Books That Mix the Science and Craft of Food With a Dash of Heart

Books That Mix the Science and Craft of Food With a Dash of Heart


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Joon Mo Kang

Dear Match Book,

My girlfriend is a chef who loves anything to do with food. She’s a vegetarian, and mans a grill every weekend for an artisanal food shop. She hasn’t been able to read much over the last year while completing her master’s degree in food sciences, so now I want to find her a book on food that’s meaty but not too technical. She’s been reading a lot of hard science about fermentation and waste as research for developing a new product made by fermenting vegetable peelings. I think she’d like books that show a love and deep understanding of food and its importance in our everyday lives.

EOIN MADIGAN
Limerick, Ireland

Dear Eoin,

In a healthy portion of food books, ravenous writers follow their bliss, roaming from home kitchen to restaurant in pursuit of delicious experiences. There are the “flaky, delicate” biscuits in “More Home Cooking,” by Laurie Colwin; the “tough, soggy” fried egg sandwiches in “The Art of Eating,” by M. F. K. Fisher; and a love letter to delicata squash nestled in T. Susan Chang’s “A Spoonful of Promises.” Sample these morsels of reading, then dig into some books that place food in a broader context.

Growing Pains

Michael Pollan’s sweeping, meticulously reported 2006 book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” won a James Beard Award for food writing, but I’m also loyal to his earlier book “The Botany of Desire,” which tracks the evolving relationship between plants and humans through the histories of four crops: apples, tulips, marijuana and potatoes. The mix of the personal and the experimental — in one memorable section, Pollan grows in his own garden beetle-resistant NewLeaf potatoes from a “purple mesh bag” full of “dusty, stone-colored chunks of tuber” — links your girlfriend’s passions for food science and pure human interest.

The struggle to preserve a small, 350-tree orchard of juicy “amber gold” Sun Crest peaches with a limited shelf life lies at the heart of David Mas Masumoto’s poetic and practical “Epitaph for a Peach.” A third-generation farmer who co-owns and works 80 acres near Del Rey, Calif., Masumoto details his natural growing methods, including how he plants cover crops and wards off “vertebrate pests.” But his warm family story is also a paean to the acute, fleeting pleasures of life.

Top Chefs

Among the bounty of recent books written by chefs, two seem best suited to your girlfriend’s interests. With a chef’s discernment and an activist’s spirit, Dan Barber cooks up a vivid narrative about the culture of cuisine in his richly layered book, “The Third Plate.” His account of meals made on the fly and sustainable farming practices takes him from his home bases at the Blue Hill restaurant in New York City and its sister farm and fine dining outpost at the Stone Barns Center in Westchester County, to visits with food purveyors in Spain and other places. All the while he teases out connections among everything from grains and bluefin tuna to polenta and sauces to show that “good farming and delicious food are inseparable.”

“Blood, Bones & Butter,” by the chef (and excellent writer) Gabrielle Hamilton, is a brawnier, more personal affair. Her culinary education sprouted in wild places: from her exuberantly feral childhood to a stint cooking at a summer camp. From her adult travels across Europe and Asia she gathers flavors, techniques and rough lessons she then incorporates into running her New York City restaurant, Prune.

Making History

Ever since I read about seasoned chickpeas in paper cones and chocolate babies in Sydney Taylor’s “All-of-a-Kind Family” books for children, I’ve been fascinated by the cuisines of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. “97 Orchard,” Jane Ziegelman’s intimate history of the neighborhood, records the regional cooking customs of five immigrant families who lived in one tenement building between 1863 and 1935 to illuminate their cultural experiences through the foods they introduced to their neighbors: “beygals,” “wursts and pretzels” and spaghetti among them.

Your girlfriend’s work with vegetable peels reminds me of the stories within “In Memory’s Kitchen,” the heartbreaking history, edited by Cara De Silva, of the Terezín cookbook that was handwritten by women (the cookbook’s main author is Mina Pächter) at Theresienstadt, the concentration camp established in then-Czechoslovakia by the Nazis in 1941. While surviving on a dreadful, meager diet that included raw potato peelings, the imprisoned women recorded about 80 recipes from memory that included stuffed eggs, “liver dumplings with a touch of ginger” and potato doughnuts, each written by a starving woman as an act of protest and hope.

Yours truly,
Match Book



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