Reading cookery books – preferably in the bath, with a glass of red wine for company – is a guilty pleasure of mine.
And while I’ve been known to order the odd recipe book from Amazon, cookery and food books are usually something I buy when I’m in a bookstore or visit a historical property.
The best cookery books tell you about much more than just food and how to cook it. They’re like a character study of a people or a time, from the history of ingredients and dishes, to the techniques used or – in some of my favourite books – the assumption the writer makes about the reader-cook’s knowledge and skill. It’s totally riveting.
And then, there are cookery books that tell me about the writer while (maybe) talking to me about the food. They can be as intricate as any mystery I’ve every plotted, or leave me with a feeling that I’ve known the writer for years. Keith Floyd’s books, brief and irreverent, are like that. Nigel Slater comes to mind, too. And Dennis Cotter. Theirs are books I read, not necessarily cook from.
The latest addition to my cookery book collection – you didn’t think I could step into Waterstones and not come out with one, did you? – intrigues me in a wholly other way. It’s Charmaine Solomon’s The Complete Asian Cookbook / Japan & Korea and in the “Serving a Korean Meal” section it states: Silver chopsticks and spoons are used for Korean meals because silver discolours in the presence of poison…. A formal dinner setting will also have silver bowls for rice and soup.
Not having any Koreans conveniently close by to ask, I’m left to wonder at the incident rate for death by poison in modern Korea and contemplate possible links to the Borgias. As if the fiction muse needed more inspiration!
I frankly admit that little nuggets like this one are like an itch in my brain. Something that will send me off to haunt Google, wikipedia and my local library in search of more data. It’s happened before – with the New Zealander’s love for pumpkins, the history of coffee in England, and a quest to find out whether cats would love dormice cooked in milk to an ancient Roman recipe – so I’m reasonably certain that the use of poisons in Korean history will make an appearance on my research list sooner or later.
I blame cookery books.