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Spring and the Nature of Eating

Sunday, September 19, 2021

 


Trout season is approaching its most glorious phase, that time known as “the sweet of the year.” It’s that blissful time when the season is at its showiest, the air is soft, the streams have cleared, and the trout are rising freely in a most pleasing manner. Which is not to say that they are easily caught—they are still trout, after all. These elegant fish inhabit some of the most poetic and pristine waters, and employ their wiles inscrutably to bewitch and befuddle even the most sophisticated anglers.

So why, over that paean of piscatorial prose, is this scrawl illustrated with a lowly Yellow Perch?

Trout and Yellow Perch tell us something about the way we choose to feed ourselves. Some fishermen (at least those who do not adhere strictly to the canon of catch-and-release) will occasionally consume trout and bass, but eschew “lesser” species such as Bluegills or Yellow Perch. These easily-caught fish actually taste better than the more prestigious species (that’s why they are known collectively as “pan fish”). Trout, especially hatchery-raised fish (which are much more common than truly wild trout ) tend to have soft flesh, with a slightly musty flavor that is probably the result of the food pellets they ate. Bass (especially large-mouth bass) are often caught in muddy or weedy waters, and their flavor can reflect that terroir. Pan fish, on the other hand, are nearly always wild, and their flesh is firm and sweet. So why would someone prefer a food with potentially poorer culinary properties, that is harder to come by?

Those choosy fishermen demonstrate an important aspect of eating: the food itself is only a small part of the eating experience. What we choose to eat is determined by factors that are often at odds with our best interest. We place greater value on the symbolic aspects of foods than on their intrinsic properties.

Why would people (in the past) have preferred white bread to the “lowlier” peasant breads that were cheaper, tastier, and more nutritious? White flour was more labor-intensive, so only the wealthy could afford it—therefore eaters of white bread were visibly part of a higher-status group than eaters of dark breads. Once industrially-produced white flour, became cheap, available to everyone—consequently, losing status. Before long, whole grain breads—made, supposedly, by artisanal methods—gained a newly enhanced status. That status, in turn led people to believe that such breads were “more healthful.” Today’s supermarkets carry a plethora of supposedly more natural breads: not just whole wheat; but honey-laden 12-grain; crusty loaves festooned with seeds of pumpkin, sunflower, and flax; studded with wheat-berries and rolled oats. It’s only a matter of time before we’re offered breads that are indistinguishable from Chia Pets. Being sufficiently well-off to choose “health” over mere sustenance implied higher status, justifying the higher prices of darker breads. Former peasant breads, like pumpernickel and Russian black bread regained their lost status.

Since trout and bass require more effort to catch than plebian pan fish, they likewise confer higher status on those who choose to eat them. Yellow Perch, on the other hand, are so willing to be caught that even a small child, equipped with only the simplest gear (a hand-line, hook, and an old cork will serve nicely) and most rudimentary skills, can easily catch enough to feed their whole family. All that’s required are a few worms, and the ability to wait until the bobbing cork says it’s time to give the line a yank.

Despite the pretentions of fishers of elite species, what they demonstrate is not connoisseurship, but rather the brute power of supply-and-demand. Time is money, so having the leisure time to invest in the sport— not to mention the financial wherewithal to acquire custom-made bamboo fly rods or high-powered bass boats—means that every mouthful of gamefish is more precious than saffron-gilded peacock’s tongues.

At one time lobsters and caviar were so abundant that only servants and slaves had to eat them. The poor were pitied for having to endure the monotony of such mundane fare. Salty caviar was once given away free in taverns to encourage beer sales, while lobsters were so common that they were fed to prisoners, or used to fertilize vegetable gardens.  When my mother was growing up, on the Connecticut shore, mussels were abundant—but only poor Italian immigrants collected them. Her Yankee family considered mussels to be trash, and would never touch them. Even during The Great Depression, they chose to eat the tougher (and harder-to-collect) hard-shell clams, Those big quahogs were only suitable for chowder, or chopped for clam pies. I doubt that any of my Yankee ancestors had ever tasted the sweet and tender black mussels that covered every rock in Long Island Sound, were free for the taking.

