CULTURE OF THE FORK: A Brief History of Food in Europe

Giovanni Rebora, Author, Albert Sonnenfeld, Translator , trans. from the Italian by Albert Sonnenfeld. Columbia Univ. $24.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-231-12150-7

In 1492, Columbus knew nothing of ragout. But perhaps he did enjoy the occasional sliced eel or roasted partridge, according to Rebora's investigation of food habits in Europe, from about 1400 to 1700. A professor of economic history at the University of Genoa, Rebora takes a scholarly approach and a learned tone in considering the impact of peasantry, population booms and modes of transport on the evolution of meals, drinks and, of course, spices. His is a quirky effort, though: no particular topic is treated in any great depth, resulting more in a pocket guide through the fourth dimension than a cultural treatise. This will be a disappointment to those who feel they haven't learned enough about the history of olive oil in four pages. Still, for those seeking the perfect dinner party conversation topic, the book is a godsend. Divided into 18 chapters, each on a different food type ("Stuffed Pasta") or trade passage ("The Sugar Route"), it offers countless delicious factual tidbits. The fork first appeared in Europe during the Middle Ages as a "single-pronged wooden utensil" used for eating lasagna, for instance, while 15th-century France had no plates—diners used mensa, rounded disks of bread. Sonnenfeld offers a workmanlike translation despite the difficulties of, say, 60 different Italian words for various types of sausage. Etchings and woodcuts of ancient cheese graters and soup spoons, frying pans and coffee pots enliven the text, and a thorough bibliography refers readers to such Italian works as The Pleasures of Gluttony and Primitive Bread. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 10/15/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
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Open Ebook - 217 pages - 978-1-280-59956-9
Open Ebook - 217 pages - 978-0-231-51845-1
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