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Books: Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink

Susan Jung

 

 

 

This is the kind of book that you can pick up and open at random to find something interesting to read. It's a collection of essays that have appeared in The New Yorker, a magazine that has been published since 1925. Some of the essays go back almost that far.

Dorothy Parker's piece (from 1929) on being stuck next to a dullard at a dinner party is something we can all relate to.

Other essays are a fascinating glimpse into what life was like back in the old days, before fat was a four-letter word. In Joseph Mitchell's 1939 piece, "All You Can Hold for Five Bucks", he writes about beefsteaks, New York steak feasts that were well-established by the 1920s.

Until women started attending these dinners, around 1920, "etiquette was rigid. Knives, forks, napkins and tablecloths never had been permitted; a man was supposed to eat with his hands". With women diners forcing them to be less gluttonous, it became "unusual for a man to do away with more than three pounds of meat and 25 glasses of beer".

The "menu" in the book is divided into sections such as Dining Out (including bad-boy chef Anthony Bourdain's seminal "Don't Eat Before Reading This"), Eating In (with several pieces by M.F.K. Fisher), Fishing and Foraging, Local Delicacies (with a history of buffalo wings by Calvin Trillin) and Fiction (essays by Roald Dahl, Julian Barnes, John Cheever and Italo Calvino).

 

 

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