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The Oxford Companion to Food [Hardcover]

Alan Davidson
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 15 2006 0192806815 978-0192806819 Second Edition
The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson, first published in 1999, became, almost overnight, an immense success, winning prizes and accolades around the world. Its combination of serious food history, culinary expertise, and entertaining serendipity, with each page offering an infinity of perspectives, was recognized as unique. The study of food and food history is a new discipline, but one that has developed exponentially in the last twenty years. There are now university departments, international societies, learned journals, and a wide-ranging literature exploring the meaning of food in the daily lives of people around the world, and seeking to introduce food and the process of nourishment into our understanding of almost every compartment of human life, whether politics, high culture, street life, agriculture, or life and death issues such as conflict and war. The great quality of this Companion is the way it includes both an exhaustive catalogue of the foods that nourish humankind - whether they be fruit from tropical forests, mosses scraped from adamantine granite in Siberian wastes, or body parts such as eyeballs and testicles - and a richly allusive commentary on the culture of food, whether expressed in literature and cookery books, or as dishes peculiar to a country or community. The new edition has not sought to dim the brilliance of Davidson's prose. Rather, it has updated to keep ahead of a fast-moving area, and has taken the opportunity to alert readers to new avenues in food studies.

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Alan Davidson's Oxford Companion to Food has been over 20 years in the assembling, but here it is; and it is superlatively worth the wait. In fact, superlatives fall silent. A huge and authoritative dictionary of 2,650 entries on just about every conceivable foodstuff, seasoning, cuisine, cooking method, historical survey, significant personage, and explication of myth, it is supplemented by some 40 longer articles on key items. Davidson himself (no relation to this reviewer) contributes approximately 80 percent of the 2,650 entries, thereby guaranteeing high levels of erudition, readability, and deadpan feline wit. Since this is a monument intended to last, nothing so frivolous as a recipe is included. A decision taken early in the development of the project to abjure issues whose significance is largely topical has also ensured an agreeable high-mindedness--nothing on those crucial but essentially dreary topics of BSE and GM foods, for example.

