Every year or so, I force myself to undergo a ritual clear-out of the bookshelves, to make space for the new and sacrifice (at least that’s how it feels) some of the older ones that I no longer cook from. It’s a painful process that makes me feel a bit like Medea murdering her children.
There’s one particular book, though, that I could never stand to see carted off to Oxfam, and that’s The Oxford Companion to Food, the third edition of which is out this week…
The first edition, published in 1999, edited (and largely written) by the singular, stellar polymath and food-phile, Alan Davidson, took 20 years of painstaking work by Davidson and a dedicated team of researchers to pull together.
There’s nothing else like it. It’s an encyclopaedia of food that manages to be both erudite and witty – and utterly engrossing. I refer to it regularly for fact-checking (this book is as authoritative as it gets) but more often, I turn to it for a bit of escapism, to just get lost in the fascination of food. Nowhere will you find entries as diverse as Lao eating customs (of particular interest to Davidson, who for years was British ambassador to Laos) and lutefisk, or cabbage and crack seed, all between the covers of the same book.
The third edition, edited by Tom Jaine, a long-time collaborator and friend of Davidson’s (and a previous editor of UK restaurant bible The Good Food Guide), has 43 new entries on the likes of fusion food, foraging and convenience foods, and new research on obesity and food and philosophy.
It is, as Tom Jaine says in the preface, “a trusty friend [leading] to a journey of intellectual discovery” – and I can’t stop reading it. If you haven’t come across this book yet, you’re missing out.
Your chance to win a signed copy
The third edition of the Oxford Companion to Food, published by Oxford University Press (960 pages, RRP £40) is published on 21 August 2014. We have 10 copies of the new book, signed by editor Tom Jaine, to give away to lucky delicious. readers.