When the weather’s too depressing to go out and forage or search for good eating places, I stay in to cook and read. Recently, I’ve been revisiting some of my favourite books about food.
The Big Fat Duck Cookbook
C asked for this for his birthday a couple of years ago. Remember, C is a vegetarian, and a strict one. He doesn’t even eat chicken. (Or gelatin.) But the food wasn’t why he wanted The Big Fat Duck Cookbook: the art was. A long-time fan of Dave McKean, he was won over by the look of the book alone. It is gorgeous! I read it for rather more than just the pictures.
I don’t plan to cook anything from The Big Fat Duck Cookbook. I’m not obsessive enough to spend for says making something that will be snaffled in two minutes. I love the fact that I could, though, and knowing a little about the cooking process makes me even more impressed with Heston’s approach. Edinburgh Foody went to Dinner and loved it. Having read the cookbook, I understand the lengths to which they go to make a dish special.
The part I like the best, though, is the essays on the science of cooking at the end. I really enjoy the science of cooking as well as the art. There are so many things that we do when cooking which are closer to superstition than science. A “this is how it works” top-up is always welcome.
Salt – a world history
Mark Kurlansky, 2003.
Salt is everywhere. When I think about it, I think about it in terms of there being too much: too much in the dishes my local Chinese restaurant make, too much on chips and crisps, too much in most food except for the stuff I make. I don’t cook with salt (take that with a pinch of same: I do cook with soy sauce). Salt is an important ingredient in many dishes and has allowed humans to store food for future use. The ability to keep food is one of the things that make us able to travel and explore. It’s a big-ish book, so good for a week of bad weather. The copy I have has a quote from Anthony Bourdain on the front: “Salt is the fascinating, indispensable history of an indispensable ingredient. It’s a must-have book for any serious cook or foodie.” Clearly, I’m a serious foodie…
The history of salt truly is a world history. Every civilisation – and every less civilised group too – is dependent on salt for food preservation and a range of other activities. Mark Writes about it in an engaging and entertaining manner. Suddenly, I see salt everywhere and I want to celebrate it.
Food in History
Reay Tannahill, Third revised edition, 2002
Headline Book Publishing
As you might have guessed, I like my history from a non-war perspective. Reading about how humans have interacted with an idea or substance is, to me, much more interesting. Resources – salt, sugar, fish, meat – are at the heart of most conflicts.
Like salt, food is everywhere. Reay Tannahill’s book tracks the rise and fall of foodstuffs, and how food is integral to changes in society. Food is fundamental to society and our access and attitudes towards it are ever-changing. It’s divided into sections based on time and Tannahill explains what is happening – foodwise – in different parts of the world at that time. It gives a wide perspective and connects a whole lot of historical dots.
What else should I read? Is there a must-read history of sugar, coffee or tea? I’d love to hear your suggestions!