reader is unable to appreciate just how widespread certain habits were, and must rely on a vigilant eye as to the identity of the owner of forks or coffee-cups. The great merit of this book is to present the emergence of a regional food culture as a dynamic process, rather than as a simple problem of the survival of ancestral habits and unchanging recipes in a province isolated from metropolitan fashions. The constant comparisons between different social groups and within the same group, and between the same groups over the 150 years covered by the book, are used to highlight the dynamics involved. In the course of the demonstration, Meyzie is critical of received ideas: that the sources of a regional cuisine are necessarily rooted exclusively in popular or peasant culture; that only the bourgeoisie could create a regional cuisine by bringing together aristocratic refinement and peasant traditions; that élite and popular culture cannot show signs of convergence. His view is of a more fluid entity, in which exchanges between social groups, between the region and outside, and over time, create a regional identity which, in its culinary manifestation, is multiple, dynamic and inclusive rather than rigidly static and exclusive. Another dynamic aspect of the construction of a regional identity is that it involves not only what is happening locally, but also how the image of the local is perceived from outside: representations play as much of a role as realities. The first two parts of the book are devoted to the food practices of the region. In some chapters, one has doubts about the conclusions drawn from the data, as for instance when Meyzie considers the domestic space and equipment allotted to dining, meal-times and the time spent at table, the structure of menus, the amount of money spent on food and the attention given to it, the rôle of feasts and gifts of food in oiling the wheels of social and political life. While this does show that food was an important component of life in the region, one wonders whether a similar study of other regions – or indeed of other countries – would produce different results. At a period when an abundant supply was by no means guaranteed, food was bound to be invested with greater significance than it is today, and Meyzie concedes that much of what he says here applies to Ancien Régime France as a whole (pp. 36, 62). The third part considers how a specific regional cuisine was constructed, with local resources but also traded goods contributing to the definition of local tastes, and how the image of a regional cuisine developed in the wider public consciousness by the diffusion of local products and by the image purveyed by travellers, guides and cookbooks. An important point for cookery as part of regional identity is the continuity of a food culture across the social spectrum. One illustration is the frequent presence of potage at all levels of society: as Meyzie points out, the view that the élite disdained it as a peasant dish is nonsense, since the urban ruling class might consume it as a festive dish for grand occasions (soupe de poulets farcis aux choux et aux artichauts) or as a simple everyday preparation (potage aux nantilles, alias lentil soup) which was also consumed by the poorer members of society (p. 132). Other foods, such as the sweet chestnut, salted and preserved meats, feathered game, dried pulses, and local fruit, were tastes again shared by all levels of society. The interaction between different levels of society contributed to the dynamics of local culture, as different social strata imitated others’ adoption of new fashions, but often at different rates. The fusion of the urban and the rural, and the dynamics of new consumption, contributed to the development of a regional culinary identity which synthesized the local and the exotic, in a process which involved positive and negative choices, some foods being enthusiastically adopted (turkeys, coffee) while others (tomatoes, beer) were rejected. How could one define the cuisine of the South-West in this period? When he looks through the prism of household accounts, menus and inventories, Meyzie gives a long list of foodstuffs and types of preparation which were consumed more here than elsewhere in France. The comparison with the image of this cuisine, formed as local products were exported elsewhere, at first as food presents to notables and later through commercial circuits, and promoted by travel and gastronomic guides, shows how selective that image was. While hams, truffled poultry, goose confit, pâtés and terrines were certainly part of the local traditions, they represented the food and cookery of the élite. The image of such products took on a life of its own, perpetuating and reinforcing itself, creating a myth of the South-West as the home of luxury. The opposite myth was that of a province of impoverished peasant garlic-eaters, whereas in reality, onions were far more used than garlic (pp. 307, 347). Cookbooks gave an equally partial idea of regional cuisine: their ‘South-West’ recipes are more attuned to élite Parisian tastes, with a profusion of truffles in the recipes which mention ‘Périgord’, than to the realities of the region, and the association of garlic with preparations carrying the label ‘Gascogne’ depends on the stereotype. The cookbooks also offered an invented ‘regional cuisine’, adding the label ‘Périgord’ to a pâté made with foie gras (and thus creating the myth that foie gras belongs there), whereas the local product contained truffles but no foie gras. But of course such an image was simple and easy to understand for outsiders, and it is one which persists today. This is a valuable book, which succeeds in demonstrating that a specific regional food culture is the result of exchange and movement rather than of total conservatism. Nor can this food culture be associated with only one section of society: all are involved. But a regional cuisine also depends on the outsiders’ view to define it, even though that view is somewhat deformed in the search for a unified picture. Meyzie’s study shows that the regional cuisine was not a single entity, but a plural, variable one. GILLY LEHMANN Angel F. Méndez Montoya: The Theology of Food. Eating and the Eucharist: Wiley Blackwell 2009: ISBN 978-1-4051-8967-5: 170pp., £45.00 When in 1873, Darwin’s contemporary, Ernst Haeckel pointed out that nutrition and reproduction were the two factors which made all living things tick, he was merely re-introducing to the West a concept discussed by the Chinese a thousand years previously. For even longer though, theologians have, with a certain arrogance complicated matters by distinguishing mankind from brute beasts by adding an awareness of the Divine. Given the past difficulties experienced by prelates