If a fault could be found, it would only be that it's often difficult to read to the end of an entry, as the abundant cross-referencing all too easily sends one off to another entry, thence bouncing off to another, and all too soon the original is forgotten. A random alphabet of seductions might include: Aardvark, Botulism, Cup Cake, David (Elizabeth), Enzymes, Fat-Tailed Sheep, Gender/Sex and Food, Hallucinogenic Mushrooms, Ice Cream Sundae, Jewish Dietary Laws, Kangaroos, Lobscouse, Microwave Cooking, Norway, Offal, Puffin, Queen of Puddings, Roti, Scurvy, Termite Heap Mushroom (or Taillevant), Umeboshi, Vegetarianism, Washing up (a very elegant little article), sadly no X, Yin-yang, and Zabaglione. As this might show, Alan Davidson's aim, borrowed from Dumas's great Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine, that his work would appeal not only to persons of "serious character" but also those "of a much lighter disposition," is utterly fulfilled. --Robin Davidson, --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This outstanding culinary reference is destined to become a classic, and Davidson, the book's editor and the author of many of its entries, deserves the eternal gratitude of researchers everywhere. With its 2650 alphabetically arranged entries as well as 39 longer articles on staples such as rice, the range of the work is impressive. Everything from individual ingredients, cooking terms, and prepared dishes to national cuisines and cookbooks and their authors is covered. Each entry is written in a clear, engaging style often seasoned with a dash of wit. The result is a perfect complement to another standard culinary reference work, Larousse Gastronomique (Crown, 1988. reprint), edited by Jennifer H. Lang. While there is some overlap, libraries will need both titles in their reference collections since each has its own strengths. Larousse includes recipes with many of its entries and often provides cooking hints, while Oxford provides more extensive treatment of plants, herbs, and even insects used in cooking and usually has more information on national cuisines. Even when the same topic is featured, such as ancient Greek cooking, there is enough difference in information between these two sources that readers will want to consult both. Highly recommended.AJohn Charles, Scottsdale P.L., AZ
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Pengiun On My Cookshelf June 22 2004
The Pengiun Companion (in its hardcover original the Oxford Companion to Food) runs more than a thousand pages and contains more than 2500 entries on every plant and animal product, every cooking tradition and technique, of any relevance to the well-schooled cook. It is universal in its scope, yet at the same time, how can I put this, British. A team of eminent culinary scholars put this one together. Now I know you're wondering, before anything else, if the flightless bird of the Antarctic itself is edible. The answer is, with some reservations, yes. The book's 500-word entry on its namesake ingredient shows at once the usual detail and characteristic humor of the Companion's approach. We are told that we are often reminded of the penguin by the paperback edition of a book or by "observing at social functions those few Englishmen who still dress up to look like waiters or penguins-it is never clear which." The problem with the technically edible penguin is that it eats only fish and hence tastes strongly like its diet. The penguin is most important in the food chain for the guano it leaves as waste, an excellent fertilizer. South Africans eat the eggs of some species of penguins.
British foods-"Yorkshire Pudding," "Cheshire Cheese," Scottish Haggis," and scores of others less known to us-get thorough treatments of course, but so do foods from all over the globe. One need only look at the companions to the "Penguin" entry in the Penguin Companion to learn something new about two quintessentially American food traditions. Move one up alphabetically from "Penguin" and you learn the essence of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking: the "interplay of sweet flavors against salty ones," sweet apples, for instance, combined with salty ham.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By bachef TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a superb encyclopedic book absolutely packed with all you could want to know on all things culinary. It and my Larousse Gastronomique are my favourite reference books. The author injects some personality here and there as well which makes it not only a compelling read but a personal one. The only drawback in my opinion is that the pictures are just black and white drawings - photographs would be very helpful (albeit expensive!). However, that does not change the painstakingly-researched entries. This book is for those who eat, sleep, dream and yearn to learn more about food!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Go to (Taco) Bell! Sept. 27 2000
SEE PREVIOUS REVIEW If you look up 'Taco' in the index (try the back of the book), you will be guided to look under 'Tortilla' where you will find the following entry - "A taco, in Mexico is a fresh tortilla rolled around mashed beans, shredded meat and sauce. It can be lightly fried after filling, and is eaten as a snack or appetiser. In the TEX-MEX cuisine of the USA, a taco denotes a tortilla bent in half, deep fried to give a U shape, and filled with minced beef, shredded lettuce, and grated cheese." - Pretty comprehensive I would say. But frankly, if it's 'Taco' you want to look up, then this is not really the book for you. However, if you need to know about Mamee or Mangosteen or Megapode or Merguez or even Mediaeval Cuisine, just to mention some Ms, then buy the book and buy it quick. It's a great book and of interest to - well not quite every one, but any one who likes and knows about food, which may well include some "older British upper-crusty types"!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everything you may possibly want to know about food April 13 2000
The best part is that it doesn't have recepies; the author almost boasts for keeping them out. Planning a visit to some remote country and want to know what and how they eat before you start your trip? Read the relevant entry and you are home. Many more... just buy it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Foodies alert! Aug. 23 2001
This is a book foodies will greatly savor, and anyone who eats will find it fascinating. Written in erudite, Oxbridge prose, it is not just a book for scholars; it's everything you always wanted to know about food, any kind of food, raised anywhere in the wide world.
The entries are arranged in alphabetical fashion to expedite your research whenever you have a question; you will also enjoy just leafing through this large volume, filled with intriguing food facts. It brings to mind one of my favorite Kipling couplets from childhood days, "The world is so full of a number of things, I think we should all be as happy as kings."
What a feast for the reader! It's well worth the money. My copy has pride of place on my kitchen cookbook shelf.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Book, Even for the Food Novice March 15 2000
A few months ago I took over cooking chores in my family. One of the things I missed was a comprehensive reference which was easy to use. No longer. Covering everything from Aardvark to Zucchini, this book has become indispensable. The entries are not only informative, but are written in plain English, so you don't have to be up on the latest cooking jargon to understand what you're reading. If you need more information, the book has a far-ranging Bibliography. One note: The "Index" really isn't one. It's a translation table you can check if the item you're looking for isn't in the alphabetical listing.
Enjoy this book. It's fun to just dip into and read randomly as well as a useful kitchen appliance.
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