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`the food encyclopedia' by Jacques L. Rolland and Carol Sherman with `other contributors' is published by the Canadian publisher, `Robert Rose, Inc.', a specialist in culinary volumes with `Bible' or `Encyclopedia' in their titles. Some of these volumes, by their sheer size and volume of information, such as the `Food Substitution Bible' by David Joachim are genuinely worthy of their pretentious titles. With this volume, one should start to question its authority as soon as you see it's falsely modest all lower-case title.
The long and the short of it is that any book of this size and cost, with it's `encyclopedic' pretensions is asking you to take it as an authority on its subject. Lamentably, with about a third of the articles I read, the authority of this book is simply laughable.
The most serious problems are simple factual errors. For example, in the article on the `metric system', it states that a centimeter is 100 millimeters long. A centimeter gets the 100 in its name from being a 1/100th of a meter, being only 10 millimeters long, a millimeter being 1/1000th of a meter. Other errors are just a bit subtler, as when in the article on `sodium', it is described as a `mineral'. This in itself is mistaken, as sodium, a very highly reactive metal, simply never occurs alone in nature. It has none of the properties of any mineral, which are generally compounds of a metal and a non-metal. The article compounds the error by saying its mineral name is `halite'. This is the name of common salt or sodium chloride. An even more serious howler is in the article on `nitrate', which is described as an `organic' compound. All, I say ALL compounds identified with the name `nitrate', such as sodium nitrate, ammonium nitrate, calcium nitrate, and on and on, are INORGANIC compounds!
These two gross errors found after reading no more than a dozen articles reduces my faith in the technical accuracy of the book to a minimum.
The cover of the book brags about having entries on 8,000 ingredients, tools, techniques, and people. Regarding ingredients, I find a lot of variability in the articles. In an `encyclopedia', I would expect that every article on a distinct plant or animal would include the scientific name of it. There may be some vague rule at work here, but it doesn't make any sense to me to give the scientific name for New Zealand spinach, but do not give it for `nigella seeds' (or more accurately, the plant from which nigella seeds are harvested).
On `tools', I find the book incomplete, but possibly not totally useless. There is an article for `China cap', but none for `chinois', or even any reference to `chinois' in the `China cap' article. I'll give our editors a small pass on this one, as the `Larousse Gastronomique' has an article on `chinois', but none on `China Cap' (and I do believe there is a small difference between the two).
But this brings up an important question. If you do not already own a copy of the `Larousse Gastronomique', the foremost authority on European cooking knowledge, why would you spend a sizable amount of money on this flawed book when for about half again the price, you can get a true authority.
This is not the end of the problems for this tome. One of its very best attributes is its sidebar articles of culinary biographies. I find the effort spent on this feature has given us an excellent selection of subjects, with practically no lightweight celebrities included. For example, it's longest biographies, including photographic portraits, are reserved for the most important 20th century culinary figures, such as the great American triad, James Beard, Craig Claiborne, and Julia Child. Among other American culinary notables, we get Alice Waters, Ruth Reichl, M. F. K. Fisher, Jacques Pepin, Paul Prudhomme, Harold McGee, Irma Rombauer, Pierre Franey, and Ella Eaton Kellogg. The last is interesting because neither her husband, John Harvey Kellogg, the founder of the Kellogg's food company nor other famous American food entrepreneurs such as H. J. Heinz or Milton Hershey are profiled. I was especially pleased to find articles on two Elizabeth David protégés, Jane Grigson and Alan Davidson, as well as the influential American expatriate writer, Richard Olney.
The selection is based almost entirely on those who have had an intellectual impact on American culinary habits. Thus, Waters and Prudhomme are in, but there is no mention of Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, or any other `Food Network' fave. There is not even any mention of the Food Network, which may have been an oversight. But even this very nice feature has its flaws. Three oversights should tell the tale. The article on Jacques Pepin cites his years at Howard Johnson's test kitchen, but says nothing of this fact about Pierre Franey, even though Pepin was Franey's subordinate at this company. The article on the very much alive Diana Kennedy gives her date as `early 20th century'. The article on Julia Child gives the impression that Madame Child first enrolled in cooking school while living in the United States, and it was not for several years after that when she and her husband went to work in Paris. In fact, the two were married in 1946, moved to Paris in 1948, where Julia almost immediately enrolled in `Le Cordon Bleu'.
Overall, this book shows a dismal lack of editing and accuracy. Save your money for better books such as 'Larousse' or Alan Davidson's 'The Oxford Companion to Food' or 'The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America'.