Saturday, August 20, 2016

Eating Your Words: Adventures in Food Etymology and History

There are very few men and women, I suspect, who cooked and marketed their way through the past war without losing forever some of the nonchalant extravagance of the Twenties. They will feel, until their final days on earth, a kind of culinary caution: butter, no matter how unlimited, is a precious substance not lightly to be wasted; meats, too, and eggs, and all the far-brought spices of the world, take on a new significance, having once been so rare. And that is good, for there can be no more shameful carelessness than with the food we eat for life itself. When we exist without thought or thanksgiving we are not men, but beasts.
~M. F. K. Fisher, The Art of Eating

Sometimes we feel like we need a dictionary to go to a restaurant. What's a reduction? Is pork belly the same thing as bacon? Why has the food been deconstructed? Or, we're eating something, and we think, who first thought up preserving food and how many people died before they got it right? When was yeast first used to make something rise, and how was that property of yeast discovered? We have been cooking for centuries, though ingredients and diets have changed over time, but who originally  thought up all these cooking techniques?

Well, some of these questions are now answerable, and you need look no farther than your library catalog for some of those answers. You could start with browsing the Larousse Gastronomique, but that's a big book, covering a lot of ground - you might be better served by something more specific, such as one of the following books featuring food etymology and/or history:

Words to Eat By: Five Foods and the Culinary History of the English Language by Ina Lipkowitz

Tasty: The Art and Science of What We Eat by John McQuaid

Eatymology: The Dictionary of Modern Gastronomy by Josh Friedland [eBook]

The Deluxe Food Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst

The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson 


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