Book Reviews

Review of Feeding Orchids to Slugs
by Ann Mah

Mastering the Art of French Eating
by Florencia Clifford

Ivan Ramen
by Ivan Ramen

Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook
by Nancy Vienneau

Mint Tea & Minarets
by Kitty Morse

Prospero’s Kitchen
by Diana Farr Louis and June Marino

Mushroom: A Global History
by Cynthia Bertelsen

One Straw Revolution
by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie
by Peggy Wolff

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
by Annia Ciezadlo

unrest
by Chloe Yelena Miller

The Hungry Ear
by Kevin Young

Best Food Writing 2012
by Holly Hughes

Dinner: a Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach

My Kitchen Wars
by Betty Fussell

American Cookery
by Laura Kalpakian

Apron Anxiety
by Alyssa Shelasky

Cucina Povera
by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin

The Social Life of Coffee
by Brian Cowan

The Raw and the Cooked
by Jim Harrison

Modernist Cuisine
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet

Horsemen of the Esophagus
by Jason Fagone

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone
by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

Corked
by Kathryn Borel

Food Rules
by Michael Pollan

On Reading
by Rilke and Ruskin

America the Edible
by Adam Richman

Interview with the author of Party Girls,
Diane Goodman

Death Warmed Over
by Lisa Rogak

How to Cook a Crocodile
by Bonnie Lee Black

Great Food,
All Day Long

by Maya Angelou

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst

Best Food Writing 2011
edited by Holly Hughes

Balzac's Omelette
by Anka Muhlstein

The Little House Cookbook
by Barbara M. Walker

Muffins and Mayhem
by Suzanne Beecher

As Always, Julia:
The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto

More...

Boozehound
by Jason Wilson

The Particular Sadness
of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender

The Bluberry Years
by Jim Minick

Livingston and the Tomato
by A. W. Livingston

Tomatoland
by Barry Estabrook

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto

Best Food Writing 2010 edited
by Holly Hughes

Curry
by Lizzie Collingham

Four Fish
by Paul Greenberg

The Physiology
of Taste

by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Far Flung
and Well Fed

by R. W. Apple, Jr.

The Food of a Younger Land
by Mark Kurlansky

The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball

Ratio
by Michael Ruhlman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
by Jessica Theroux

Blood, Bones & Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton

Candyfreak
by Steve Almond

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas

Medium Raw
by Anthony Bourdain

Appetite City
by William Grimes

Twain's Feast
by Andrew Beahrs

97 Orchard
by Jane Ziegelman

Born Round
by Frank Bruni

Cakewalk
by Kate Moses

Full English by
Tom Parker Bowles

Following Fish by
Samanth Subramanian

Eating Animals by
Jonathan Safran Foer

Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese
by Eric LeMay

For You, Mom. Finally
by Ruth Reichl

Farm City
by Novella Carpenter

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

I ♥ Macarons
by Hisako Ogita

The Hamburger
by Josh Ozersky

Best Food Writing 2009 edited
by Holly Hughes

Gastrology
by Archestratos

Eat, Memory edited by Amanda Hesser

Eat My Globe
by Simon Majumdar

Eating
by Jason Epstein

What We Eat When We Eat Alone
by Deborah Madison

The Sweet Life
in Paris

by David Lebovitz

Modern Spice
by Monica Bhide


Reviews

 

Noshing Past the Graveyard
by James Hennigan

Death Warmed Over:
Funeral Food, Customs and Rituals from Around the World

by Lisa Rogak
Ten Speed Press, June 2004
Paperback, 176 pages
ISBN: 978-1580085632

There’s a stiff at the table. Well, a lot of them really, most of them dressed in ties or pearls and looking pretty elegant for a bunch of folks absorbed in conversation with a naked skeleton. And that’s just the cover of Death Warmed Over by Lisa Rogak, whose intent is to show us examples of how some of the many peoples of the world “use food in conjunction with death in ritualistic, symbolic and even nutritious ways.”

