music for Spring / Easter / Passover by Popol Vuh, Gila, Arcanta and the Electric Prunes.
Happy Easter and Happy Passover to our readers around the world. We moved our Saturday movie night to Good Friday for Mel Gibson’s blockbuster The Passion Of The Christ. So, for the weekend proper, here’s a special podcast, audiophonically adapted from
Jonathan Bethony is one of the leading artisanal bakers in America, but he goes further than most, milling his own flour and baking everything with a hundred percent of the whole grain. He’s also going beyond wheat, incorporating other cereals such as millet and sorghum in the goodies Seylou is producing.
Antibiotic resistance is one consequence of feeding animals large amounts of antibiotics — about three times the amount given to people in the US. Why is it so
One of the most fascinating things about pumpkins and squashes is what people call them. The whole summer squash, squash, pumpkin thing is confusing enough, and that’s to say nothing of courgettes and zucchini, which I explored in a podcast a few weeks ago. One of the people I talked to for that was Harry Paris, an Israeli researcher who has done more than anyone to disentangle the rampant thickets of cucurbit history. While not strictly anything to do with zucchini, while I had him on the line, I asked him to shed a little light on one of the great mysteries of Italian fruit names.
The scientific, Latin name for watermelon is Citrullus, but depending on where you are in Italy, the Italian for watermelon is either anguria or cocomero which, to me, sounds way too much like cucumber. But the Italian for cucumber is cetriolo, and that sounds like citrullus, for watermelon. As for anguria, you better just listen.
Illustrations from a 14th century manuscript, Liber de herbis et plantis by Manfredi de Monte Imperiali.
Food has probably been a marker of social status since the first woman gathered more berries than her sister. It still is. Some foods are authentically posh, others undeniably lower class, and there’s no way I’m going to go out on a limb and say which is which.
Because foods serve as social markers, the history of cuisine is also a history of the democratisation – some would say vulgarisation – of elite dishes, and perhaps noone has chronicled that more effectively than Rachel Laudan. Her book Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History shows clearly how foods move from high cuisine to low. Recently, in some places, the flow has reversed as elites have taken up what they imagine to be rustic, peasant food. The 100% wholewheat sourdough loaf, chewy of crust and riddled with large holes, became a desirable bread only very recently. As we chatted about these things, one thing became clear. There’s very little chance that food will lose its status as a marker of status any time soon.
Rachel Laudan recently reworked her thoughts on bread: Why did our ancestors prefer white bread to wholegrains?. That will take you to her website and details of Cuisine and Empire.
Our earlier conversation was Sugar and salt: Industrial is best.
Banner photo shows poor old George IV of the United Kingdom, consuming his magnificent Coronation Dinner alone, watched by a crowd of thousands. Well, not quite alone. Aside from the onlookers in the galleries, there were about 170 diners in Westminster Hall with him and a few hundred more scattered through various rooms in the Palace of Westminster. But the King was effectively alone.
Smaller image shows John, Duc de Berry, in blue on the right, exchanging New Year’s gifts at a banquet.
Amatrice was set to host the 50th celebration of pasta all’Amatriciana famously made there, but this week’s earthquake devastated the town. NPR’s Scott Simon speaks with food blogger Jeremy Cherfas.
Recommendation engines are everywhere. They let Netflix suggest shows you might want to watch. They let Spotify build you a personalised playlist of music you will probably like. They turn your smartphone into a source of endless hilarity and mirth. And, of course, there’s IBM’s Watson, recommending all sorts of “interesting” new recipes. As part of his PhD project on machine learning, Jaan Altosaar decided to use a new mathematical technique to build his own recipe recommendation engine.
The technique is similar to the kind of natural language processing that powers predictive text on a phone, and one of the attractions of using food instead of English is that there are only 2000–3000 ingredients to worry about, instead of more than 150,000 words.
The results so far are fun and intriguing, and can only get better.
Jaan Altosaar published an article about his work that gives an explanation of how it all works. It also allows you to investigate the food map and use some of the other tools he built.
A scientific report that may have inspired Jaan (and possibly Watson) to take up the challenge is Flavor network and the principles of food pairing.
That paper offers great explanations for why some novel food pairings work, including Heston Blumenthal’s iconic white chocolate and caviar, published in 2002.
The madcap adventures of Chef Watson are everywhere on the internet. The recommendatiuon engine that is me suggests a report from Caitlin Dewey which includes a recipe for the ubiquitous Austrian chocolate burritos (but no explanation of what makes them Austrian. Just the apricot purée?).
The banner shows a small part of the food map, with East Asian ingredients tightly clustered while North American ingredients are all over the shop.
Happy Easter from the Gentlemen, as Josh and Dursin relate their adventures from PAX East. Plus, gamers vs. comic fans, DC’s prices, and… breakfast!