Saturday, November 17, 2012

Book Review: A Taste of the Sun

I'm pressed for time and although I wanted to write about Pumpkin Beers and Thanksgiving dinner matching (well sort of), I haven't collected my thoughts. Instead, I am going through my notes on one of the Penguin Food Books I just read.

 Cookbooks are a type of literature. Food writing is as well. I am not sure that it is some monolithic type of writing like poetry, mystery or horror. Sometimes, I find those genres not so monolithic neither. A good example of food writer that has been held up as a good writer in the recent past is Elizabeth David. The book that I read was A Taste of the Sun. There were three ideas that caused echoes into the future. Granted, our author has only been deceased in 1992 and that is not too far distant. Mind you, looking at photos from the 80's might seen incredibly foreign at this time.

Anyways, the first idea that caught my eye was a thoroughly modern way of cooking pasta. Bring the water to a boil then turn it off and let the pasta cook. This method has been recently making the rounds in blogs but it turns out it isn't as modern as we would like to believe. This piece was just before a bit on the Italian Futurists.

Now this is an extremely timely piece given the emphasis placed on Modernist Cuisine. The Italian Futurists are best looked up on Wikipedia and given a lot of thought. They were a political, artistic and social movement. Think reactions to modernity, cubism, Art of Noises (that begat the group Art of Noise) and fascism. Really, if you are a fan of modernist or molecular cooking, you owe yourself a chance to read some of these grandfathers.

Anyways, my point is that there is a small bit on these futurists that echo some of the same discussions that is being had about modernist or molecular cuisine. We have seen the impact of science and chemistry on food since the 1930's and can extrapolate what effect the modernist movement will have on food in the next fifty years. Is it important for everyone to understand? Only if they have a stake in maintaining the present skill sets. In general, if we are only reheating, finger dialing, microwaving or de-packaging and arranging, we will be safe with what the future brings. However, if you are one of the recent believers in bringing back old skills such as canning, brewing, scratch cooking or anything that your grandmother would call cooking then you may want to pay attention to the effect that these technologies have on your kitchen.

The last idea that grabbed me was a quote on picnicking. I posted a blog on cottage food a couple of months back, in which I described two approaches to making cottage food. Of course, Elizabeth David  has greatly outflanked me in a more apt description. She was describing picnics in this way:
"Picnic addicts seem roughly divided between those who frankly make elaborate preparations and leave nothing to chance, and those whose organization is no less complicated but who are more deceitful and pretend that everything will be obtained on the spot and cooked over a woodcutter's fire, conveniently to hand; there are even those...who wisely take the precaution of visiting the site of their intended picnic some days beforehand and there burying the champagne."
I find myself firmly in the weasel camp. The modern world of the internet makes this subterfuge of discovering the area less of an arduous chore so making me less deceitful. I always fess up to looking for things on the internet when someone asks how I found this little place in the middle of nowhere. I used to use phonebooks for the same tasks.

I think this is the last of the Penguin Food Books that I will read. I hope that you have enjoyed the reviews that you have visited. I'll probably post a linked page and relabel all the reviews, mainly because I think they show some value in revisiting old cookbooks and food writing. Most of the way forward to new food is to reflect seriously about where we have been. As has been said about science, politics, war and history, we must look backwards in order to move forwards.

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