The Book Nook

As usual, I’ve got a stack of food-related books piling up here by the desk and I just can’t get around to reviewing them. To the point where it’s been so long I forget a lot of what is in them. So instead of full post reviews, I’m just going to do some brief recaps so I can clear off my desk and further clutter up my bookshelf instead.

Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud, from Poisoned Candy to Counterfeit Coffee
Bee Wilson

Food had been adulterated for centuries. Items like coffee, tea and candy were intentionally tainted to stretch out quantities and garner a bigger profit. Swindled deals with this intentional deceit starting in the mid 1700′s, touching on basics like bread, meat and milk. Wine and beer wereoften tainted or stretched as well, and the book looks at the effort to enforce standards and charge criminals in all areas of food sales and production. However, Wilson also moves into the 20th century and examines ersatz foods (fakes or imitations intended to replace the real thing during wartime), as well as products like margarine. Wilson also touches on current issues such as adulterated basmati rice in India and the fiasco of Nestle’s baby formula scam in Africa. The book was written before last year’s melamine scare in China or the Maple Leaf Foods listeria outbreak, but it’s wise to note that the habit of greedy food producers intentionally tainting foodstuffs – or not properly inspecting machinery or equipment – has never gone away. The historical stuff is surprising in what people would do to make a buck, but is not more frightening than what many producers are still doing today.

Dinner at Buckingham Palace
Charles Oliver, edited and compiled by Paul Fishman and Fiorella Busoni

Charles Oliver worked in the housekeeping department at Buckingham Palace from the reign of Queen Victoria to that of the current Queen Elizabeth II. During his time there, he made a point of collecting items such as menus and recipes for meals served to the Royal Family. This book is a compilation of some of his collection and includes daily menus for the Queen and Prince Phillip to details of multi-course state dinners. The predominantly French recipes are interspersed with casual photos of the Royal Family (plenty of shots of all generations of the Royals fishing), pieces on items that the family will cook for themselves and toward the end, pages upon pages of menus from Royal dinners dating back to 1841. This will mostly be of interest to food historians or anyone who is amused by old menus. Royal-watchers might enjoy it as well, but it’s probably a bit dry for the casual food reader, as even the recipe sections are somewhat stuffy.

The Year of Eating Dangerously: A Global Adventure in Search of Culinary Extremes
Tom Parker-Bowles

Speaking of (almost) royals, Tom Parker-Bowles (son of Camilla) is a food writer and journalist in his own right. He recently spent a year touring the world in search of its most dangerous food. Not all of it is especially dangerous, to be honest, but Parker-Bowles has such a great writing style with much self-deprecating humour, that it’s a fun read nonetheless. He attends a hot sauce convention in New Mexico where he foolishly tries one of those hot sauce extracts where they make you sign a waiver first. He eats fugu in Japan, judges a BBQ festival in Nashville, eats stinky tofu in China and fried bugs in Laos, and samples posintang (dog meat) in Korea. Each chapter sees Parker-Bowles worry about his edible conquest (he managed to work himself into a quite a lather over both the dog and the fugu), but he’s at his funniest when he’s made a pig of himself and shares his gastrointestinal distress with his readers. In truth, he doesn’t do anything much more dangerous that what you’ll see on No Reservations each week, and the chapter on elvers (baby eel) just made me wonder if every UK food celebrity had to have a go at the things, but overall I loved his writing style and the fact that he articulated and shared his trepidation about the weird things he ate instead of being cool and blasé.