Monday, July 8, 2013

Lessons in Culinary History

I recently finished a class at the University of Toronto's School of Continuing Studies, Foods That Changed The World, taught by the wonderful and engaging Naomi Duguid. For six weeks, we discussed things like rice and wheat, coffee and cacao, wine, and peanuts and olives. It was an incredible learning opportunity and I've been inspired to read more culinary history.

So, here's what I'm reading (or what I've read):

The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

Empires Of Food: Feast, Famine & The Rise and Fall of Civilizations by Evan D.G. Fraser & Andrew Rimas

Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom by Sidney W. Mintz

Sweetness And Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History by Sidney W. Mintz

Bitter Chocolate: Investigating The Dark Side of The World's Most Seductive Sweet by Carol Off

The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire, And War in The West Indies by Matthew Parker

Salt by Mark Kurlansky (a longtime favourite of mine)

Cod by Mark Kurlansky

Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930's by Donald Worster

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived The Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan

Extra Virginity: The Sublime & Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller

The True History Of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe & Michael D. Coe

1491: New Revelations About The Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann

1493: Uncovering The New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann

Save The Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, And The Heart of Jewish Delicatessen by David Sax

The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis

Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss

The books about The Dust Bowl touch on the consequences of this environmental disaster for farmers and food security, issues that remain today. Although the books by Charles C. Mann broadly discuss The Americas before and after Columbus' arrival in 1492, he includes a vivid picture of our food landscape, which is fascinating. I am also very curious about specific food histories and traditions, hence the re-read of David Sax' Save The Deli and The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Grandpa's Sugar Cookies

These are my favourite cookies.

They are soft and pillowy and a little chewy and the plump, juicy raisins add just enough sweetness.

This recipe was written by my great-grandfather, Edward Richards, from whom I inherited my rabid sweet tooth. I have tried variations of the recipe through the years (opting for different dried fruits – cranberries, apricots, cherries – and adding different spices – cinnamon, nutmeg – or citrus zest) but it really is best when it’s simplest.

Preheat oven to 350ยบ F.

Add to a small saucepan:

1 cup raisins

1 cup water

Boil on high until the water disappears (approximately 10 minutes) and then cool the raisins.

Beat together:

1 cup margarine

1 ½ cups white sugar

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

Blend together:

4 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Add gradually to above.

Fold in cooled raisins.

Roll into balls (approximately tablespoon-size) and roll in an additional ½ cup of sugar. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet in the oven and bake until golden brown (approximately 12 minutes), rotating the cookie sheet halfway through bake time.

Makes 5 dozen cookies.