The best food books for thinking, not cooking

Who am I?

I have been living in the south of France for 20 years. Perhaps inevitably, I have developed a profound interest in all aspects of our local gastronomy – growing, cooking, and eating food, and sampling the enormous cellar of wines and spirits. This has led me to discover the history and legends, the festivals and fairs, and the cultural background surrounding the most iconic culinary specialities from the south of France. Through my writing, I share my love of this wondrous land and all the good things within it.

I wrote...

Menu from the Midi

By Colin Duncan Taylor,

Book cover of Menu from the Midi

What is my book about?

Menu from the Midi explores French gastronomy from the farmer’s field to the dining room table. Concentrating on the south of France, the book is structured as a menu carefully compiled to give the reader a balanced diet of gastronomy, history, legend, and local colour. Uniquely, it adds into this mix a celebration of the dedicated and passionate people who produce some of the finest raw ingredients and foodstuffs you are ever likely to taste.

Sit back, relax, and savour the oldest sparkling wine in the world, le Rolls-Royce of olives, pink garlic soup, meats of the black Gascon pig, the legendary cassoulet, cheese from the caves of Roquefort, and learn how the Midi’s ornate pigeon towers ensured a constant supply of roast pigeon.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Land Where Lemons Grow: The Story of Italy and Its Citrus Fruit

Why did I love this book?

This is the book that inspired me to write about food culture and history in the south of France. Helena Attlee takes the reader on a unique journey through the history of Italy and its citrus fruit. Thoroughly researched and lightly written, the narrative blends historical and scholarly material with contemporary anecdotes such as the Mafia’s role in Sicilian lemon farming. Among other stories, we discover the importance of sour oranges in Renaissance cooking, and we learn how a storm led to the creation of Dundee’s marmalade industry. And if the reader has any lingering doubts about the importance of oranges and lemons, there are also a few citrus-centric recipes to whet the appetite.

By Helena Attlee,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Land Where Lemons Grow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Land Where Lemons Grow is the sweeping story of Italy's cultural history told through the history of its citrus crops. From the early migration of citrus from the foothills of the Himalayas to Italy's shores to the persistent role of unique crops such as bergamot (and its place in the perfume and cosmetics industries) and the vital role played by Calabria's unique Diamante citrons in the Jewish celebration of Sukkoth, author Helena Attlee brings the fascinating history and its gustatory delights to life.

Whether the Battle of Oranges in Ivrea, the gardens of Tuscany, or the story of the…

Book cover of Natural Wine: An Introduction to Organic and Biodynamic Wines Made Naturally

Why did I love this book?

If you like wine, you need to read this book. Winemaking goes back at least 8,000 years, but only in recent times has so much of its production been determined by the application of science, and the taste of the wines we drink dictated by wine critics, appellation tasting committees, and global markets. This book celebrates the innovators who are trying to make wines that are more natural, fuller in character, and more exciting. Their approach also has potential benefits for human health and our environment, and reading this book has sent me off on wonderful journeys through the south of France trying to find such oddities as orange wine (no, orange wine is not made from oranges!)

By Isabelle Legeron,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Natural Wine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Find out more about natural wine-made naturally from organically or biodynamically grown grapes - from leading authority Isabelle Legeron MW.

Wine-making has become ever-more unnatural, from the use of blanket crop-spraying in vineyards, to the over-use of sulfites and additives in the cellar, but luckily there is another way, as Master of Wine Isabelle Legeron explains. Isabelle, who campaigns for natural wine around the world and runs the hugely successful RAW wine fairs in London, Berlin and New York, reveals why the finest, most authentic wines are those made naturally. While currently not regulated by an official definition, natural wines…

Book cover of A Treatise on Adulteration of Food, and Culinary Poisons, Exhibiting the Fraudulent Sophistications of Bread, Beer, Wine, Spirituous Liquors, Tea, Oil

Why did I love this book?

First published in 1820, this book reminds us that nefarious practices have always been used by food producers, and that these practices are generally intended to boost profits with little concern for human health. ‘There is death in the pot!’ the author tells us in his preface, and he goes on to catalogue how products such as beer and bread, cheese and cognac, olive oil and vinegar were all being adulterated or counterfeited. More unusually, he goes on to explain case by case how the layperson can unmask the fraudsters with a little knowledge of home chemistry. Unfortunately for his readers past and present, technological developments since 1820 have allowed unscrupulous purveyors of human sustenance to develop countless new ways of disguising poor-quality or badly-deteriorated food.

By Friedrich Christian Accum,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Treatise on Adulteration of Food, and Culinary Poisons, Exhibiting the Fraudulent Sophistications of Bread, Beer, Wine, Spirituous Liquors, Tea, Oil as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.

This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and distribute this work, as no entity (individual or corporate) has a copyright on the body of the work.

Scholars believe, and we concur, that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public. To ensure a quality reading experience, this work has been…

Book cover of Babette's Feast and Other Stories

Why did I love this book?

As an Englishman living in France, this short story resonates with me on so many levels in a topsy-turvy sort of way. Babette is a foreigner (French) living in a foreign land (Norway), and the key part of this foreignness is the contrast between the piety of the two spinsters who employ Babette as their cook, and her supposedly hedonistic French approach to food and life, including a murky past in which she may have been an arsonist during the Commune of Paris. In truth, Babette is an artist who expresses herself through her cooking, and when she wins the lottery, she spends all the money on a single dinner for her hosts instead of buying a ticket home to France.

By Isak Dinesen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Babette's Feast and Other Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

These five rich, witty and magical stories from the author of Out of Africa include one of her most well known tales, 'Babette's Feast', which was made into the classic film. It tells the story of a French cook working in a puritanical Norwegian community, who treats her employers to the decadent feast of a lifetime. There is also a real-life Prospero and his Ariel in 'Tempests', a mysterious pearl-fisher in 'The Diver' and a brief, tragic encounter in 'The Ring'. All the stories have a mystic, fairy-tale quality, linked by themes of angels, the sea, dreams and fate. They…

Book cover of Des grognards à Napoléon : Les cuisines de l'Empire suivi de Recettes pour les cérémonies et le bivouac

Why did I love this book?

This book is only available in French, but I include it because it provides such an impressive overview of a period when French cooking began to establish itself as Europe’s pre-eminent cuisine. I referred to it frequently during my own research into French gastronomy. In a few short pages we learn about the emergence of the first celebrity chefs and food critics, the evolution of how food was served in polite society in France and other parts of Europe, and the way in which new ingredients such as maize and potatoes became staples of the peasant diet. There is also a section on Napoleon’s own culinary preferences, which reveals more about the tastes of the common soldier than the general.

3 book lists we think you will like!

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