26 May 2009

In The Devil’s Garden

In the Devil's Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food is really a history and not a cookbook, but it is sprinkled with recipes and chocked full of history.

Stewart Lee Allen discusses some of the stranger and more gruesome adventures in eating from a cornucopia of historical documents.

What do Christian mystics and supermodels have in common?

A diet of bread and water.

Want to know how many victims the Aztec’s consumed during a year of religious sacrifice?

250,000. God got the heart or the “precious eagle cactus fruit” and everyone else got a stew of the remaining parts.

How did composer Richard Wagner influence Hitler’s diet?

After reading Wagner’s writings Hitler was said to have said “Did you know that Wagner has attributed much of the decay of our civilization to meat-eating?” Thus Hitler became a vegetarian.

Can you name the “crime” practiced by women accused of heresy during the Inquisition?

Cooking. Simply making an adafina, a dish of cabbage meat and chickpeas could get a woman burned at the stake.

One of the few actual recipes in the book is for a chicken liver crostini. The Tuscan grandmother to whom the recipe is attributed, says that you should eat this only at Christmastime. Ironically, there is no explanation of why. Perhaps she simply had no desire to make it during the rest of the year.

Crostini di Fegato

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 bay leaves
1 clove of garlic, crushed (optional)
7 ounces (200 grams) chicken liver
3.4 ounces (1/10 liter) red wine
2 cloves (optional)
black pepper

Put olive oil and bay leaves (and garlic, if you like it) in a clay pot and heat. Add the chicken livers cut in pieces, and salt and pepper. Heat. Add the red wine (and the cloves, if using) and let mixture cook at high flame for four to five minutes. Take the bay leaves out and garlic and cloves, if added). Crush the rest with a fork; while still warm, spread on a crostino (small slice of bread dried in the oven).

I don't know it the god of chickens got the "precious eagle cactus fruit" of the chicken before we got the livers for our crostini. That is a debate for theologians. In the meantime, read this book. You will be filled with charming anecdotes for you next dinner party, after all, man does not live by bread alone, he need stimulating conversation, too. Supermodels and saints, they're a different story.

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