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The Herbalist in the Kitchen (The Food Series) Hardcover – May 29, 2007
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The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
--David Leite, publisher of the James Beard Award-winning Web site Leite's Culinaria (www.leitesculinaria.com)
--Francine Segan, food historian and author of The Philosopher's Kitchen
"This work would be extremely useful in any area where cooking, nutrition, and spices are a focus. . . .The book should be in all culinary collections."--American Reference Books Annual
About the Author
Gary Allen is on the board of directors at the Unison Arts and Learning Center in New Paltz, New York. He has written many food-related articles in the past and is the author of The Herbalist in the Kitchen.
Top Customer Reviews
I do not like the title on two levels. He is no herbalist. Using that nomenclature sets expectations beyond something perhaps antique or quaint. But, to me, it reinforces that scholarly aspect this series pretends. And, although a food writer, he gives you little of the kitchen save the rather short section in each entry: CULINARY USES. They are unhelpful for practical use. Somewhat informative (a pinch of history, a drop of chemistry and a hint of botany), the whole work is best thought of as something to page through. If something strikes your fancy, you can go from there to other sources.
The book is not easy to use or especially pleasant to read. As a popular food writer, Mr. Allen brings not enough of that expertise here. I would say this is a bathroom book, as it is too small and colorless as a coffee table book. Were it not for the unusually fine binding, I would rather have a paperback version due to the price.
Better you flee to "The Herb Society of America's Essential Guide to Growing and Cooking with Herbs", edited by Schlosser.
I do agree with most everything in the fine review by the "Spice Guy". I do not think even Schlosser's better book would quite fill his expectations of botanical rigor, but it is far more useful and easier to use. Heck though, he was one star more generous, perhaps because of how much ground this book covers, however briefly and sloppily it may do so.
Entries are organized according to botanical family, by which the author purportedly avoids the need for a main index. Unfortunately, even from the first, entries are categorized into incorrect families, making some impossible to find without paging through the whole book. The author does include a caveat about the not being a scientist, and taxonomy is not as fixed or as clear as is popularly imagined, but neither can excuse the magnitude of these very basic errors nor compensate for the resulting inability to locate information.
More tragic than the errors affecting the book's organization are the factual problems with the entries themselves. The very reason for acquiring this book is its treatment of culinary herbs and spices beyond the usual few dozen for which information is available in any cookbook or suburban grocery store. Reliability of obscure facts is therefore central to the book's value. I would not complain about little things, like typographical errors, archaic naming or arguable conclusions. A half-dozen substantive errors (the kind that indicate a lack of understanding of, and experience with the subject matter) within the first hour of casual reading, however, was enough to unforgiveably deteriorate the credibility of the entire work.
This is a monumental book, on a fascinating subject, produced by an excellent and expert writer. It does contain interesting and useful information. It does not seem to contain the necessary contributions of botanists or other experts that could verify or correct the information presented, allowing it to be accessible and reliable. I will eagerly await the production of a second edition which will hopefully correct this --though, next time, I will read a large portion of it before shelling out another $65.