7th February 2017
Words: James Hansen
When he isn’t fermenting all manner of produce at Darsham Nurseries Café, chef Thom Eagle is In Search of Lost Thyme. His latest piece on the blog is a lovely ramble through culinary authenticity, the perils of margarine, and the urge to “bake sweet things and bread, to roast good meats and vegetables, to lay a table and to share it, and then to drink.” Philosophical but lightly-worn, with a TS Eliot reference for good measure, it reflects on the fundamental truths of cookery. A natural pairing would be our Q&A with the man himself from November.
Moving into the musical realm, we find avant-garde composer John Cage reading a mushroom haiku in an enlightening Open Culture piece from Colin Marshall. In Cage’s case, obsession stemmed from need: while out foraging for food in Carmel, California, during the Depression, he relied upon a burgeoning knowledge of mushrooms. It culminated – following hunts and frolics aplenty – in The Mushroom Book, published in 1972. Despite all this, Cage’s conclusion is clear: “It’s useless to pretend you know your mushrooms.” Pair with Michael Pollan’s piece on mushroom therapy of a different kind for the New Yorker.
Over at Food 52, Mayukh Sen presents a mystery: Princess Pamela. Sen textures fine-grained observations around the “soul food doyenne of New York City”: an 11-fingered delivery boy; evocative preludes to recipes; “pumice paperbacks that would dissolve in your hands”. The details constitute an intimate biography; a captivating tale of a life lived through food and marked by sadness, with an uplifting coda: the reissue of her book, documenting the recipes that made Princess Pamela an icon.
Staying with American icons at Lucky Peach, the message is simple: America, Your Food Is So Gay. John Birdsall blends memoir with history to tell the stories of writer James Beard, French food expert Richard Olney, and critic Craig Claiborne – three gay men who had profound influence on American food culture – as a counterpoint to his own formative experiences with food. Birdsall’s history is compendious and exacting; his memories as a “shy kid growing up in a scrub-oak suburb”, enraptured by “caramelised onions, Roquefort crumbles, and Grey Poupon“, are, in his own words, “unflinchingly, unapologetically, magnificently queer”.
To finish, we pair two pieces from NPR; one looking forward, one looking back. First, Gabriel Popkin with a dispatch from the Yucatán peninsula exploring the effect of climate change on Mayan farming practice. The tradition of milpa – farming land before allowing it to regenerate over decades – is forced to evolve in the face of errant weather. It’s a well-observed local exploration of a global problem; Popkin’s interviews at farm level are as enlightening as they are urgent. The second piece, by Nina Martyris, recalls the food habits of the infamous Rasputin. Martyris’ observations bust myths – notorious for a love of sugar, he may not have been quite so sweet-toothed – and reflect on “alarming” table manners: “He licked the spoon before using it to serve others.” Adding a welcome culinary dimension to the mythic fog surrounding Rasputin, it’s fitting that he have the last word this week:
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Cooking With Wine & Other News – This week's food writing round-up covers food delivery in Calcutta, eating in crisis and the global journeys of three great ingredients
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Porridge Wars & Other News – In this week's food writing survey: gluttonous lunches, expensive melons and the culinary diversity of Los Angeles