Choice Cuts

Kurlansky, Mark. Choice Cuts: a Savory Selection of Food Writing from Around the World and Throughout History. New York: Ballantine, 2002.

I like nothing better than a good cookbook. A close second to a good cookbook is reading books written by cooks. Mark Kurlansky does one better and combined the best of food writing from soup to nuts; covering techniques, ingredients and even ethnic origins of food. Then, there’s the introduction. How can you compete when the introduction is titled, “Better than Sex” (p 1)? I mean, come on! Out of the thirty chapters  five six really grabbed my attention. More than the introduction, you ask? Mais oui! How could I not be seduced with chapter titles such as these: “Rants” (p 115), Poultry, Fowl, and Other Ill-Fated Birds (p 210), “Loving Fat” (p 303), “The Dark Side of Chocolate” (p 330), “A Good Drink” (p 361) and, “Bugs” (p 380). See, aren’t you the least bit curious about that last one?

Everything about this book is based on one simple subject – food. Kurlansky takes that subject and explores everything having to do with it. From growing, hunting, buying, and preparing to smelling, eating, and savoring it. The art of cooking, the downfall of rotting, from killing to cultivating. From Cato to Chekhov, Kurlansky finds quotes, essays and passages from a multitude of well known individuals, some with lives centered around food like M.F.K. Fisher and Elizabeth David and some not like Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway and E.M Forster. Whether focused on an ingredient like garlic or chocolate, or a technique like faking venison or baking bread, or a location like favorite restaurants or markets, Kurlansky covers it all. It’s historical and cutting edge. Technical and funny. Poetry and dissertation. Well worth the read.

Favorite passages: “A blonde seems humbly to beseech your heart while a brunette tends to ravish it” (p 39), “So don’t worry about me down here eating nothing and [makeing] an ass of myself. I have had strange eating habits since I was a boy (Ernest Hemingway)” (p 61) and, “cook-books have always intrigued and seduced me (Alice B. Toklas)” (p 182).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter, “Mark Kurlansky: Too Good To Miss” (p 146).

A side note: Before I knew what Choice Cuts was really about I assumed it had something to do with meat. After all, Kurlansky has written about solitary food items such as cod and salt, too. So, thinking this was a book about edible meats nothing disturbed me more than seeing an illustration for what I thought was a squirrel. I was close – it was a dormouse.

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