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home : readerswrite : bookshelf March 25, 2017

Food books that are not cookbooks
This makes me think about many things: our own impatient food preparation, mostly having to do with not growing our own food and looking for recipes that take 30 minutes or less.
- Linda White

by Linda White


I love reading about history. I love imagining the way that a person might have lived, right down to the nitty gritty details: what a daily grind must have been; how many hours each day were devoted to food preparation; how they had to plan for the seasons; and how hot it must have been to bake bread in the summer over an open fire.

My visit to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, brought all this to mind when we toured the house of Mary Virginia "Jennie" Wade, who became the only civilian casualty of the Battle of Gettysburg when she was shot baking bread for the Union troops. On that fateful day, July 3, she was baking over an open fire in a closed room. (I, who hate being hot, cannot imagine how one works through that.) The fireplace took up about a quarter of the wall - perhaps five feet wide and four feet tall. The bread was baked on a metal shelf that was set up to one side.

When touring old houses, the kitchens are often the most fascinating. Several years ago, I got to see Betsy Ross's house - and half of the house was the kitchen. It's likely she spent half of her life there, when she wasn't sewing or sleeping.

This makes me think about many things: our own impatient food preparation, mostly having to do with not growing our own food and looking for recipes that take 30 minutes or less. A few years ago, this was me: I was working full time with two teenagers at home, and mostly just wanted food on the table or in the fridge or pantry. Working with food was how I spent my time at home. At one point, during a few days off at Christmas, I tried to bake bread, but the dough wouldn't rise because my kitchen was too cool. I've never gotten back to trying to bake yeast breads.

Food moments in books often stick in my mind, such as the scene in "Girl with a Pearl Earring" telling about how the older cook's face was scarred from fat spitting off the meat on the spit. Imagine that kind of occupational hazard.

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As we get into cooler weather, my thoughts often turn to food. It is the time of roasts, soups simmering on the stove and baking. So I turn to my books, but who wants to read a cookbook? There are many books that mention food, but the books I love best deal with food in history.

Linda White lives in Maplewood and is a writer and editor. She operates BookMania, teaches at the Loft Literary Center and writes the Minneapolis Books Examiner column. www.bookmaniaonline.com

BookShelf:
Linda White recommends these books about food by women authors:
Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson
French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano
Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat: Secrets of My Mother's Tokyo Kitchen by Naomi Moriyama
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
A Literary Feast: An Anthology by Lilly Golden

Send us 450 words about your booklife, plus your list of five related books by women authors. editor@womenspress.com





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