Wombats, water bugs, weights and measures
Henri discovers a new book filled with fascinating food stuff
“The fact is … the whale would by all hands be considered a noble dish, were there not so much of him; but when you come to sit down before a meat-pie nearly one hundred feet long, it takes away your appetite."—Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, 1851
Once again, Henri’s favorite time of year has arrived. September through December. The “ber months,” L. and I used to call them. Short, crisp, breezy days perfect for aimless walks down leaf-strewn streets and sitting on the porch with a nice Bordeaux and watching the neighbors rake their lawns. And the evenings, perfect for curling up on the sofa, poring through the cooking magazines and new cookbooks that have piled up, and planning winter soups and stews.
The other was just one such night. Henri was sipping a cup of Earl Grey decaf with Miss Marilyn sleeping peacefully in her Pottery Barn bed in the corner, when I made a wonderful discovery: Schott’s Food & Drink Miscellany, a new little book about eating, cooking and drinking that endlessly delights, amuses and instructs.
A “second installment of vital irrelevance” by Ben Schott, the author of Schott’s Original Miscellany, this is an absolute must for anyone interested at all in the history of food, the etymology of food terminology, dishes and dining traditions from around the world, international weights and measures, or why (some) people’s urine takes on a peculiar odor after eating asparagus. Learn that while one might carve a roast or a turkey, one dismembers a heron, disfigures a peacock, wings a quail, chines a salmon and tranches a sturgeon.
A mere 150 pages long and with no single entry longer than a half-page, Schott’s book is defined by its random organization and entries that range from the useful and fascinating to the hopelessly trivial and fascinating. Included are listings of maximum refrigerator- and freezer-storage times, shelf lives of canned foods, ideal temperatures at which to serve various wines, the vitamins in beer, diagrams of poisonous mushrooms, Amish dinner-table seating plans and napkin-folding techniques, and a sort of Hints from Heloise section that has directions for removing fruit stains, extracting juice from onions, scalding milk and preventing salt from lumping.
It’s also good to know, for example, that “fries” in England can mean bull testicles—a good thing, then, that the fish comes with chips. And you never know, someday you might have to ask for your restaurant bill in Latvian or Morse code. There’s also a short, fairly technical paragraph on Pica (a craving for non-foods, such as earth, soap and clay, often associated with pregnant women).
Meanwhile, on the same page on which we read about the Heimlich maneuver and some of the 50,000 people whose life it’s saved (including Goldie Hawn, Ronald Reagan, Carrie Fisher and Jack Lemmon), we also read about the average caloric expenditure of a wide range of common physical activities, including cricket, fencing and sex. We also learn about hippophagy (eating horses) and caninophagy (eating dogs) and why William Gladstone advised children to chew each bite 32 times (once for each tooth).
Another useful section is that devoted to hangover cures, with 11 different “recipes,” including “the scorcher” (brandy, lemon juice and cayenne pepper) and “the nursemaid” (sherry, cold milk and cloves).
There’s also a list of films featuring cannibalism (ranging from Sweeney Todd and The Silence of the Lambs to Lieutenant Pimple, King of Cannibal Island) and a “tastes-like” list: wombat (like pork), giant water bug (Gorgonzola cheese), termites (lettuce) and sea slug (green fat of turtle).
Those interested in the culinary lifestyles of the rich and famous will enjoy the list of food and drink demands of various entertainers on tour. Prince asks for herbal teas with honey and four lemons, Britney Spears for Cool Ranch Doritos and Altoids, and the Rolling Stones for a "smart, well-groomed hostess to assist in serving food."