How Carrots Won The Trojan War by Rebecca Rupp
A history of food (mainly vegetables, in this case) is a perfect companion to a history of cooking. Rupp divides her book into a series of easy-to-read and entertaining chapters with titles that echo the overall title of the book. Some of my favorites include, “Radishes Identify Witches, Cabbage Confounds Diogenes, and An Eggplant Causes a Holy Man to Faint.” As can be seen from the titles, each chapter focuses on a particular vegetable.
Within each chapter Rupp focuses on the evolutionary history of each plant — how it came to grow from a simple, usually only partially edible plant — to the tasty item planted in gardens all over the world. In some cases, this history is fairly well documented. In others, we can only guess what the original plant might have been like, as humans have been cultivating it for so long, in so many places, its origins are lost in the mists of history.
Rupp then includes interesting tidbits from huma history and its interaction with the vegetable. This often includes traditional medicinal uses (often contradictory), changes in how it was prepared and served and in some cases, how it suppossedly changed the course of history — as with the carrots mentioned in the title. (The Greeks suppossedly ate carrots to “bind their bowels” while they hid within the confines of the Trojan Horse).
This was a great book for reading in combination with others as the chapters are fairly short, pack in a lot of information, both useful and entertaining and allow you to easily dip in, read a bit and then move on. The chapter divisions also allowed me to concentrate more on those vegetables that most interested me and skimming over foods that my picky eating habits cause me to avoid.
This book is extremely entertaining and feeds my typical tendency to “geek out” on nearly any topic. I love learning more about nearly anything and these books provided me plenty of dinner party conversation for months to come. I can see myself sitting around the table now and reciting from the book, “Did you know that the spork was created in 1943 by Bill McArthur in New South Wales , Australia?” or “Tomatoes (or chili peppers for that matter) weren’t used in Italian Cuisine until after the ‘discovery’ of North and South America and explorers brought them back to Europe.”
I would highly recommend this books not only for the information it contains, but also for how that information is communicated. It provides great and expansive information in an entertaining and easy-to-read style that makes it both entertaining and useful.
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