86 of 89 people found the following review helpful
The Foodie's Bible, Colorful and Endlessly Fascinating,
This review is from: On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (Hardcover)
Food lovers can rest easy now that Harold McGee has updated his eminently readable 1984 tome, "On Food and Cooking". He is the literary counterpart to the Food Network's Alton Brown in providing an amalgam of history, science, literature, and cooking tips, spreading his knowledge across fifteen chapters, each devoted to a different food category. McGee leaves no food unturned. He starts rather appropriately with milk and dairy products, life-starting foods, and goes through edible plants, cereals, doughs and batters, wine and beer and distilled spirits, even basic food molecules. This is no dry scientific book, as McGee is a wonderfully colorful writer, lucid and endlessly fascinating.
McGee is truly a Renaissance man when it comes to food, and the book is packed with historical facts, literary anecdotes, and food legends passed down through the ages. For instance, when he talks about dairy products in the first chapter, he also brings up the domestication of the goat, the development of Parmesan, the history of ice cream and the best way to clarify butter. But his writing style is never contrived or pedantic and never gets in the way of the intriguing facts he brings to light. There are great illustrations and almost like a textbook, replete with easy-to-follow charts, graphs, and pictures, On the sidebars of each page, McGee shares insights from the likes of Brillat-Savarin, Plutarch and their culinary brethren along with ancient recipes for ash-roasted eggs, stuffed bonito with pennyroyal, and other delicacies. However, his focus is not purely historical, as he examines with great acuity, modern food production, current health risks and an easy-to-understand lesson on atoms, molecules, and the nature of energy. Rest assured that cooking basics are covered thoroughly. Would-be bakers can know what to expect with flour and why it behaves the way it does. Carnivores will discover what makes a tender stew or why it's such a delicate art to roast the perfect turkey. Even the seemingly trivial jumps off the page, for example, the fact that completely different cultures can produce such similar foods like kimchi and sauerkraut. Or one can realize that it takes 70,000 crocus flowers and 200 hours of labor to produce one pound of saffron. Only with this detail can one appreciate the exorbitant cost when you see it in the supermarket.
It's as if McGee has taken David Macaulay's wonderful book, "The Way Things Work", traded machinery for sustenance and mixed it all in a food processor to come up with an essential reference book one can read with pleasure and for education concurrently. Strongly recommended even for the non-food lover if such a creature exists.