Why do the dead inspire eating among the living? Does consuming something dead somehow balance the loss of something else, whether actual or metaphorical, in those of us who are still alive? Does that sorrowful vacancy find its way from our hearts and minds to settle achingly in our gizzards? That we humans are universally consumed with death, and then of course eventually by it, few could disagree. The entire process of life in all its forms may basically be an alimentary one, wherein the food eaters become the food themselves in the end.

Rogak takes an interesting back road into this reality by looking at the varieties of food we use to mourn or celebrate death. Funeral Food, Rituals, and Customs from Around the World, as her subtitle puts it, where we encounter such dishes as breaded seal flippers, which should be marinated for two weeks in “fresh” blubber for a proper Eskimo send-off. Inuits are apparently patient mourners.

The format of the book includes a page describing the funeral customs of a certain culture with a facing a page that gives a recipe for a dish appropriate to each ceremony. Rogak’s writing is light and most of the preparations appear reasonably simple to concoct. Among them:

  • Tibetan Sweet People Cookies, made with Gummy Bears
  • Balinese Black Rice Pudding, which allegedly must be formed into a human shape before serving
  • Tlingit fish soup, calling for a 10-ounce package of “frozen” spinach
  • “Buddha’s Delight," allegedly Chinese, which requires two types of fungus, two types of mushrooms, and two types of bean curd, as well as both bamboo shoots and bamboo piths
  • Mormon frog eye salad (no frog parts required)
This last is what appears to be a kind of simple fruit mold with marshmallows and flaked coconut, the frog-eye effect apparently coming from maraschino cherries added at the end.

As a retired homicide detective with a habit of raising questions around the dead, I couldn’t help noticing that many of the recipes provided by Rogak call for the significant pre-heating of ovens, even for dishes traditionally served by the Mongolians, the Maori, the Gypsies, the Etruscans of ancient Italy, and Colonial Americans. I had a difficult time imagining Jenn-Aires in yurts, huts, caravans, or in any cliff-side embattlements of any era. The recipe for Irish Wake Cake, for example, calls for the batter to go into an oven after being vigorously addressed by an electric mixer. Ireland has a disturbing, varied, and complex history, which has left it with a largely plain and downright dull culinary aspect. There are some prosperous quarters in modern Ireland where such appliances may, in fact, be found and perhaps even used. However, there remains the legacy in Ireland of the Famine and the Hunger of history, which, like other cultures fancified here, may find this assumption less than amusing.

Where and when I grew up, the ethnic mix included Irish, Polish, and Italian, largely, with a burgeoning abundance of cross-breeding, but not much otherwise. The food at the wakes and funerals in that community at that time accordingly involved dry beef, bad sausages, runny cabbages, overcooked starches, and thick white bread. There was a little variety among the booze: jugs of sweet red wine and bottles of high-test vodka. Everyone drank the insipid American beer, mostly from poorly chilled cans or bottles.

The authenticity of these rituals and customs mattered to very few of them. These immigrants largely knew that they were no longer in any real sense a part of the culture and history they had left. With each death they mourned, they knew that they and their children and their children’s families were all moving steadily away from where they’d come. Maybe through the “spirits,” some were better able to come to comfort with such a painful loss and an uncertain future.

Currently, at wakes and after the funerals I attend, I see an abundance of Chinese food. It’s catered to homes, served in huge antiseptic halls, or even smuggled along with whiskey into the basement rooms of funeral homes reserved for the grieving families, also still called “lounges.” Little of it is authentic to any time or place except here and now. Egg rolls, weak soup, egg foo young, noodles and/or rice with some mysterious “chicken” parts and a maybe little celery. And corn starch. That’s OK anyway. It’s inauthentic, too. It’s comfort food we eat as we’re stopping by to say, “So long!” to the stiff there. Hey, are you going to finish that?

March 21, 2012