Foodie Faves

Candyfreak : A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America

By Steve Almond

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"A former journalist, Almond (creative writing, Boston Coll.; My Life in Heavy Metal) is obsessed with candy; it shaped his childhood and continues to define his life in ways large and small. Fascinated by the emotional bonds that people develop with their childhood favorites, Almond began a journey into the history of candy in America and discovered a lot about himself in the process. Once hundreds of American confectioners delivered regional favorites to consumers, but now the big three of candy--Hershey, Mars, and Nestle--control the market. To find out what happened to those candies of yesteryear, Almond talks to candy collectors and historians and visits a few of the remaining independent candy companies, where he learns exactly what goes into creating lesser-known treats such as the Idaho Spud. Flavored with the author's amusingly tart sense of humor, Candyfreak is an intriguing chronicle of the passions that candy inspires and the pleasures it offers."
[Library Journal]

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Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World

By Mark Kurlansky

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"A delightful romp through history with all its economic forces laid bare, Cod is the biography of a single species of fish, but it may as well be a world history with this humble fish as its recurring main character. Cod, it turns out, is the reason Europeans set sail across the Atlantic, and it is the only reason they could. What did the Vikings eat in icy Greenland and on the five expeditions to America recorded in the Icelandic sagas? Cod, frozen and dried in the frosty air, then broken into pieces and eaten like hardtack. What was the staple of the medieval diet? Cod again, sold salted by the Basques, an enigmatic people with a mysterious, unlimited supply of cod. As we make our way through the centuries of cod history, we also find a delicious legacy of recipes, and the tragic story of environmental failure, of depleted fishing stocks where once their numbers were legendary. In this lovely, thoughtful history, Mark Kurlansky ponders the question: Is the fish that changed the world forever changed by the world's folly?"
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Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices

By Andrew Dalby

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"Spices and aromatics--the powerful, pleasurable, sensual ingredients used in foods, drinks, scented oils, perfumes, cosmetics, and drugs--have long been some of the most sought-after substances in the course of human history. In various forms, spices have served as appetizers, digestives, antiseptics, therapeutics, tonics, and aphrodisiacs. Dangerous Tastes explores the captivating history of spices and aromatics: the fascination that they have aroused in us, and the roads and seaways by which trade in spices has gradually grown. Andrew Dalby, who has gathered information from sources in many languages, explores each spice, interweaving its general history with the story of its discovery and various uses. Dalby concentrates on traditional spices that are still part of world trade: cinnamon, cloves, ginger, pepper, saffron, and chili. He also discusses aromatics that are now little used in food but still belong to the spice trade and to traditional medicine: frankincense, myrrh, aloes-wood, balsam of Mecca.

"In addition, Dalby considers spices that were once important but that now are almost forgotten: long pepper, cubebs, grains of Paradise. Dangerous Tastes relates how the Aztecs, who enjoyed drinking hot chocolate flavored with chili and vanilla, sometimes added annatto (a red dye) to the drink. This not only contributed to the flavor but colored the drinker's mouth red, a reminder that drinking cacao was, in Aztec thought, parallel with drinking blood. In the section on ambergris, Dalby tells how different cultures explained the origin of this substance: Arabs and Persians variously thought of it as solidified sea spray, a resin that sprung from the depths of the sea, or a fungus that grows on the sea bed as truffles grow on the roots of trees. Some Chinese believed it was the spittle of sleeping dragons. Dalby has assembled a wealth of absorbing information into a fertile human history that spreads outward with the expansion of human knowledge of spices worldwide."

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In Praise of Tomatoes: A Year in the Life of a Home Tomato Grower

By Steven Shepherd

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Growing tomatoes can be a simple recreation... or a consuming passion. For Steven Shepherd cultivating tomatoes is a metaphor for nurturing life's larger bounty. This is a diary of his year growing tomatoes, from reading seed catalogs in December until the final tomato is eaten in October. November is spent thinking about next year. Along the way the reader learns the history of tomatoes, tips on growing them, some recipes for eating, and even some poems about tomatoes.

