07 January 2007

More Food Books

Here's another handful of food and beverage-related books I've read recently. All of these are available at the various Memphis Public Libraries. Support your local library!

The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten. Steingarten was the food critic for the magazine Vogue, and this book is a compilation of many of his articles. I can safely say that I've never even touched an issue of Vogue, though if I knew they had good food articles I'd hide it in a copy of Newsweek or something at the dentist's office. In particular, I enjoyed his piece about forcing himself to try foods he hates (apparently if you try anything eight times you'll eventually like it). He also served as a rib judge for the Memphis in May Barbecue Contest, which is a pretty big deal around here. Dad participated in the competition a couple of times, and I know several people who compete every year.

The Art of Eating by M.F.K. Fisher. Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher is revered as one of the first great food writers of the 20th century. She had a sense of humor, a sense of adventure, a love of life, and a love of great food. This book combines five of her most famous works, including the wartime How to Cook a Wolf, which includes no roast lupine recipes but rather refers to strategies for not starving during periods of scarcity, when the "wolf is at the door". Though mainly enjoyed by the upper classes, there was a great love and appreciation of gourmet cooking in this country between the 1890s and the 1920s. Unfortunately, we had the decades of Prohibition, the Depression, WWII, followed by the 50s-80s fascination with fast food, canned vegetables, frozen dinners, and a bizarre proclivity to cook any meat until it was limp, gray, and flavorless. Now we're blessed with a society in which even Wal-Mart carries organic produce and gas stations serve sushi.

A Cook's Tour by Anthony Bourdain. I've read the book and seen the TV series, and while the show goes into more depth, I think that the book is more honest and open. The TV version tended to be a little more happy and goofy and played for the cameras, while in the book he talked about his arguments with the producers and the stomach distress from eating some really bizarre foods. I don't know if Tony and I would ever get along well on a personal basis, but I still admire him as a chef, and will continue my project of cooking my way through his Les Halles Cookbook.

Never Eat Your Heart Out by Judith Moore. Depressing in many parts, but I respect her devotion to growing her own vegetables even during hard times. As with James Beard, there's a big focus here on taste memory. Also, if you're interested in the culinary and child-rearing history of suburban housewives in 1950s-1970s America, knock yourself out.

A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage. This is a fairly dry (no pun intended) review of six beverages that were important to human history: beer, wine, distilled spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola. Very interesting, though I'd read most of it before. For the first two subjects, beer and wine, the focus is entirely on ancient history, whereas I think that some interesting things have happened with these beverages in the past 2000 years. (For instance, the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock because they ran out of beer.) The coffee and tea sections are probably the best, and the Coke chapters are pretty well-known to anyone who has visited World of Coke in Atlanta. Still, well worth reading if you haven't read a ton of food history books.

Travels with Barley by Ken Wells of The Wall Street Journal. If you care at all about beer, go out and read this book right now. Wells traveled all over the country, writing about the history of beer, the biggest producers, the homebrewers, the creative microbreweries, and about the quest for the Perfect Beer Joint. Warm and funny, this is an enjoyable read. I give him much credit for his chapter on Dogfish Head in Delaware. I've had some amazing brews from that company, and look forward to their future innovations. He spent a chapter talking about Memphis, although it was almost entirely about Elvis and the debate over whether or not Elvis (a good Baptist boy) drank beer or not, and if so, what was his beverage of choice. He is redeemed for mentioning the local brewpub Bosco's. I still mourn the closing of their Germantown location, and find excuses to be in Midtown around lunch so I can visit their Overton Square establishment.

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