The Lost Art Of Real Cooking: Rediscovering The Pleasures Of Traditional Food One Recipe At A Time, by Ken Albala and Rosanna Nafziger
One can tell even from the title, if one is a perceptive reader, that this is the sort of book written by hipsters. The “real” in the title gives the book away and the snobbery of its authors towards contemporary ways and contemporary technologies. Like many cookbooks, this is written by “them” and not by “us” . That is not to say that the authors are not frequently amusing, and that their knowledge of historical cookbooks is not interesting, and that they do not have something to offer. No, this book is certainly a pleasurable read in many ways, and it certainly has something to offer. It is, rather, the case that the book’s beginning with its harshness and stridency put a distance between the writers and the reader that the material as a whole fails to bridge. This gap between the approach of the writers and this reader was not in any way bridged, in particular, by the way that the authors relished cooking with pork products, a common failing of cookbooks, to give but one example of the disconnect.
In terms of its contents, this book does what it promises in looking at traditional ingredients and dishes one recipe at a time. The authors promise to give “an introduction to the antiquated kitchen, or cookery made difficult and inconvenient being foremost a pleasant discourse on the nature and execution of arcane and dangerous culinary practices especially designed for patient, discerning individuals who appreciate superior homemade food and those who will not balk at devoting many laborious hours to the kitchen,” and for the most part, that is what these snobby hipsters give. After a facetious introduction to the gentle reader, which sounds like something out of the Merchant of Venice, the authors discuss ferments of vegetables and legumes, cooking with fresh vegetables and legumes, fruits and nuts, grains and pasta, bread, meat, fish, poultry, dairy products and cheese, fermented beverages, and pies, pastries, and other confections. The conventionality of these subjects does little justice to the striking oddness and originality of the recipes included, including buckwheat noodles, rabbit recipes, stuffed conceited chicken (almost as conceited as the authors), and something called psychic love wine, along with dutch baby. Some of these recipes must be read to be believed.
Despite the fact that I find the authors’ approach to be off-putting and highly alienating, and the fact that I do not view hipsters or their snobbery in a positive light, I have to give a grudging respect here where respect is due. Most of the laborious practices here involve patience rather than extreme amounts of labor, so they are not as onerous or dangerous as the author would like to lead the “gentle” reader to believe, for one. Likewise, the ingredients that are used are generally tasty, and although one can purchase these ingredients at farmer’s markets or overpriced “natural” foods stores and the like, a lot of this can be done by the industrious cook for themselves and their families in gardens and wine cellars and the like. There are at least a few recipes here that I would like to try and would certainly appreciate eating, and anytime a cookbook can provide something of value to me, including laughter at the way the authors approach rabbits the way I approach chicken, even when I have no intent to follow their eating habits, there is at least something to offer here. If the authors were not so genuinely funny on occasion, or poignant when they discussed the eating disorders that resulted from the faulty preparation of corn, this book would not be nearly so enjoyable to read.
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