and mendicants alike in achieving a sensible balance between food and sex with or without divine intervention, some would argue that they are over-egging their pudding by adding this third factor Many of us living in the real world have long regarded those who follow the path of sanctity, pursuing sexual continence and eating modestly as seriously weird at best, if not actually harbouring all manner of covert perversions. Not surprisingly our attitude to the well-publicized back-slidings of our self-appointed moral guardians is less than tolerant. Witnessing the professionally godly of fiction fall off the moral tightrope has long furnished the masses with a delectable sense of schadenfreude. Indeed Friar Tuck and the moines gloutons of Rabelais no less than the randy friars of Boccaccio continue to entertain us today, It is perhaps then, a manifestation of the divine that in these secular times we have been sent Fra Angel Mendez Montoya, a Dominican philosopher and former Mexico City dancer, to redress the balance. In integrating nutrition and the divine, the journey travelled by the friar in his fascinating and densely argued book is certainly original. Like, for instance, using the making of molli (mole) as an analogy of the soul’s progress towards God. The purchasing of the thirty separate ingredients, the long storage period during which they mature, and the final eating are reminiscent of the three books of Dante’s Divine Comedy but much more fun. Nourishment in Montoya’s thesis is the physical and mundane approximation of the spiritual conversion of the bread and wine in to the body and blood of Christ during the taking of the Eucharist. Particularly masterful is his uniting of the themes of taste, touch and knowledge into a hunger for God. ‘Taste,’ he argues, ‘reigns supreme among the senses, and takes primacy over the intellect becoming a foretaste of the beatific vision – a beatific taste – revealing cognition as profoundly erotic/agapeic.’ His incorporation of sexual hunger, exemplified by Laura Esquivel’s novel Like water to Chocolate adds a startling awareness of the sensual that one would never have expected from a friar but which nevertheless has an undeniable validity. This allows him to explore the links in the Christian mind between food, lust and death in his chapter on the effects of Eve succumbing to the blandishments of the wily serpent. This in its turn cues an analysis of Babette’s Feast, a meal served up to celebrate the birthday of a dead patriarch. Normally associated by cinema-goers with an enjoyable ‘foodie’ movie rather than a novel with an intensely Christian climax, Montoya here perceives God ‘as a sort of Babette, an artistic chef generously sharing the divine superabundance with, and transforming creation.’ Although inherently good in the first place, Babette becomes infused with so great a spirit of Caritas that she transforms the stuffy village of her exile by treating its dour inhabitants to a feast. Moreover, on a personal level, she attains a kind of spiritual ecstasy unseen since Bernini’s St Teresa famously encountered that arrow. For the rest of us who do not live within the charmed circle and who fear that we may never achieve a similar height of bliss, Montoya provides reassurance, at first sight at least, that Caritas is what it is all about and twenty-first century serial burger-grazers are no less welcome at his table than the Thebaid hermits of history. For, as he points out on page 38, far from being damned in the eyes of the Lord we are following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ himself who enjoyed eating with the excluded ones. But Montoya’s thesis ‘God not only cares for his people by satiating their hunger’ is somewhat let down by Jesus telling us that ‘although many are invited, few are chosen’, (Matthew 22 : 14) so for many there will be no ecstasy in this life nor bliss in the next. It is a problem about which the author feels deeply, that there will be innocent children whose physical hunger will not be converted into spiritual longing and ultimate joy, instead they will miserably starve until an agonizing death releases them into oblivion. Having already treated the cardinal sin of gluttony in a spiritual sense, in his final and perhaps most interesting chapter, Montoya deals with the reality of physical starvation citing an FAO document which points out that more than a billion people are subsisting on less than a dollar a day and that 800 million people have insufficient food to meet their daily energy requirements. In accounting for this disgraceful situation, he doesn’t merely put his own sandal firmly in to the guts of the multinationals and globalization, but employs a raft of eminent thinkers to support his polemic. Nevertheless uneasiness sets in when he quotes Frei Betto who claims that ‘alleviating hunger is not about giving food to people or making donations, but also requires more holistic action that targets structural change.’ So far so good, but when we get to the necessities of ‘effective policies of structural change, such as agrarian and fiscal reforms that are capable of lessening the concentration of income from land and financial dealings…’ my mind is drawn to similar disastrous policies from the utopianism of medievalism via Stalin and Mao to the messianic insanity of Mugabe and Chavez today. Indeed Montoya has earlier referred to Betto’s contention that hunger is ‘a class thing’ so that by the time we read that ‘alleviating hunger requires a theo-political vision rooted in Eucharistic sharing to promote (these sorts) of structural changes’, I see the clouds of cuckoo-land take on an even redder hue. Conveniently, the advocacy of a communistic idealism avoids awakening the elephant of unrestrained population growth that has been dozing undisturbed in the corner throughout the chapter. Given that Montoya must have seen the appalling consequences of the Vatican’s policies during his forays around the markets of Mexico City, this seems disingenuous to say the least. More is the pity, for Montoya expresses a desire to extend the concept of caritas to all faiths and one doesn’t have to be a Christian to recognize the merit of this in our hierarchical and capitalist socety. His are largely the good ideas of a good man, some of which, the restoration of formal family meals for instance as a means of combatting yobbism, have already been embraced by sociologists. However, coming at the end of the book, the substitution of political dogma for failure to address one of the main causes of world famine leaves a somewhat acrid taste in the mouth detracting from the pleasure of an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking piece of work. ANTHONY LYMAN-DIXON
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