Saturday, September 27, 2014

Why not OLD cookbooks?

Brillat-Savarin and The Physiology  of Taste

Beth Pilar, in her interesting “Cooking in Community” column for Wednesday’s Daily Camera, wrote about a Denver group known as the Food Lover’s Book Club.  It’s about time we had something like that on the Front Range, and everyone should read her articles.  She included a color photo of good cookbooks , some of which we have at home or have had at the shop in Lafayette.  She encourages us to “Find out what new cookbooks you’d like to add to your shelf,” no doubt applies to one of the Club’s goals.  But don’t forget the old stuff! There have been many excellent treatises on cooking and eating, and we owe it to ourselves to search them out and read them.   Here are some comments on one, below:

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s  Physiologie du Gout, or The Physiology  of Taste, was published in 1825 at Paris, and has never been out of print.  Never!  For good reason, as it has a combination of perception and wit that reminds me of that displayed in Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:  “He was a perfect host, and ate everything with a courage worthy of a more important cause” (in this edition, p. 190).  It is not so much a cookbook, but a series of meditations on eating and drinking that satisfies readers even 190 years after its publication.  In the opening section, the author lays out his 20 aphorisms, the most famous of which, according to the translator, is:

“The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a star.”

It is a great resource not only for witty comments on people and their eating or drinking habits, but a gold mine of common sense:

“Those persons who suffer from indigestion, or who become drunk, are utterly ignorant of the true principles of eating and drinking.”

Our copy’s translation is the one done in 1949 by M.F.K. Fisher, a noted gastronomical writer whose output would have been stellar even without her contribution here.  It is a reproduction of The Arion Press’s 1994 fine press edition of 200.  I wish we had that one!

Here is the Wikipedia article on Brillat-Savarin, which is worth reading.  He was a lawyer and politician living in France, and published the work that made his fame in the year before his death.
You can find Brillat-Savarin in many editions-easily-on Advanced Book Exchange.  Prices vary, from really inexpensive to really dear. Put it next to your favorite cookbooks.

Meanwhile, the Sept. 29 New Yorker has a note on a possibly noteworthy survey of American cookbooks from the 18th century to now, BooksThat Cook. Check it out on Amazon!


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