Food Writing: Unusual, Interesting, Provocative, Well Done?

Getting ready for the food writing workshop I’m planning for Maine Media Workshops in Rockport in July (view link), I’ve been reading and re-reading some of my favorites and discovering new–to me–writers too. Among the latter, Nicolas Freeling, whom I previously knew only as a crime writer.

Freeling was best known as the author of a delightful series of novels (later made into a BBC television series), starring Amsterdam detective Piet van der Valk and his wife Arlette, an expert cook whose preparations are often central to the solution of the mystery. So it’s no surprise to learn that Freeling himself worked in kitchens much of his early life and was, by all accounts, a damned fine cook as well. In two books, The Kitchen Book and The Cook Book, issued in one volume by David R. Godine (1991), he detailed his culinary expertise. The first is a memoir of life in various restaurant kitchens; the second is a true cookbook, divided into chapters reflecting the dozen or so dishes, and their variants, that Freeling thought most people should know how to make. Here he talks about choucroute, sour cabbge, sauerkraut, as produced in home kitchens in Alsace:

“[I]t is easy but, like wine, needs its own special primitive equipment. The shredded cabbage is put in a wooden tub with pickle spices and layers of coarse salt, covered with a wooden lid, and heavy weights are put on top. It ferments with the horrid smell of anything fermenting, oozing a ghastly liquid, but, again like wine, turns unexpectedly into delight–sour cabbage which is damp but not soggy, limp but nicely crunchy and chewable, with a pleasant invigorating smell, at once earthy and slightly musty, but nicely so, like a country wine-cellar. The note becomes a chord, for, married to the local Riesling, this forage, this nutriment, seeming to have been designed expressly for the stuffing of Stone Age mattresses, becomes simply paradisiacal.”

Will we be reading Freeling in the July workshop? I’m not certain, but I do love the idea of fermentation producing a single note that swells into a chord! Such music!


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