Monday, January 24, 2005

miscellaneous criticism

Finally, a dear friend made me a very thoughtful gift of Schott's Food and Drink Miscellany a few months ago, and I just got around to reading it. Let me first of all say that this is an excellent book to read on the toilet. And I mean that in a good way. But the book is maddening, largely because it appears Mr. Schott is not terribly interested in food. Consider his introduction to an interesting entry on some of the technical terminology of Emilian cheesemaking:

Parmigiano-Reggiano, probably the finest Parmesan cheese...

What does that even mean? It is certainly not something that you would write if you cared about cheese. Other problems, taken at random: the discussion of the term "upper crust" appears to be garbled; a drawing showing how to steel a knife is labeled "How to sharpen a knife"; umami is called "recently recognized," although it was named in 1907; a list of wine barrel sizes includes both the barrique bordelais and the barrica bordelesa, the latter oddly plural (they are of course the same thing); an entire entry is dedicated to the discovery that toponyms can attach themselves to unrelated nouns (the scuola bolognese has nothing to do with spaghetti [sic]). There's plenty more where these came from, along with rather more inconsistency and banality than one would like. These are balanced by interesting informations, like the depressing Harris Benedict equation, a handy (though incomplete) list of Homer's "mmmm"s, and the Bristol stool form chart -- even if these are all easily had through the magic of google [follow that last link at your peril]. Perhaps the most annoying thing, though, is the absence of references [there is a cursory bibliography, and Schott does acknowledge Peter Lund Simmonds, whose Curiosities of Food is the source for many of his best entries]. The overall effect is a kind of fake erudition, probably meant to seem quirky, which has none of the charms and all of the irritations of the real thing.


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