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Cupboard Love: A Dictionary of Culinary Curiosities Paperback – July, 1998
About the Author
Mark Morton is an assistant professor of English at the University of Winnipeg, and language columnist for CBC radio's Definitely Not the Opera. Morton lives in Winnipeg with his wife, author Melanie Cameron. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
What all of this means in practical terms is that while the book does an excellent job of explaining the origins of words such as `barbecue', `chowder', and `Caesar Salad', it says very little about what these things are. As such, the book is much more something to be read for entertainment than as a kitchen reference like the great `Larousse Gastronomique' or Alan Davidson's `The Oxford Companion to Food'. Aside from being a pleasure to read, the book is primarily a source for writers of cookbooks who wish to provide entertaining headnotes to recipes for aubergines, rocket, and ramps. But wait, `rocket', the UK name for arugula, and `ramps', the name of a wild garlic does not appear in this book. The work `ramps' does appear, but with a reference to a different word which has nothing to do with wild garlic.
I am never quite sure what to think about reference books that happen to overlook a subject I expect to find in the book. The thing which makes this issue doubly vexing is that there are simply no other books on this subject in print in English, that I know of. Therefore, I pretty much have to use my best judgment on whether or not this book should have included an entry. On balance, I think that rocket / arugula is such an interesting word pair that I believe leaving it out is a significant oversight.
In fact, I think this book's primary weakness is that it falls into a crack between trying to be a scholarly work and trying to be an embassy from the academic world of language study to the layman foodie and reader. If the book were intent on academic content, it would have cited its sources for its histories so that the interested reader or, more likely, the interested writer using the book as a source, could get more information on the subject. The author cites many scholarly works in his introduction, but no systematic reference to sources is made in the individual articles.
To redeem the book, I will say that I found nothing in the book that I could counter with any authority, which is no surprise as my linguistic training is more in the study of meaning than in the study of history. I am, however, aware of some dissenting opinions on some important topics. John Thorne, for example, has written extensively on chowder, its origins, and the origin of the word `chowder'. And, although he repeats Morton's etymology based on the French name for a big pot, he does cite a very different and equally plausible origin from the Cornish work `jowter', an itinerant fish hawker. This was published in Thorne's `Serious Pig' in 1996. So, since Thorne is one of the most respected writers on the history of food preparations, I'm surprised that Morton did not take Thorne's finding into account.
This is a specific symptom of the fact that the culinary content of this book is very light. The book gives the generally recognized origin of the word `barbecue' from a cooking method of a tribe of Caribbean natives, but the article on this word says virtually nothing about the technique of barbecue. It makes no mention whatsoever of the fact that strictly speaking, it should be applied to a technique that involves very long exposure to low heat plus smoke. Similarly, I found the culinary content of the entry for `Caesar Salad' to be very light. Instead, the author spends a page on the story of the name `Caesar' and its influence on the German `Kaiser' and Russian `Czar'. This article, for example, makes no reference to the use of egg or anchovies in the recipe. Thus, anyone looking for either culinary substance or reliable synonyms for unfamiliar words will probably be disappointed.
I was also just a bit disappointed at the absence of certain important culinary terms such as `ceviche', `carpaccio', or `ragu', even though the words `sushi' and `ragout' are covered.
I sense that I have probably been a bit hard on this book. In spite of all my nit-picking, the book is very entertaining to read. My only concern is that people see the word `Dictionary' in the title and mistake it for something it is not. This is purely and simply a collection of entertaining stories about the origins of some culinary terms. So, if you love words or you love food or you love both, this book will be a delight to read.
Highly recommended as an entertaining read for foodies.
If you are a culinary historian, or even your basic foodie looking for some information on favorite foods and their history, then Cupboard Love will be a much used book on your shelf.
The book covers some words that your average culinary dictionary doesn't bother with, such as "poor boy"(a type of sandwich that gets it's name from the fact that it was all the "poor boys" - laborers - could afford to get for lunch), to popular phrases used in culinary circles, such as "piece de resistance" and "a la carte". It even covers words that you wouldn't normally think of as related to food, such as "mensa" , and even totally generic terms such as "eat". All words included in this tome are looked at in depth, and Morton goes into great detail explaining just how the words came to be, what they're related to, and sometimes, such as in the case of the aforementioned "mensa", why they became associated with food.
Cupboard Love is filled with interesting curiosities, fun facts, and occasionally the disgusting (such as the term "all nations", the meaning and story behind which almost caused me to get seriously ill, it being a term for the leftover ale, saliva, spit, and more dumped out of used glasses and mixed together for servants to drink later). Anyone interested in the backgrounds and definitions of food will find it to be a very useful addition to their culinary library.
Most recent customer reviews
A Dictionary of Culinary Curiosities
By Mark Morton
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