Why would people shun perfectly-delicious food in favor of something more difficult to obtain, yet not nearly as tasty? Because their self-image is more important, and presumably longer-lasting, than their evanescent dining experiences. Or, to paraphrase Brillat-Savarin, bluntly, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you think you are.” 

In the sweet of the year, I may be savoring the memories of trout I’ve caught and lost… but I’ll actually be tasting the sweet flesh of a few yellow perch.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Drexel University’s Table Matters—as “Knocking Trout off its Perch,” but is no longer available on its website.

My illustration (“Yellow Perch & Gold-ribbed Hare’s Ear”) was a gift for one of my fishing buddies—the artist Tom Stratton, in 1989—and that home-tied fly has long been one of our favorites for half a century.

Food Sites for October 2021

Monday, September 13, 2021


Gourds, warts and all.


It’s autumn, and we’re awash in the annual tsunami of pumpkin-spice-everything. There doesn’t seem to be a way to escape it—unless one never leaves the safety of home. Fortunately, introverts/hermits/writers effectively limit their exposure to that marketing plague. Reading through all of the links in this longer-than-usual issue of updates can also help (if only because it will keep you out of your local Dunkin Donuts).


In another form of relief, many of you will be happy to learn that we have self-published ABSOLUTELY NOTHING this month—although we havent stopped scribbling; wrote the first draft of a novella (working title, so far: Unbelievable) and one of a short story. The novella is not really about food (but includes plenty of food & drink elements). The short story—set in a special section of Hades—has only minor references to food. It’s working title is “Darkness, Darkness.”


You can, if you wish, follow us on Facebook (where, among other things, we post a lot of photographs), and Twitter. Still more of our older online scribbles can be found at A Quiet Little Table in the Corner. There’s even an Amazon author’s page, mostly about our food writing.


From the Two-Different-Takes Dep’t, a couple of excerpts from On the Table’s culinary quote collection:


The capacity of human beings to bore one another seems to be vastly greater than that of any other animals. Some of their most esteemed inventions have no other apparent purpose, for example, the dinner party of more than two, the epic poem, and the science of metaphysics. HL Mencken


I have long believed that good food, good eating is all about risk. Whether we’re talking about unpasteurized Stilton, raw oysters, or working for organized crime “associates,” food, for me, has always been an adventure. Anthony Bourdain

Gary
October, 2021


PS: If you encounter broken links, changed URLs—or know of wonderful sites we’ve missed—please drop us a line. It helps to keep this resource as useful as possible for all of us. To those who have pointed out corrections or tasty sites (this month we’re tipping our hat to Krishnendu Ray and Anne Mendelson), thanks, and keep them coming!


PPS: If you wish to change the e-mail address at which you receive these newsletters, or otherwise modify the way you receive our postings or—if you’ve received this newsletter by mistake, and/or don’t wish to receive future issues—you have our sincere apology and can have your e-mail address deleted from the list immediately. We’re happy (and continuously amazed) that so few people have decided to leave the list but, should you choose to be one of them, let us know and we’ll see that your in-box is never afflicted by these updates again.



— the new sites —


Ancient Mediterranean People Ate Bananas and Turmeric From Asia 3,700 Years Ago

(Claire Bugos reports on more archaeological discoveries, for Smithsonian, based on this original research)


Brief History of Pickles, A

(Michele Debczak’s article at Mental Floss)


Chinese Food & History

(a misnomer; Miranda Brown’s site features articles on plenty of Asian cuisines, not just China’s)


DeepL

(one of the better online translation tools)


Eating in Jerusalem

(an exhibition/magazine from the Museum of the History of Jerusalem)


Epic Cooking: The Decorous Rite of the Mushroom Hunt

(foraging for fungi in Poland)


Expanding the Israeli Menu

(Flora Tsapovsky, in Tablet, discusses the multicultural eclecticism of modern Israeli cuisine)


