Gastro-Porn

Simple French Food

by Richard Olney
Atheneum, 448 pp., $5.95 (paper)

Mediterranean Cooking

by Paula Wolfert
Quadrangle, 384 pp., $12.95

The Carter Family Favorites Cookbook

by Ceil Dyer
Delacorte, 244 pp., $8.95

Feast Without Fuss

by Lady Pamela Harlech
Atheneum, 375 pp., $12.95

Irish Countryhouse Cooking

compiled by Rosie Tinne
Weathervane Books, distributed by Crown, 222 pp., $3.98

The Cookery of England

by Elisabeth Ayrton
Penquin (London), 547 pp., £1.25

The Taste of America

by John Hess and Karen Hess
Viking, 320 pp., $8.95

Paul Bocuse's French Cooking

by Paul Bocuse
Pantheon, 520 pp., $20.00

Revolutionizing French Cooking

by Roy Andries de Groot
McGraw-Hill, 352 pp., $15.95

Cuisine Minceur

by Michel Guérard
Morrow, 272 pp., $12.95

Dietary Goals for the United States Needs, United States Senate

prepared by the Staff of the Select Committee on Nutrition and Human
US Government Printing Office, 79 pp., $.95 (paper)

Food in Chinese Culture: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives

edited by K.C. Chang
Yale University Press, 429 pp., $20.00

The New French Cooking: Minceur Cuisine Extraordinaire

by Armand Aulicino
Grosset and Dunlap, 293 pp., $4.95 (paper)

They came and told one of the more recent dukes of Devonshire that in the interests of economy and general modern-mindedness Chatsworth really ought to dispense with the pastry chef. “What,” cried the duke, aghast. “Is a man no longer to be allowed his biscuit?” Somehow things never seem to get better in the world of eating. Indeed, if we are to believe Marvin Harris’s version of pre-history in Cannibals and Kings, things have gone more or less downhill since the upper palaeolithic period when the hunter-gatherers enjoyed high quality diets with plenty of free time too.

But those times are gone, alas—and are unlikely to return, since analysts of the connections between energy and food such as David Pimentel have reckoned that the land mass of the present United States could only support 750,000 hunter-gatherers before over-crowding would force agricultural settlements and the whole ghastly trend toward Earl Butz, General Foods, and liquid protein diets.

Cookbooks with certain very rare exceptions, such as Marinetti’s futurist cookbook, almost by definition try to appropriate the past, at least those bits of it that seem palatable. And so usually they become versions of pastoral, with the urban masticator being whisked into a world where kitchen and garden co-exist in harmonious union instead of being mediated by the Safeway, the can, the freezer, and the poison list on the back of every package. Here’s a fairly representative swatch of pastoral from Richard Olney’s Simple French Food:

Comforting also are the fantastic, crowded out-of-door morning markets, of which that in Toulon is exemplary, bearing ample witness to the fact that people still want fresh garden produce and seafood and to the certainty that, on the whole, the French willingly spend a great deal more on food than a similar budget in any other part of the world would permit. The banks of fruits and vegetables, freshly picked (depending on the season), baby violet artichokes, tender young broad beans, tiny green beans, peas, tomatoes, fennel, squash, and zucchini squash with its flower still clinging; creamy white cauliflower the size of one’s fist, giant sweet peppers, and asparagus—white, violet, and green; figs, cherries, peaches, strawberries, raspberries, and medlar; the endless tresses of garlic and wild mushrooms of all kinds (including the divine amanita of the Caesars); and crates full of live snails and crabs, both of which constantly escape and wander in a wide circle around the vendor’s stand. There are the odors of basil and pissaladière; the mongers’ cants [sic], melodic and raucous; and the Renoiresque play of light through the plane trees’ foliage, an all-over sense of gaiety and well-being…

Provence is of course the heartland of cookbook pastoral, and we can set Olney down on the shelf next to Elizabeth David, who began her great French Provincial Cooking with a reverie in her London kitchen:

…now and again the vision of golden tiles on a round southern roof, or of some warm, stony, herb-scented hillside will rise out of…


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