Foodie Faves

Steve Almond

"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]

Mark Kurlansky
"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?"
Andrew Dalby

"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."

Steven Shepherd

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.

Stewart Lee Allen

"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."

Michael Jackson
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.
Margaret Visser

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.

Mort Rosenblum
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.
Mark Kurlansky
"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."
H.E. Jacob
"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."
Jeanne Bourin

"This lavishly illustrated book, The Book of Chocolate takes readers on a journey through the history and production of the world's most seductive confection: chocolate. Learn how the cocoa bean, first enjoyed by the Aztecs, has traveled around the globe to produce endless variations of chocolate. Through the eyes of food critics, chefs, journalists, and historians, this book explores the rich history of chocolate, along with a modern-day investigation of its many flavors and forms. A list of tantalizing recipes and a guide to the finest purveyors of chocolate worldwide make this volume indispensable to chocolate lovers everywhere."

Michael Pollan

"Every schoolchild learns about the mutually beneficial dance of honeybees and flowers: The bee collects nectar and pollen to make honey and, in the process, spreads the flowers’ genes far and wide. In The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan ingeniously demonstrates how people and domesticated plants have formed a similarly reciprocal relationship. He masterfully links four fundamental human desires—-sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control—-with the plants that satisfy them: the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato. In telling the stories of four familiar species, Pollan illustrates how the plants have evolved to satisfy humankind’s most basic yearnings. And just as we’ve benefited from these plants, we have also done well by them. So who is really domesticating whom?"
Also available on DVD.

Stewart Lee Allen

"Coffee as history's primary instrument and instigator. What is this elixir that fuels our destiny? Stewart Lee Allen's insatiable, unquenchable thirst for the answer carries him across forbidden borders and several continents as he pursues the precious and little-known catalytic effect of the ambrosial brew upon world empires and mankind. He also documents the unconscionable attempts to suppress coffee. With Paris one 'vast caf,' for instance, Napoleon banned coffee, but then was summarily overthrown and exiled. His last request: a cup of St. Helena's best. Likewise, Germany's long anti-coffee campaigns kept java from offering its solace to the lower classes. In 1930 German workers voted Adolf Hitler into power. In America the military tried for fifty years to produce an easily brewed cup for battlefield use, and did. The perfection of instant coffee triggered a 3,000 percent jump in consumption during World War I and stimulated the rise of the United States to world-class power."

Michael Pollan

"As the cornucopia of the modern American supermarket and fast food outlet confronts us with a bewildering and treacherous landscape, what's at stake becomes not only our own and our children's health, but the health of the environment that sustains life on earth. Pollan follows each of the food chains--industrial food, organic or alternative food, and food we forage ourselves--from the source to the final meal, always emphasizing our co-evolutionary relationship with the handful of plant and animal species we depend on. The surprising answers Pollan offers have profound political, economic, psychological, and even moral implications for all of us."

Jason Goodwin
On a personal journey through the serpentine paths of the tea trade - from China to India to London- Jason Goodwin sets off to discover the history of tea from its ancient beginnings in the Far East to its influence today. He evokes both past and present in this lively and intriguing traveler's journal, as he traces the development of the tea trade from its origins in Canton factories through the Opium Wars and the settlement of British India to the state of the art today.
Mark Pendergrast

From its discovery in ancient Ethiopia to its role as a millennial elixir in the Age of Starbucks, coffee has dominated and molded the economies, politics, and social structures of entire countries. The second most valuable exported legal commodity on earth, it has sparked revolutions, romances, business deals, and friendships. Uncommon Grounds traces the journey of coffee from its origins on tropical mountainsides cultivated by poor laborers to the coffee bars of the United States, Europe, and Japan, where cosmopolitan consumers pay half a day's Third World wages for one good cup.

Tim Unwin

Wine and the Vine provides an introduction to the historical geography of viticulture and the wine trade from prehistory to the present. The rich symbolic and cultural significance of wine is related to its evolution as a commercial product.