Acquired Taste: The French Origins of Modern Cooking

T. Sarah Peterson, Author Cornell University Press $57.95 (262p) ISBN 978-0-8014-3053-4
A more accurate subtitle for Peterson's book might be The Origins of Modern Cooking with Some Digressions into Matters Alchemical and Neoplatonic. The bulk of the book is given over to rehearsing Medieval Europe's culinary appropriations from the Middle East (saffron, rose water) and Renaissance Europe's rediscovery of classical foodstuffs (fungi, oysters, artichokes). If not terribly new, this is perfectly enjoyable reading. The bigger problem comes in what is new. Peterson believes that a taste for highly spiced, golden food flavored with sugar and colored with saffron was undone by the fall from favor of mystical neoplatonism in France. While this may have been a factor, she fails to address other, simpler explanations. When discussing the decline of saffron in 17th-century French cookery, she does not address the simple social explanation that a recent glut of domestic saffron had made the spice too common for high tables. She notes, ``A number of 17th-century still lifes show small white bumpy objects in a variety of shapes. These are seeds or sticks coated with minerals from a hot spring. The metamorphosis of these objects into `stones'... fascinated the alchemical adept.'' But she never explains why she dismisses the more common identification of these ``white bumpy objects'' as sugared almonds and candied fruit. Peterson unfortunately replaces Ockham's razor with a butter knife. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 10/31/1994
Release date: 11/01/1994
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