Alan Davidson's Oxford Companion to Food
has been over 20 years in the assembling, but here it is; and it is superlatively worth the wait. In fact, superlatives fall silent. A huge and authoritative dictionary of 2,650 entries on just about every conceivable foodstuff, seasoning, cuisine, cooking method, historical survey, significant personage and explication of myth, it is supplemented by some 40 longer articles on key items. Davidson himself (no relation) contributes approximately 80% of the 2,650 entries, thereby guaranteeing high levels of erudition, readability and deadpan feline wit. Since this is a monument intended to last, nothing so frivolous as a recipe is included. A decision taken early in the development of the project to abjure issues whose significance is largely topical has also ensured an agreeable high-mindedness--nothing on those crucial but essentially dreary topics BSE and GM foods, for example.
If a fault could be found, it would only be that it's often difficult to read to the end of an entry, as the abundant cross-referencing all too easily sends one off to another entry, thence bouncing off to another, and all too soon the original is forgotten. A random alphabet of seductions might include: Aardvark, Botulism, Cup Cake, David (Elizabeth), Enzymes, Fat-Tailed Sheep, Gender/Sex and Food, Hallucinogenic Mushrooms, Ice Cream Sundae, Jewish Dietary Laws, Kangaroos, Lobscouse, Microwave Cooking, Norway, Offal, Puffin, Queen of Puddings, Roti, Scurvy, Termite Heap Mushroom (or Taillevant), Umeboshi, Vegetarianism, Washing up (a very elegant little article), sadly no X, Yin-yang and Zabaglione. As this might show, Alan Davidson's aim, borrowed from Dumas' great Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine, that his work would appeal not only to persons of "serious character" but also those "of a much lighter disposition", is utterly fulfilled. --Robin Davidson
"The 'O.C.F' is so entertainingly written that it's easy to forget it's a work of true scholarship. Published in 1999, it was received with great enthusiasm in and out of the food world and found its way onto thousands of bookshelves."--The New York Times Magazine"From the day it was published--no, from the day the bound proofs arrived--it became the one basic reference work of food scholarship, the volume to which we will all turn first whenever we have a question about food--historical, cultural, or botanical.... It is undoubtedly the most important encyclopedic volume about food published in our lifetimes."--Vogue"A food book for all time.... The canon of great food literature just got one fat volume greater.... A must-have for any serious food follower."--Gourmet"The publishing event of the year, if not the decade.... Alan Davidson, the legendarily learned (and eccentric) former British diplomat and international authority on seafood...and godfather to food scholars around the world, has written most of the 2,650 entries, in itself a stupendous feat.... Everyone seriously interested in food must own this book.... A great achievement."--Corby Kummer, The New York Times Book Review"It is hard to imagine a more congenial companion than Davidson.... This massive volume is nothing short of the grandest of SMORGASBORDS, a sumptuous BUFFET with more SAVORIES, ZAKUSKI and SWEETIES than your typical state dinner. Davidson spent 23 years working on this book, and one can see why: many of the 2,650 entries are worth a separate volume of their own, if not dozens.... A road map to food with a truly global reach... For serious food historians, this will no doubt become an irreplaceable companion. For those amateurs who are merely fascinated by food and who appreciate lucid and witty writing that seeks to deflate the pretensions of your average gastronome, it will provide hours of amusement."--Time Magazine"A masterly work with a variety of voices, from the straightforward, almost dry, to the quirky and the witty. It will anchor my other research materials, nudging aside 'Larousse Gastronomique' and Waverly Root's 'Food'.... It's hard not to be awed by 892 pages dense with extremely thorough and well-written entries, enhanced by cross-references and indexes and larded with anecdotes and strong opinions."--Florence Fabricant, The New York Times"Serendipity is a rewarding way to negotiate this colossal volume. Looking up 'chuck' will lead you to 'chuck wagon, ' to 'sourdough, ' and to 'sonofabitch stew, a cowboy dish of unusual character'.... Some day the field of food history...will achieve full academic status and respectability. This will be largely thanks to Mr. Davidson's labors and 'The Oxford Companion to Food.'" --Paul Levy, The Wall Street Journal"A culinary sine qua non.... This 892-page tour de force will enlighten you as to the history, cultivation, and flavor of every edible you've ever heard of and hundreds more you never even knew existed." --Men's Journal"Outstanding.... Davidson deserves the eternal gratitude of researchers everywhere.... Destined to become a classic." --Library Journal