This book was recommended to me by the sourdough baker whose course I took. It turned out that I had already one of Pollan’s books – The Botany of Desire, which was awesome and looked at various plants in light of the general idea of desire. (My biggest take away message: the Agricultural Revolution was the grasses using humanity to destroy the trees. Also that all edible apples are clones.)
This book is Pollan’s attempt to learn more about cooking, having looked at the gardening and the eating side for a long time. He divides the book into four sections: Fire, Water, Air, Earth. Or, basically: barbecue, braise, bread, and fermenting. Continue reading →
I have baked my first sponge! You can click that link to read my hubristic recount of the deed. And see a fairly average photo.
Dear Reader, I am sorry, but I lied.
It wasn’t pannacotta, it was a sweet flan – I was mistaken. I do still indeed intend to try pannacotta, but this is what I was intending to make. There were some Issues… let’s just say that when I thought the muffin tray was going to fit in the big tray I had, so it could act as a water bath, I was mistaken. I discovered this when I had already put mixture into the muffin tray, but nonetheless – we progressed.
They were tasty, despite the fact that I cheated and used vanilla extract (fake, even, I think) rather than vanilla bean. I made a bit of a dark chocolate ganache with the rest of the cream I had, and some dark choc melts… it was very tasty. Just ask J!
I just made Roasted Garlic and Goats’ Cheese Flan! Yay me! Why did I do it in the middle of the day? Because it’s the holidays, and I wanted to experiment, and when better to experiment than on a rainy Friday in the holidays, with Torchwood that J downloaded for me because I think I stuffed up the VCR? No better time!
It was really, really easy… and very tasty… I can foresee dinner parties with this as the entree, and me getting an awful lot of kudos for it. And I won’t be saying then that it was easy…. Now, perhaps, to attempt and conquer pannacotta…
I finished Jack Turner’s Spice: The History of a Temptation yesterday. Overall, I really enjoyed it. It’s quite an idiosyncratic history, and deliberately so – writing about absolutely everything to do with spice, even just in western Europe and/or just in the Middle Ages would be an incomprehensibly huge project, I would imagine. So he hasn’t done that: although he does go into great detail in some things, in others he skips over stuff a bit. He does seem to have a fairly good bibliography at the back, so I guess if you were so inclined you could chase stuff up yourself.
The first part is about the spice race – Columbus, Magellan, and their cohort, who opened up the world for Europeans – at least the western ones – all, or at least partly, in the name of spice, I love the idea of Portugese or Spanish explorer getting to Malabar or other such places and finding Italian merchants already there; the look on their faces must have been priceless… much like the spice there were seeking.
The second part focusses on the palate – the thing that I was expecting most of the book to look at, to be honest, despite the fact that I know spices were used in incense etc. Anyway, this section was really interesting: it looked at recipes, it looked at how spice helped to create/maintain class distinction; discredits the idea that spice was used in the Middle Ages to hide the taste of rotting meat (it was rich people who used spice – do you think rich people would be eating rotting meat in the first place? It was at least partly to hide the taste of the salt used in curing the meat, probably).
The third part focussed on the body, in two ways: spice in medicine, and spice for love. Starting with cloves being shoved up Ramses II’s nose, as part of the mummification process, and then talking about the whole idea of pomanders and bad air (mal aria…) being respondible for disease. The section on spice as aphrodisiac was quite funny. And almost entirely male-centred – the remedies suggested, that is, not Turner’s treatment of it, since he himself points it out.
Part four is on the spirit: the use of spice in incense, for example. It mostly focussed, though, on the changing attitude of Christians towards spice in worship. The earliest Church fathers thought it was ok-ish – Christians were often anointed with spices for burial, since Christ was. Then people went a bit off it, because after all if God is incorporeal then presumably he doesn’t enjoy pleasant smells (personally I think this is a daft argument: so you’re limiting what God is able to do, then?). This is a very, very brief overview, of course.
The last chapter is called “Some Like it Bland,” which is a great heading. It talks about the movement – slowly – against spices, for a range of reasons, including that it was a drain of resources away from Europe towards those nasty, decadent Easterners; plus, interestingly, he links the development of the nation-state and national sentiment to the development of a national cuisine, which makes sense, and in England at least this led to a bland cuisine they were proud of, contrasting it with those very spices their forebears used to love.
As I said, this is a ridiculously brief overview, but it gives an idea what the book was about. It’s really well written, and a lot of fun to read; Turner’s not afraid of pointing out the humorous and ridiculous nature of some of the things he discusses.