Sunday, September 12, 2004

Hurtleberries, Huckleberries, Bilberries- It’s All Blueberry Shenanigans to Me

Alan Davidson’s big book of Food (The Penguin Companion to Food) is a dinner table favorite of ours. Just the other night we found ourselves reading aloud the entry on Cheese and this in turn led us to the entry on Rennet, a substance found in the stomach lining (the fourth stomach of a calf, for example) of numerous animals and used in the milk curdling phase of the cheese making process.

The stomach lining of human beings, like that of calves and other animals, contains rennin, which exerts its curdling effect on milk which has been ingested. Thus, although we swallow milk as liquid, we quickly turn it into a solid, like junket.


The entry on Blueberries doesn’t offer anything quite so rich and strange. One of Davidson’s strengths as an author is his liberal quoting of other food specialists. In the preface he writes: “The fact that there are many quotations in the book and that the bibliography is so long, reflects my wish to give readers as much information as possible about where I found the information which I am passing on to them- and where they might look for more.” Which is another way of saying he loves food in all its multitude way too much to not share with his readers the wisdom others have yielded from their years studying the likes of Arabic cookery or the toothsome arts of confectionary. Still, the entry on Blueberries does offer an alluring nugget on the Blue Ridge blueberry and its status “of being superior to all other blueberries.”

The book is crammed with scrumptious looking entries like Buddhism and food, Elizabeth Raffald (“author of one of the finest 18th-century cooker books, 'The Experienced English Housekeeper'"), Hallucinogenic mushrooms, Éclairs, Poppadom and Squirrel (“The slight gamy taste present in most game meats is not so pronounced in squirrel”).

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