This week I attended the first meeting of a new culinary book club sponsored by Motte and Bailey booksellers, the kind of independent bookstore that really does contribute to the community. (I'm not one of those people with the knee-jerk love of independent bookstores.)
The two proprietors led a very interesting discussion of their first selection, Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors by Lizzie Collingham. I reread the book for the discussion -- like their second selection, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, it's already a favorite of mine.
The book club has a promising future. More than half the attendees had read the book, for a start. They liked it for its history of colonial attitudes, and for the way the book traced the spread of both foods, like peppers, and cuisine, like curry. They enjoyed the way that the "dining room" was politicized, as the book points out.
At first the British occupiers ate native foods; over time, especially as the wives were brought out, they tried to maintain a totally British table. But of course they couldn't ban all Indian influence: the book has lots of information about the interaction between English matrons and Indian servants. The turning point: the Indian mutiny received some interesting amplification from one discussion leader, Gene Alloway -- who's a history buff, I gathered.
The book's history of food words also interested lots of participants. Nabob, for example, was the name for a British official. One person observed that even the word curry was shown to have an interesting history -- coined to describe a fusion of Indian styles that became popular among the British in India, then among the returning nabobs in Britain, and later worldwide.
I'm looking forward to future discussions: too bad I plan to be out of town for the discussion of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles.