Alan Davidson's Oxford Companion to Food
has been over 20 years in the assembling, but here it is; and it is superlatively worth the wait. In fact, superlatives fall silent. A huge and authoritative dictionary of 2,650 entries on just about every conceivable foodstuff, seasoning, cuisine, cooking method, historical survey, significant personage, and explication of myth, it is supplemented by some 40 longer articles on key items. Davidson himself (no relation to this reviewer) contributes approximately 80 percent of the 2,650 entries, thereby guaranteeing high levels of erudition, readability, and deadpan feline wit. Since this is a monument intended to last, nothing so frivolous as a recipe is included. A decision taken early in the development of the project to abjure issues whose significance is largely topical has also ensured an agreeable high-mindedness--nothing on those crucial but essentially dreary topics of BSE and GM foods, for example.
If a fault could be found, it would only be that it's often difficult to read to the end of an entry, as the abundant cross-referencing all too easily sends one off to another entry, thence bouncing off to another, and all too soon the original is forgotten. A random alphabet of seductions might include: Aardvark, Botulism, Cup Cake, David (Elizabeth), Enzymes, Fat-Tailed Sheep, Gender/Sex and Food, Hallucinogenic Mushrooms, Ice Cream Sundae, Jewish Dietary Laws, Kangaroos, Lobscouse, Microwave Cooking, Norway, Offal, Puffin, Queen of Puddings, Roti, Scurvy, Termite Heap Mushroom (or Taillevant), Umeboshi, Vegetarianism, Washing up (a very elegant little article), sadly no X, Yin-yang, and Zabaglione. As this might show, Alan Davidson's aim, borrowed from Dumas's great Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine, that his work would appeal not only to persons of "serious character" but also those "of a much lighter disposition," is utterly fulfilled. --Robin Davidson, Amazon.co.uk
From Library Journal
This outstanding culinary reference is destined to become a classic, and Davidson, the book's editor and the author of many of its entries, deserves the eternal gratitude of researchers everywhere. With its 2650 alphabetically arranged entries as well as 39 longer articles on staples such as rice, the range of the work is impressive. Everything from individual ingredients, cooking terms, and prepared dishes to national cuisines and cookbooks and their authors is covered. Each entry is written in a clear, engaging style often seasoned with a dash of wit. The result is a perfect complement to another standard culinary reference work, Larousse Gastronomique (Crown, 1988. reprint), edited by Jennifer H. Lang. While there is some overlap, libraries will need both titles in their reference collections since each has its own strengths. Larousse includes recipes with many of its entries and often provides cooking hints, while Oxford provides more extensive treatment of plants, herbs, and even insects used in cooking and usually has more information on national cuisines. Even when the same topic is featured, such as ancient Greek cooking, there is enough difference in information between these two sources that readers will want to consult both. Highly recommended.AJohn Charles, Scottsdale P.L., AZ
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.