Farro: An Ancient and Complicated Grain Worth Figuring Out

(Laura Weiss’s article at NPR’s Kitchen Window)


Food & Material Culture

(PDF of the 2013 Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery)


How Ice Cream Became the Ultimate American Comfort Food

(an excerpt from Matt Siegel’s book, The Secret History of Food)


How the Kitchen Took Over Our Homes

(Deborah Sugg Ryan’s British take on an answer in Financial Times)


Late-Summer Tart from a Misunderstood Master of French Cooking, A

(Mayukh Sen’s tribute to Madeleine Kamman, in The New Yorker)


Minoans Saw Wheat as Classy and Lentils as “Plebeian” Fare, Archaeologists Deduce

(Ruth Schuster, writing for Haaretz, digs into ancient dietary choices as revealed at two sites in Crete)


Pot Thickens, The

(Jonathan Olivier tells the story of filé in The Bitter Southerner—along with some non-Zappa gumbo variations)


Save the Planet, Eat a Bug

(Dana Goodyear’s article from a 2011 issue of The New Yorker)


What Is Curry, Anyways?

(Alex Delany’s answer at Bon Appétit’s Basically)


Who Invented Peanut Butter?

(...and who better to ask than the National Peanut Board?)



— inspirational (or otherwise useful) sites for writers/bloggers —


Bacon: A Story of Rags to Riches


Can We Fix America’s Food-Appropriation Problem?


Dearth of Pleasure, A: The Curse of Modern Food Writing


Digital Truths Traditional Publishers Don’t Want to Hear, The


English Food Store, The 


Frosting Versus Icing: What’s the Difference?


Hilary Mantel on How Writers Learn to Trust Themselves


How to Write a Great Recipe Headnote


No One Will Read Your Book (and Other Truths about Publishing)


Notes on Cravings


Old Fashioned Kitchen Sayings from Mexico: Dichos de Antaño de la Cocina Mexicana


Psychologists Explain Why Food Memories Can Feel So Powerful


Sandwich, A


Should We Genetically Edit the Food We Eat? We Asked Two Experts


Should You Publish Your Book with a Small Press? Two Literary Agents Advise


“Super Taster” Who Lost Sense of Smell Is Helping Italians Regain It


Why Do Fantasy Novels Have So Much Food?


Why Grocery Stores Get Jewish Holidays All Wrong


Wine and Cuisine: Craft or Art?



— other blogs —


Forking Around with History


Tower of David



— podcasts, etcetera —



Ancient Drink Serving the World for 13,000 Years, The


Deadly Secret of the Humble Grapefruit, The


Disgusting Food Museum


How to Photograph a Mushroom


Why Insects are the Missing Link in our Food System



— changed URL —


O Mosey Quince



— that’s all for now —


Except, of course, for the usual legalistic mumbo-jumbo and commercial flim-flam:


As an Amazon Associate, this newsletter earns from qualifying purchases made through it. These include our own books (listed below), and occasional books mentioned in the entries above. If you order anything via those links, the price you pay is not increased by our commission.


Occasionally, URLs we provide may take you to commercial sites (that is, they’ll cost you money to take full advantage of them), or publications that have paywalls. We do not receive any compensation for listing them here, and provide them without any form of recommendation—other than the fact that they looked interesting to us.


Your privacy is important to us. We will not give, sell or share your e-mail address with anyone, for any purpose. Ever. Nonetheless, we will expose you to the following irredeemably brazen plugs for our own books:


The Resource Guide for Food Writers
(Hardcover)
(Paper)
(Kindle)
(newsletters like this merely update the contents of the book; what doesn’t appear here is already in the book)


The Herbalist in the Kitchen
(Hardcover)
(Kindle)


The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food And Drink Industries
(Hardcover)
(Kindle)


Human Cuisine
(Paper)
(Kindle)


Herbs: A Global History
(Hardcover)
(Kindle)


Sausage: A Global History
(Hardcover)
(Kindle)


Can It! The Perils and Pleasures of Preserving Foods
(Hardcover)
(Kindle)


