You are so through with elaborate holiday food. It was luscious while it lasted: the cherry-and-pecan-studded hams, the tri-colored potato swirls, the designer vegetable platters, the adorable cookies. Now it’s time for midwinter austerity. Plain, simple food. Like root vegetables. And cod. And bananas.
Okay, those last two were awkward. But they do allow me introduce the theme of this review, which is: “Nonfiction books about the fascinating history of a single food item.” (Who knew this would become a literary trend, but it has.) Here are some examples that very picky reviewers have found quite tasty.
“Oranges” by John McPhee. One of the best books by this great writer, and an early trend-setter (1967).
“Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World” by Mark Kurlansky. Learn a boatful of intriguing facts about this legendary fish and the death-defying task of catching it.
“Salt: A World History” also by Mark Kurlansky. Check out the chapters on salt and the Civil War, and salt and Gandhi.
“Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World” by Dan Koeppel. Beware–you will never feel the same about bananas.
“Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors” by E.M. Collingham. Both a history and a cookbook of Indian cuisine, which has only improved with successive foreign invasions.
“Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet” by Carol Off. See “Banana,” above.
“Crunch! A History of the Great American Potato Chip” by Dirk Burhans. From its obscure origins in Saratoga Springs, NY in 1853, the potato chip has gone on to become our main dietary source of salted grease. (At least it is mine.) A mouth-watering read, authored by one of DBRL’s own.
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