Saturday, March 22, 2008

Culinary Books I Have Been Reading Lately

It's been awhile since I have talked about the books I have been reading. As I have been working on my thesis I seem to have my nose stuck in the same few books each day, but I have also picked up a number of other great books the last few months.

Let's look at some books I have been reading for my thesis research. In reading some of the titles you might get the direction as to where my thesis is going. A particular favorite of the books I have been reading in Food in the USA: A Reader by Carole M. Counihan. This book is a collection of articles written about, well food in the USA. There are some regional writings, political and cultural writings (how the heck did Coca-Cola become the national drink of America?), food as the American identity, and a number of other great topics.

Putting Meat on the American Table: Taste, Technology, Transformation by Roger Horowitz is an interesting way of looking how meat has become such a large part of the American diet. It also explores how, what was once such an expensive item, has become a relatively cheap and affordable, albeit generic form of protein consumption.

A really enjoy this book by Carol Fisher, American Cookbook: A History. Have you ever wondered why your grandmother's cookbook looks so different from the cookbooks of today? Well you'd be amazed at the cookbooks from the 17th century. It is great to see where the cultural influences have come from that drove the different cookbooks that have proliferated in our country. Originating from English roots, most of our books were influenced as such with irritation toward French cookery until we became enemies with England and friends to France.

These next few books are from a series called Food in American History. These are written in a very academic manner and are not for the causal reader. These books however are some of my favorites in my library. American Indian Food by Linda Murray Berzok explores the pre-Columbian era and the cultural exchange that change the American Indians in both positive and negative ways. Written without bias, this is how a text of this sort should be written. The second book which is certainly a favorite is Food in Colonial and Federal America by Sandra L. Oliver. Ever wonder where some of our cultural food items came from? Did you know that the reason we took up coffee drinking was to boycott English tea imports? Did you know the reason we don't eat lamb like some of our English ancestors was as boycott as well? It was more important to have wool from our sheep than it was to eat mutton. Food in the United States, 1820s-1890 by Susan Williams brings us into the 19th century and introduces us to the ethnic influences many of us are accustomed to.

One last book I will share w
ith you from my research is an easy to approach book that will make you change the way you think about dining and eating in the United States. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan identifies all of the issues that have burdened the USA over the last century in the food industry. Today many think of fast food as normal food, Olive Garden as traditional Italian, Taco Bell as traditional Mexican and my disgust can go on and on. Corporate dining has homogenized our food so much that we can goto TGI Friday's, Applebees, Houlihan's, Ruby Tuesday's, any of those theme steak houses like Outback, Bugaboo Creek or otherwise and pretty much get the same meal. We have come to think about food in this country in terms of calorie, nutrient, carbohydrate and fat consumption while not caring about the food itself. We eat food wrapped in plastic that say cheese on them, but share about as much in common with cheese as a bowl of glue. This book is a must read, it will make some of you cry for those who still know how to cook. This is one of the books which made me rethink the way I eat today.

I will toss two more books in
here just to share a non-academic or food writing book. I have been wanting to buy Alain Ducasse's Grand Livre de Cuisine and the dessert version for some time. These books are an extensive exploration of many of Ducasse's modern take on French classical cooking along with his personal recipes. It reminds me of Le Guide Culinaire, but without the attempt to codify cuisine as Escoffier was attempting. This book to me though is an important asset to any professional chef's library or any serious home cook that enjoys cooking French cuisine. Do yourself a favor and buy these books from I purchased them foolishly from a private bookstore that is a favorite of mine to promote a local business in Boston, but at $250.00 compared to $114.00 used from Amazon, I think I should have waited until I came home, so much for impulse shopping. You can purchase both the desert text and savory text for the cover price of the savory text alone. I have both now though and even at the higher price I am extremely happy I own them.

So there you have it, go forth and read. I have a large number of other purchases I have made recently for both personal reading and academic research. Hopefully I will get a chance again soon to share a few more of my readings with you, until then happy reading!

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