Sauces Reconsidered: Après Escoffier

(Hardcover)
(Kindle)


Terms of Vegery
(Paper)
(Kindle)


How to Serve Man:
On Cannibalism, Sex, Sacrifice, & the Nature of Eating

(Paper)
(Kindle)


How to Write a Great Book

(Paper)
(Kindle)


The Digressions of Dr Sanscravat: Gastronomical Ramblings & Other Diversions
(Paper)
(Kindle)


Ephemera: a short collection of short stories
(Paper)
(Kindle)


Prophet Amidst Losses
(Paper)
(Kindle)


Cenotaphs
(Paper)
(Kindle)


Future Tense: Remembrance of Things Not Yet Past
(Paper)
(Kindle)


Backstories: As retold by Gary Allen
(Paper)
(Kindle)


Here endeth the sales pitch(es)...


...for the moment, anyway.


______________


The Resource Guide for Food Writers, Update #252 is protected by copyright, and is provided at no cost, for your personal use only. It may not be copied or retransmitted unless this notice remains affixed. Any other form of republication—unless with the author’s prior written permission—is strictly prohibited.


Copyright ©2021 by Gary Allen.

 

Food Sites for September 2021

Friday, August 13, 2021


Paperback Writer: words—a LOT of words—which, fortunately, are not written in stone.


It’s been bloody hot lately; we’ve tried to go outside only long enough to grill a chunk of some creature for dinner. Otherwise, just sit in front of the laptop—near the air conditioner—and write. Or read. With a cocktail.


Life is hard.


We’ve recently self-published a paperback edition of Prophet Amidst Losses—a book that had previously been available only as a Kindle book. It’s a collection of short stories connected by a common theme. The main characters, who sometimes act as narrators, all have to deal with some form of loss. The situations they face are often painful—but not for you, gentle reader. Some of the stories have their own form of dark humor, because other people’s suffering is so easy to bear.


We’ve also edited and released yet another Kindle book—Ephemera—as a paperback. It’s also a collection of short stories (some them, VERY short). Unlike the Prophet book, the stories are not thematically-connected.


An older book, previously available only in Kindle form—How to Serve Man: On Cannibalism, Sex, Sacrifice, & the Nature of Eating is finally out in paper. It’s non-fiction (mostly) and, while it will entertain the curious, it’s probably not ideal reading for the squeamish.


We think we’re finally up-to-date with converting Kindle books to paper—and have, at last, gotten back to actual writing. BTW, all nine of the books have a common design, page size, and cover color. 


“A foolish consistency,” as Emerson said in some completely different context.


You can, if you wish, follow us on Facebook (where, among other things, we post a lot of photographs), and Twitter. Still more of our older online scribbles can be found at A Quiet Little Table in the Corner. There’s even an Amazon author’s page, mostly about our food writing.


From the Some-things-never-change Dep’t, here’s an excerpt from On the Table’s culinary quote collection:

When we examine the story of a nation’s eating habits, describing the changing fashions of preparation and presentation and discussing the development of ifs cuisine throughout the ages, then we find an outline of the nation’s history, harking back to those distant days when a scattered tribe lurked in dismal caves, feeding on raw fish and plants and the hot, quivering flesh of wild beasts, lately slain with a rude spear. Auguste Escoffier

Gary
September, 2021


PS: If you encounter broken links, changed URLs—or know of wonderful sites we’ve missed—please drop us a line. It helps to keep this resource as useful as possible for all of us. To those who have pointed out corrections or tasty sites (this month we’re tipping our hat to Bob DelGrosso), thanks, and keep them coming!


PPS: If you wish to change the e-mail address at which you receive these newsletters, or otherwise modify the way you receive our postings or—if you’ve received this newsletter by mistake, and/or don’t wish to receive future issues—you have our sincere apology and can have your e-mail address deleted from the list immediately. We’re happy (and continuously amazed) that so few people have decided to leave the list but, should you choose to be one of them, let us know and we’ll see that your in-box is never afflicted by these updates again.



