Sunday, June 16, 2013

Cooked by Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan writes about learning to cook in his latest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. Since I love cooking and I enjoy Pollan's writing style, I was sure that Cooked would be a perfect fit for my reading taste. Perhaps my expectations were too high. I found it a little uneven; some parts were great, other sections less interesting.

I listened to the Penguin e-audio [13.5 hours], read by the author. His humble delivery is more enjoyable than that of Scott Brick, who narrated Pollan's The Botany of Desire.

Pollan's culinary experiences are broken down into four elements: fire, water, air and earth. Since the first part was all about barbecuing meat, and I'm a vegetarian, that probably accounts for my ambivalence. Air (about bread-making) and Earth (fermentation) were my two favourite sections, and both are in the second half of the book.

Passion is always a hook for me. Pollan doesn't just learn how to bake bread, he becomes obsessed with baking a perfect whole grain loaf. The chemistry and the biology involved. The social and cultural history. He interviews artisan bakers and tours a Wonder Bread factory. He investigates wheat varieties from ancient times to now. Sourdough starters, French levain, different kinds of yeast. The ways that flour milling has changed throughout history. I was fascinated.

The funniest and most thought-provoking content comes in the final chapter, which is about fermentation. I'm inspired to start making beet kvass again, a drink I used to always have on hand, since Pollan reminded me that naturally fermented foods are so beneficial. My top takeaway from this book, however, is that home cooking is vital to our health, our family relationships, and our environment.

Readalikes: Consider the Fork (Bee Wilson); Make the Bread, Buy the Butter (Jennifer Reese); The Art of Fermentation (Sandor Ellix Katz); Food and the City (Jennifer Cockrall-King); and Salt, Sugar, Fat (Michael Moss).

No comments: