Monday, June 3, 2013

The Penguin Books "Great Food" Series

This month for the Kitchen Reader book club we were able to choose any book from the Penguin books "Great Food" series. It's a collection of twenty slender volumes by beautiful food writers that cover 400 years. I chose to read two books from the collection.

Love in a Dish by MFK Fisher

I have enjoyed the work of MFK Fisher before so this was my first choice from the "Great Food" series. Her writing is always insightful, useful, and funny. She strongly advocates for home cooking, which may explain why I like her so much, saying that eating average American restaurant food is "deliberate mass poisoning, a kind of suicide of the spirit as well as the body."

In the essay entitled "Love in a Dish", Fisher claims that eating together is an indicator of a happy marriage. In fact she says that "there can be no warm, rich home-life anywhere else if it does not exist at the table.... I am convinced that a man and wife with congenial appetites and a knowledge of foods and cooking have the basis for lasting happiness." In that case, my relationship advice to everyone is to make sure you and your soulmate practise your cooking!

The Pleasures of the Table by Jean-Anthelm Brillat-Savarin

Brillat-Savarin wrote the book The Physiology of Taste in 1825 and it is a still a defining work about French gastronomy. The pieces that I read in The Pleasures of the Table show why. He addresses the chemistry of cooking as well as the enjoyment of a delicious meal. He was the first one to say "Tell me what you eat: I will tell you what you are." He concerns himself with the qualities of foods such as oysters, meat, game, fowl, truffles, coffee, chocolate, and sugar. The last three were relatively new introductions to Europe. He describes in glowing terms the delicacies of his day. For example:
In the high places of grastronomy, at those select gatherings where politics are forced to give way to dissertations upon taste, what do the guests hope for and long for as a second course? A truffled turkey!... And my secret memoirs contain a note to the effect that its potent juices have often brought a glow to eminently diplomatic features.
I have no idea what a truffled turkey might be but it does sound extravagant and I'm sure it was delightful to Brillat-Savarin's distinguished friends.

Elsewhere I learned that Brillat-Savarin judged coffee to be the most aromatic when the beans were pounded in a pestle and mortar instead of ground. Coffee's effects are described as "extreme cerebral exaltation": a phrase I am surely going to use next time I visit Pacific Coffee!

Who are your favourite food writers?

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