A Gourmande's Encyclopaedia
Ingredients, Dishes, History and Culture of Food
The Penguin Companion to Food fills a gap that would otherwise require a library of books. Cookery books do not cover the background to food and dishes. Books on the history of food tend to a narrow focus on a specific region or cuisine.
Comprehensive Reference to the World of Cooking and Food
The content of The Penguin Companion to Food is encyclopaedic and global in its coverage. It covers everything from Aardvark to Zuppa Inglese (English Soup - which it is not) and mainly covers:
- Ingredients from Around the World
- Brief reference to dishes, not recipes. It explores ancient and modern dishes with global coverage
- Cooking and food preparation techniques and equipment
- Brief biographies of influential cooks and food writers
- Food and culture.
The Penguin Companion to Food then is an essential reference book for everyone with a love or involvement with food, The book consists of short articles arranged in alphabetical order with occasional longer pieces exploring major topics such as Apples, Maize or Olives. Apart from its value as a reference, this format makes it an ideal book to dip into and allow serendipity to guide the browsing. Food lovers will be able to while away many a happy hour just browsing perhaps with a glass of a favourite beverage.
No Recipes but Much Inspiration
Unusually for a book about food, it contains no recipes – this was intentional. However, the accomplished cook should be able to create reasonable facsimiles of some of the dishes from their description. That is not its purpose but it will inspire the reader to find recipes for dishes described and in doing so it will encourage further research.
Important and Timeless Reference
The Penguin Companion to Food is a multi-purpose book. It starts as a straightforward reference book used like a dictionary or encyclopaedia as a source of answers to specific questions. However, the writing and content is so good that it will be browsed for pleasure or inspiration. Anyone with a real interest in food should have this book on his or her shelves. For food writers and historians it is an essential reference.
This book will not age; the content is timeless and all that will be missing will be the latest fads and fashions which tend to come and go. Replacement will only be necessary when constant use wears out the current copy.
It would be all too easy to go on about The Penguin Companion to Food but the advice to a reader of this review with any interest in food or cooking is very simple: buy this book.
Alan Davidson was a distinguished diplomat, including being Ambassador to the USA. After taking early retirement, he pursued a successful career as a food historian and writer with a particular interest in fish dishes. His writing included Mediterranean Seafood and Seafood of South East Asia reflecting his diplomat travels.
The Penguin Companion to Food was originally intended to be a five year project that actually took twenty such is the scale of the work. Many people helped the author as the extent of the acknowledgements and bibliography testifies. It all contributes to the completeness and range of the final work.
The Penguin Companion to Food (ISBN: 978-0-141 200163-5) by Alan Davidson was published in 2002 by Penguin priced at $30. It was a Winner of the James Beard Foundation/KitchenAid Book Award.