The good food book

Henri recommends a new tome: 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die

GIVE A BOOK<br><i>1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die</i> (Universe Publishing, $36.95 in hardcover) is available at Lyon Books (121 W. Fifth St.) in downtown Chico. Image from the “Meats” section featuring sausages at a Moroccan Market.

1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die (Universe Publishing, $36.95 in hardcover) is available at Lyon Books (121 W. Fifth St.) in downtown Chico. Image from the “Meats” section featuring sausages at a Moroccan Market.

It seems unkind to describe a cheese as anti-social, but Boulette d’Avesnes does make its presence felt and should be treated with respect. Cone shaped and paprika colored, it … is both a washed-rind cheese and a flavored cheese (with) pepper, tarragon, parsley, and in some recipes, ground cloves stirred into the curd. Add a dusting of annatto and one has an item worthy of its nickname “the devil’s suppository.”—1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die

After more than five decades on the planet—well more than half his allotted time already past—Henri has begun, gradually, to admit to himself that certain of his hopes and dreams will most likely never be realized. Lunch with Liza, for example. His own cooking show on the Food Network. Remodeling a farmhouse in the south of France (or, more realistically, watching workermen scurry about my little stone maison as I sip Bordeaux in my director’s chair in the shade across the lane). Six-pack abs.

So it’s been bittersweet these last few days, poring through the pages of a wonderful new book, 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die, knowing, despite the imperative, that I won’t. On the other hand, Henri is perfectly at peace knowing he probably will go to his grave never having tasted, for example, monkfish liver.

That said, I could not more highly recommend the exhaustive, frequently humorous 950-page encyclopedia, compiled by Frances Case with 50 food writers from around the world contributing. Divided into nine sections (fruit, vegetables, dairy, fish, meats, aromatics, grain, bakery and confections), the book includes two short entries per page, each with a photo, ranging from the local and familiar (avocados to zucchini blossoms) to the distant and exotic (alligator to zebra biltong, a sort of jerky, a staple of the Boer pioneers of the 1830s).

Most entries offer fascinating historical and cultural context: Labneh is a spreadable, yogurt-like dairy product (from cow’s, goat’s, or sheep’s milk) related to “Persian milk,” called for in Islamic cookbooks from the 14th century. Other entries discuss how the foods find their way to our tables and describe ways to cook and eat them, although there are neither meal suggestions nor recipes:

“Mature eels spawn in the Sargasso Sea … and it takes two or three years for the Gulf Stream to carry their leaflike larvae toward Europe. On arrival, the little creatures shift shape again and transform into what are recognizably miniature eels … English ways of eating elvers include elver pie, frying them in bacon fat, and flouring and deep-frying them.”

Each entry also includes a brief, one- or two-sentence tasting note: “Water beetle tastes like whitefish that stayed out all night. Even when prepared with chiles, the mild, shrimp flavor shows through with nutty overtones"; “Raw, live bee larvae wriggle, and have a milky, honey taste. When fried, the larvae have a crunchy, crispy texture with a subtle flavor of honey.”

The book also features dozens of full-page color plates—photos of goats, cheeses and sausages being made and basil and saffron being harvested, Turkish and Portuguese markets, third-world fishermen, Sicilian bakers and a Tuscan butcher (hard at work carving a wild boar). There’s also an extensive glossary. Annatto is a red food coloring made from the pulp surrounding the seeds of the achiote tree, used with smoked fish, rice, butter and cheese.

1001 Foods would make a wonderful holiday gift for the chef or gourmand in your life and should find its proper place on the kitchen bookshelf alongside other indispensable tomes, including The Joy of Cooking, The Physiology of Taste, Larousse Gastronomic, and M.F.K. Fisher’s The Art of Eating.