I’ve been thinking about some books I’ve read in the past that discuss various popular beverages that we drink without noticing their history. I’ve extracted a few paragraphs for each book in order to look back on things I’ve read in the past. These were selections of my culinary reading group, which has not met in 3 years because of the pandemic. I’m hoping it will be resurrected.
|Fizz: Read in 2014.
Fizz: How Soda Shook UP the World by Tristan Donovan is a comparatively light read, beginning with Joseph Priestly's discovery of how to add CO2 bubbles to water in the 18th century. People immediately LOVED soda as shown by rapid improvements in soda-making technology and the following rise of the soda fountain as a social and dining institution. And of course Donovan ends the book with a series of wars between Coke and Pepsi. Fizz is only about artificial bubbles -- naturally carbonated spring water and natural bubbles from fermentation in beer or sparkling wine were long known and loved before artificial carbonation.
|Champagne: Read in 2015
The region of Champagne, France, has the misfortune to lie just between Paris and the French-German border. In 1870, 1914, and 1939 the hillside vineyards, historic wineries, and underground aging and storage cellars were ravaged by wars between the two countries. The total destruction of whole towns and villages and the suffering that occurred, especially in the near-by trenches of World War I, are nearly unimaginable. Don and Petie Kladstrup did an excellent job with this painful history in their book Champagne: How the World's Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times, published 2005.
Champagne contains a detailed history of both myths and facts about Champagne and its origins -- especially the mythologizing that's occurred about the early cellar-master Dom Pérignon. The authors begin with the invention and production of its famous bubbly wine, continue with details about the people who produced, promoted, and drank the wine (and made up things about the origins); and wrap up by detailing how the region suffered through the battles and occupations of the 19th and 20th centuries. Of course there's a bit about the Belle Epoch and how champagne became a drink of high-living Paris. I found the book fascinating, a wonderful successor to the Kladstrup's earlier book, Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure, published 2001.
|Liquid Jade: Read in 2010
I enjoyed the discussion of Liquid Jade: The Story of Tea from East to West in my culinary book club even more than the reading. A strong shared impression about Liquid Jade was the sense that it broke into two parts with somewhat different approaches. The early chapters described the legendary discovery of tea, the development of tea growing, and the almost mystical view of tea drinking in China and Japan. These chapters had a much vaguer historic approach than the later chapters, which were more social and politically oriented, as well as describing the content and origin of tea varieties and how tea is processed for consumption. Even the author's discussion of tea as a trade commodity is handled differently in the earlier and later parts of the book.
The author's politics (which I didn't know but one person said were very left wing) were held responsible for her drastically negative view of colonialism, imperialism, and exploitation of workers in the later chapters about the Opium Wars, the introduction of tea-growing to the British colonies of India and Ceylon, the rapacious traders, and the discussion on fair trade in modern agriculture. One response to this in our conversation was that no one could have a positive view of the way the British treated and viewed the "coolies" who worked in the colonial tea industry. We discussed the chapter on a letter from a high Chinese official to Queen Victoria, appealing to her sense of decency and asking her to drop the pushing of opium on the Chinese people. The response was the Opium War which destroyed the Chinese authority over the opium trade and had terrible consequences.
|Tequila: Read in 2012
Tequila! A Natural and Cultural History by Ana G. Valenzuela-Zapata and Gary Paul Nabhan is a book that I enjoyed. Science and poetic description combine beautifully as the author describes the taxonomy of the agave plant used in the beverage, its long history beginning in prehistoric Mexico, and the lives and traditions of the Mexican agricultural workers who plant, cultivate, and harvest the agave crop. Valenzuela-Zapata describes their hard physical labor and the taxing heat and aridity of the fields, the simple meals they cook and eat while working, and their "quixotic" oral tradition.
"Mescaleros are forever spinning yarns about mescal -- the plant and the spirit -- while working in fields or resting in the nearby shade, and while jiving on the street corner or drinking in the cantina on the village plaza," writes the author. "They keep up their running commentary while bolting for cover during a sudden downpour, or cursing the sun as it bakes the plants they have tended for seasons." (p. 31)
The labor continues in the distilleries where huge harvested "pinas" are roasted and their liquid fermented, possibly with sugar, into a variety of tequilas. The lore continues, backward and forward in time, in many traditions of eating and drinking the fruit of this very widespread plant.
Reviews © 2010, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2023 mae sander for maefood.blogspot.com
Shared with Elizabeth’s blog party.