— the new sites —


Appetizer: Words, Concepts, Contents

(another trip down menu memory lane, with Jan Whitaker as guide)


Baghdad was in the Limelight of Medieval Arab Cuisine

(Nawal Nasrallah, writing for Inside Arabia, about what we can learn from the earliest Arabic cookbooks)


Before Farm to Table

(a team of scholars studying “early modern foodways and cultures“ at the Folger Library)


DU’s Cookery and Foodways Collection Whets the Appetite for Discovery

(Denver University’s collection of 11,000 titles; not—unfortunately—online)


Everything You Need to Know About French Wine Regions in Under 5 Minutes

(Vicki Denig decants the short version for Taste France magazine)


Evolution of Israeli Cuisine, The

(Joan Nathan reports—at My Jewish Learning—on the culinary changes that have happened since 1948; an excerpt from The Foods of Israel Today: More than 300 Recipes—and Memories—Reflecting Israel’s Past and Present Through Its Many Cuisines)


Hash House Lingo

(Jan Whitaker’s blog—Restaurant-ing through history—discusses food industry jargon that is often “racy, picturesque, humorous [and] only by the initiate”)


How 12 Female Cookbook Authors Changed the Way We Eat

(Lily Katzman’s review, in Smithsonian magazine, of Anne Willan’s book, Women in the Kitchen)


How Freezing Changed the Green Pea

(Veronique Greenwood’s history—and explanation of how frozen can be better than fresh—at BBC Future)


India Pale Ale, a Name to be Reckoned With

(Anja Madhvani, at Sourced Journeys, corrects the familiar, but “...rather loose interpretation of a somewhat patchily documented history” of the popular brew)


Invention of the Fried Clam, The

(...at least according to the New England Historical Society)


Is the Croissant Really French?

(Amanda Flegl’s answer[s] in Smithsonian Magazine)


Learning to Love G.M.O.s

(Jennifer Kahn examines the state of GMO crops, and the way they’re perceived by consumers, for The New York Times)


Long Good-bye, The: A Writer’s Plea to Save the Foods We Love

(Keith Pandolfi’s review of Bread, Wine and Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love, for Serious Eats)


Morel Compass—John Cage’s Mania For Mushrooms

(Josie Thaddeus-Johns’s review, in Apollo Magazine, of John Cage: A Mycological Foray—a beautifully-illustrated book from Atelier Éditions)


Mystery of the Lost Roman Herb, The

(Zaria Gorvett discusses silphium—or laser—for BBC Future)


Obsessed: Finding Your Food in the Field

(Sho Spaeth’s interview, at Serious Eats, with forager Tama Matsuoka Wong)


Oddly Autocratic Roots of Pad Thai, The

(Alex Mayyasi’s GastroObscura article about how Plaek Phibunsongkhram got Thailand to eat more noodles)


Origin and Art of Japanese Rice, The

(Dan Q. Dao’s Saveur article)


Real Reason Jack Daniel’s Is Called Old No. 7, The

(Travis Gillmore adds to the speculations at VINEPAIR)


Revealed: The True Extent of America’s Food Monopolies, and Who Pays the Price

(exposé in The Guardian, by Nina Lakhani and Alvin Chang)


Understanding Black Southern Funeral Food Tradition

(Robin Caldwell’s article, in Black Southern Belle, on current and historical practices)



— inspirational (or otherwise useful) sites for writers/bloggers —


6 Relics of Forgotten Fast-Food Dynasties


18th-Century Cookbook That Helped Save the Slovene Language, The


Black Food Heritage: Wild Game Receipts (Recipes) from the Past that Live On


Cancel “Curry”? Why South Asian American Chefs Say It’s Time for the Word to Go


Cooking with James Baldwin


Dick Soup


Growing Eggplant: A Complete Guide


Hot Diggity Dog!


How Vittles Is Revolutionising Food Writing


Is Soft-Serve Healthier than Ice Cream? Chemistry Debunks a Common Myth


Lilac Syrup and the Underrated Art of Eating Flowers


Meat and Pets: A Double Feature


Meat Marketing: The Truth About Food Labels


Mighty Vegemite


Nach Waxman, Founder of a Bookstore Where Foodies Flock, Dies at 84


New Evidence Busts New Haven’s Claim as “Birthplace of the Burger”


Rome Finds There’s No Accounting for Taste, Artistic or Culinary


Singapore’s Last Traditional Coffee Roasters May Soon Disappear


So, What’s in Food Coloring?


Sold: Sylvia Plath’s Rolling Pin and Recipes


Stop Calling Food “Exotic”


Tamales de Tia Tila: Steamed Comfort


This Writer Is Tweeting Everything Sylvia Plath Ever Ate


Trade Cards: An Illustrated History (Highlights from the Waxman Collection of Food and Culinary Trade Cards)


What Did the Ancient Romans Eat?


What Is Good Taste, Revisited


Why Are Restaurants’ Cheapest Bottles of Wine Becoming So Expensive?


Why I Won’t Self-Publish a Cookbook Again



— another blog —


Passionate Foodie, The



— podcasts, etcetera —



Baking of the Legendary Samarkand Bread


Ethnographic Eater, The 


Food Chain, The: What’s the Appetite for Gene Edited Food?


History of the Legendary Delmonico’s & New Delmonico’s Cookbook, The


Onion Pakora Weather


MSG—Seasoning Non Grata


Wine 101



— changed URL —


Buzz on Our Forgotten American Tea Plant, The


Online Historic Cookbooks



— that’s all for now —


Except, of course, for the usual legalistic mumbo-jumbo and commercial flim-flam:


As an Amazon Associate, this newsletter earns from qualifying purchases made through it. These include our own books (listed below), and occasional books mentioned in the entries above. If you order anything via those links, the price you pay is not increased by our commission.


Occasionally, URLs we provide may link to commercial sites (that is, they’ll cost you money to take full advantage of them). We do not receive any compensation for listing them here, and provide them without any form of recommendation—other than the fact that they looked interesting to us.


Your privacy is important to us. We will not give, sell or share your e-mail address with anyone, for any purpose. Ever. Nonetheless, we will expose you to the following irredeemably brazen plugs for our own books:


The Resource Guide for Food Writers
(Hardcover)
(Paper)
(Kindle)
(newsletters like this merely update the contents of the book; what doesn’t appear here is already in the book)


The Herbalist in the Kitchen
(Hardcover)
(Kindle)


The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food And Drink Industries
(Hardcover)
(Kindle)


Human Cuisine
(Paper)
(Kindle)


Herbs: A Global History
(Hardcover)
(Kindle)


Sausage: A Global History
(Hardcover)
(Kindle)


Can It! The Perils and Pleasures of Preserving Foods
(Hardcover)
(Kindle)


Sauces Reconsidered: Après Escoffier

(Hardcover)
(Kindle)


Terms of Vegery
(Paper)
(Kindle)


How to Serve Man:
On Cannibalism, Sex, Sacrifice, & the Nature of Eating

(Paper)
(Kindle)


How to Write a Great Book

(Paper)
(Kindle)


The Digressions of Dr Sanscravat: Gastronomical Ramblings & Other Diversions
(Paper)
(Kindle)


Ephemera: a short collection of short stories
(Paper)
(Kindle)


Prophet Amidst Losses
(Paper)
(Kindle)


Cenotaphs
(Paper)
(Kindle)


Future Tense: Remembrance of Things Not Yet Past
(Paper)
(Kindle)


Backstories: As retold by Gary Allen
(Paper)
(Kindle)


Here endeth the sales pitch(es)...


...for the moment, anyway.


______________


The Resource Guide for Food Writers, Update #251 is protected by copyright, and is provided at no cost, for your personal use only. It may not be copied or retransmitted unless this notice remains affixed. Any other form of republication—unless with the author’s prior written permission—is strictly prohibited.


Copyright ©2021 by Gary Allen.


The Libro-Emporium

Doorstops and lavatory entertainments abound in our book store.