The Artful Eater: A Gourmet Investigates the Ingredients of Great Food

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Art of Eating

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What makes good food good? When Edward Behr sets out to answer that question, his quest leads from the seemingly prosaic properties of salt and pepper to the differences among vanilla of different origins: Bourbon, Mexican, Tahitian. Plenty is written about food all the time, but only a little of that contributes to a fuller appreciation for and understanding of basic ingredients. Behr does that along with providing mouthwatering descriptions of flavors, textures, and aromas.In The Artful Eater, with intellectual curiosity and physical pleasure, Behr unveils the complexities of bean, roasting, and brewing that make a perfect cup of coffee. He investigates why some cream has much more dairy flavor than others, why gray salt tastes more intense than white, why some Southern country ham is on the same level as great Italian prosciutto. Behr investigates eggs, walnuts, wild and tame sorrel, Atlantic salmon, roast beef, and apples, among other foods.He enriches our enjoyment of eating by tracing the natural origins and cultural history of these foods. By consulting mustard seed brokers in Saskatchewan, mussels growers in Maine, ham curers in Kentucky, a spice merchant in Baltimore, and a walnut researcher in Bordeaux, Behr discovers truths about quality that are all but unknown.The Artful Eater contains a good measure of practical information--there are recipes and advice on the correct use and preparation of food. But at its heart the book is an appreciation of individual ingredients, the excellent raw materials on which all great food depends.


Edward Behr
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Art of Eating
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The Artful Eater: A Gourmet Investigates the Ingredients of Great Food

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“The Artful Eater†is a book of anthological bits of food and history wrapped up in 18 chapters.  Its interesting and potentially entertaining concept, not novel, has had success in the past, and I admire Edward Behr for entering the pool to swim with the likes of M.F.K. Fisher, Toussaint-Samat, Waverly Root, and Harold McGee. Behr is a carpenter turned writer, and is the editor/author of the quarterly “The Art of Eating,†(not to be mistaken with M.F.K. Fishers distinguished book) which began in 1986 and “is about the best food and wine & what they are, how they are produced, where to find them….â€

This second edition is full of factual and alluring information and stories.  Behr has taken the time to gather facts and anecdotes about prominent ingredients such as salt, sorrel, Atlantic salmon, roast beef, cream, and vanilla.  I appreciate the duration of research, labor and effort a project like this takes -- part of my graduate studies focused on economic botany and I wrote many chapters on the subject.  Basically, there is quite a bit of knowledge gathered and put together in the 293 pages that make up this book.  However, in my opinion it lacks a personality and/or whimsy needed to captivate and entertain an audience of food enthusiasts & if you happen to be a history buff, the chapter “On English and French Mustards†may enthrall you.  I must admit, it was a bit tedious for me, my eyes started to glaze over and droop while trying to get through it.  Although, I was tickled at patent statements such as “These days quail eggs… are a byproduct of raising quail†in the “Eggs†chapter.  Tickles aside -- good info, eclectic ingredient topics… grand effort and scale of material.

Since it is written closely in the form of a research paper or thesis, I would have appreciated a more extensive reference section & or more consistent citation within and between chapters.  As I was reading, there were times when I cocked my head and gave a “hmm….† It would have helped to know the source of the particulars.  I did appreciate the few recipes at the end, as well as the “Sources of Supply†section.

As an investigation, this is a good work.  I learned much I did not know.


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