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On Food and Cooking is a
book for people, not for laboratory scientists, and it belongs on the
shelf of anyone who likes food. We must confess, however, that we opened
the book warily. Forewarned, we knew it contained elements of botany,
chemistry, thermodynamics, physics. Could this be a book to enjoy?
Once we started reading, hours passed
and we were unable to put the book down. With the exception of actually
sitting to eat, author Harold McGee has given us the most food pleasure
we've had in years. Even sitting to eat will now be a more sensuous
delight since our cooking improved as we learned of the processes foods
undergo during preparation. Enjoyment reminded us that we have all changed
as cooks. We've mastered techniques and explored new cuisines. Now we
demand a greater understanding of food.
McGee has spent the past ten years
updating the popular 1984 edition of Food & Cooking. Released
originally in a limited printing, it has remained on the shelves of
bookstores, valued by superstar chefs and curious cooks as THE book
for reference. While basic scientific fact hasn't changed, McGee has
moved with the rest of us into new food territories, new discoveries
in scientific innovation.
With the wry humor that sparks
his prose, McGee asks in the first sentence of the first chapter (milk
and dairy products), "What better subject for the first chapter
than the food with which we all begin our lives?" He then continues
to discuss milk and its evolution, its nutrients, allergies, biology.
Included are unfermented dairy produces and all forms of cheeses. The
wit inherent in his prose carries the reader through each topic while
scientific data is presented in sidebars of varying lengths, or with
In fifteen chapters, each devoted
to a different food category, McGee has left no food unturned. Bakers
will understand why flour behaves the way it does; meat lovers will
discover what makes a tender stew, or why a turkey is so difficult to
cook. Every form of vegetable, fruit, nut or seed is discussed. Even
the history of beer is here, along with an understanding of its ingredients,
many of which are illustrated.
All is not science in this book.
McGee is a Renaissance man when it comes to food, and the book is packed
with historical facts, literary anecdotes, and food legends passed down
through the ages.
McGee trained in science, but also
studied English literature at Yale University, where he wrote a thesis
titled "Keats and the Progress of Taste." This happy marriage
of interests has produced a book that belongs in every cook's library.