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In the Devil's Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food

By Stewart Lee Allen

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"Deliciously organized by the Seven Deadly Sins, here is a scintillating history of forbidden foods through the ages--and how these mouth-watering taboos have defined cultures around the world. From the lusciously tempting fruit in the Garden of Eden to the divine foie gras, Stewart Lee Allen engagingly illustrates that when a pleasure as primal as eating is criminalized, there is often an astonishing tale to tell. Among the foods thought to encourage Lust, the love apple (now known as the tomato) was thought to possess demonic spirits until the nineteenth century.

"The Gluttony 'course' invites the reader to an ancient Roman dinner party where nearly every dish served--from poppy-crusted rodents to 'Trojan Pork'--was considered a crime against the state. While the vice known as Sloth introduces the sad story of 'The Lazy Root' (the potato), whose popularity in Ireland led British moralists to claim that the Great Famine was God's way of punishing the Irish for eating a food that bred degeneracy and idleness.

"Filled with incredible food history and the author's travels to many of these exotic locales, In the Devil's Garden also features recipes like the matzo-ball stews outlawed by the Spanish Inquisition and the forbidden 'chocolate champagnes' of the Aztecs. This is truly a delectable book that will be consumed by food lovers, culinary historians, amateur anthropologists, and armchair travelers alike."

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Michael Jackson's Beer Companion: The World's Great Beer Styles, Gastronomy, and Traditions

By Michael Jackson

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Anthropologists can't decide which came first - bread or beer, but beer expert Michael Jackson votes for beer. In this combination travelogue and cultural history he identifies forty-one distinctive traditional styles of beer and highlights one hundred-fifty breweries that are benchmarks of excellence. There is even a small collection of recipes that are great companions to beer or that use beer in the dish.
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Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Meal

By Margaret Visser

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Presented as a meal, each chapter represents a different course or garnish. Borrowing from Byron's classic poem "Don Juan" for her title ("Since Eve ate apples, much depends on dinner"), writer Margaret Visser looks to the most ordinary American dinner for her subject - corn on the cob with butter and salt, roast chicken with rice, salad dressed in lemon juice and olive oil, and ice cream - submerging herself in the story behind each food. In this indulgent and perceptive guide we hear the history of Corn Flakes, why canned California olives are so unsatisfactory (they're picked green, chemically blackened, then sterilized), and the fact that in Africa, citrus fruit is eaten rind and all. For food lovers of all kinds, this unexpectedly funny and serious book is a treasure of information, shedding light on one of our most favorite pastimes.

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Olives: The Life and Lore of a Noble Fruit

By Mort Rosenblum

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Until one stops to notice, an olive is only a lowly lump at the bottom of a martini. But not only does a history of olives traverse climates and cultures, it also reveals fascinating differences in processing, production, and personalities. Aficionados of the noble little fruit expect miracles from it as a matter of course. In 1986, Mort Rosenblum bought a small farm in Provence and acquired 150 neglected olive trees that were old when the Sun King ruled France. He brought them back to life and became obsessed with olives, their cultivation, and their role in international commerce.
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Salt: A World History

By Mark Kurlansky

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"Homer called salt a divine substance. Plato described it as especially dear to the gods. Today we take it for granted; however, as Mark Kurlansky so brilliantly relates in this world-encompassing book, salt--the only rock we eat--has shaped civilization from the very beginning. Its story is a glittering, often surprising part of the history of mankind. Until about 100 years ago, when modern geology revealed how prevalent it is, salt was one of the most sought-after commodities, for without it humans and animals could not live. Salt has often been considered so valuable that it served as currency, and it is still exchanged as such in places today. The story of salt encompasses fields as disparate as engineering, religion, and food, all of which Kurlansky richly explores."
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Six Thousand Years of Bread: Its Holy and Unholy History

By H.E. Jacob

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"Yeast, water, flour, and heat. How could this simple mixture have been the cause of war and plague, celebration and victory, supernatural vision and more? In this remarkable and all-encompassing volume written in 1944, H. E. Jacob takes us through six thousand dynamic years of bread's role in politics, religion, technology, and beyond. Who were the first bakers? Why were bakers distrusted during the Middle ages? How did bread cause Napoleon's defeat? Why were people buried with bread? Six Thousand Years of Bread has the answers. Jacob follows the story from its beginning in ancient Egypt and continues through to modern times. The poignant and inspiring conclusion of the book relays the author's experiences in a Nazi concentration camp, subsisting on bread made of sawdust."
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