A wonderful book full of fascinating facts, illustrations and recipes.
Before I started reading this book, I tried to work out what the seven culinary wonders were. I managed to think of just two – rice and salt, and I’m someone who loves to cook. The others selected by London-based freelance writer Jenny Linford are pork, honey, chilli, cacao and tomato.
The book is beautifully illustrated by Alice Pattullo, with each ingredient having a particular colour palette – gold for honey for instance. I think I prefer illustrations in a book such as this which is much more than just a recipe book, although there are over 60 recipes included.
The first section on pork discusses the origin of the food. Pigs were one of the first animals domesticated from wild boar piglets. Despite being the most widely eaten meat on the planet, pork is forbidden in Islamic and Jewish cultures which may be due to its very omnivorous nature in that eating carrion, or even excrement, makes it an unclean animal.
These omnivorous animals probably lost their fear of people as they enjoyed the benefits of the refuse and crops of human settlements. They were used as sacrificial offerings in ancient Rome, Greece and in China and acquired symbolic meaning in the stories and myths of many lands.
Although I was aware that tomatoes, chillies and cacao all came from the Americas, it was not until reading about them in the same book that I realised how much of our food comes from there. For instance, potatoes, corn and squash all originated there too.
Tomatoes received a mixed reaction when introduced into Europe, probably by the Spanish. They were gifted with aphrodisiac powers and known as ‘love apples’ but also feared as poisonous as they belong to the Solanaceae family which includes plants such as deadly nightshade. Today, it seems strange to think of tomatoes as a relatively modern ingredient in Italian cooking.
For each culinary wonder, Linford describes its spread around the world, along trade and exploration routes and also the impact it has had on the cultures which used the food. How can we even imagine Thai or Indian cooking without chilli or rice? Or no charcuterie in France?
Linford and Pattullo have produced a wonderful book, packed full of fascinating facts, illustrations and recipes and I can’t wait to try out some more.
Nasi Goreng (page 163)
This Indonesian rice dish is simple to make but tricky to get the spice and salt levels right. I overdid the salt as using shrimp paste plus kecap manis in the stir fry, I could have left the salt out of the eggs for the thin omelette. I also underdid the chilli as I like spicy food but not so much that it burns your mouth and I didn’t know how hot the chillies were. Most shops usually don’t specify the variety of the chilli. Had I known, I could have checked the Scoville Heat Units (SHU) which range from zero for a regular capsicum to the world record of 1.5 million SHU for a Carolina Reaper red chilli!
Reviewed by Jan Kershaw
Distributed by: Murdoch Books
Released: November 2018