Like many of my friends, I have a love-hate relationship with food writing. Love : Elizabeth David, Barbara Santich, Mark Crick. Hate: molecular gastronomy, pretentious writing, Australia’s Biggest Loser:
‘This brings me to my all time FAVOURITE part of the competition MAAAAKKEEEOOOOVVVEEERRR!!!!!!!’
I admit that reality TV show blogs are a soft target, and I can deal with my complaints about molecular gastronomy and pretentious food writing easily enough (they so often go together.) In recent Australian sources ( blogs, newspaper articles and restaurant reviews), I have come across the dubious molecular pleasures of ‘truffled hen’s egg with blood orange and dill pollen’, licorice foam and chocolate sand. You only have to look at images of molecular gastronomy and, say, Italian food to see that froths, foams and blobs are not nearly as delectable as simple cheese (unfrothed), vegetables (whole) and seafood (yummy).
Elizabeth David, Barbara Santich and Mark Crick incorporate the things I love about good ‘food writing’ into their work. David was an influential English cookery writer who introduced post-war Britain to Mediterranean food; her best-known book, French Provincial Cooking, is a delight to read. Easily available in Penguin Classics or as a gorgeously illustrated edition from the Folio Society (not for messy cooks!), this is a book about the history and pleasures of French food. Read it for the recipes ( mussel soup, duck with sweet pepper & white wine, chocolate soufflé … ) as well as the writing, intriguing passages like
Potage du père tranquille ( lettuce soup) – the Père seems to have been a somewhat mysterious Capuchin monk, but the name of this soup is also a reference to the supposed soporific effects of lettuce….
Adelaide-based food scholar, historian Barbara Santich, is an admirer of Elizabeth David’s work, and cites it as an early influence on her own interest in Mediterranean cooking and the history of food. I enjoy Santich’s writing because she combines genuine passion with a scholarly approach that places food and eating in a cultural and historical context. She teaches food writing at the University of Adelaide and has many and varied publications to her name, the latest being Bold Palates: Australia’s Gastronomic Heritage (2012). For a sample of her work, see her essay ‘French Lessons’ in the May 2012 issue of the wonderful SBS food magazine Feast ( the best thing to happen in the Australian magazine industry this year!)
As well as passion, style, accomplished writing and good research, I value a touch of humour in food writing. A few years ago, in a chance conversation in the Barr Smith Library, Barbara Santich put me on to this delightful book by Mark Crick: Kafka’s Soup, a complete history of world literature in 14 recipes. (‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that eggs, kept for too long, go off.’) Read this if you love literature (Austen, Steinbeck, Proust), parody and food – I challenge you not to laugh out loud!
For the last course, finish with a taste of British humour (available on YouTube): a 9-minute episode of the very, very funny TV send-up of ‘gourmet cooking’, Posh Nosh.