Edible – An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants by National Geographic Society 2008, Foreword by Deborah Madison
Edible, an Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants is a gorgeous book. The collection of food plants included in this volume goes far beyond what one would expect – it is thorough and full of amazements, even for the jaded peruser of All Things Fruit or Vegetable.
I once owned a similar book. It was an encyclopedia-like very large book. The illustrations were pen and ink, with watercolor. There was something fairy-tale-like about it. To stare directly and closely at a fruit or vegetable, to consume it with one’s eyes . . . it can be like entering another world.
In Edible, each plant is illustrated by a photograph – which may be even better than viewing the plants artistically rendered by hand, for certain purposes. The book is precise, scientific, exact, and demanding of the reader. This is not a book to sit down and read in one sitting.
The first section of the book gives a general history: ‘From Plants to Food‘. My only problem with this part of the book is that it reminded me of a high-school textbook due to the format, general structure and writing style. Well – let’s just leave it at that.
The good stuff starts with the second section: ‘A Directory of Edible Plants‘. Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, Nuts, Herbs, Spices, Plants Used as Beverages, and Plant Sugars and Other Products are the sub-categories. This section is 173 pages long.
Each plant is shown with common name followed by Latin name accompanied by a fabulous – yes I mean fabulous – photograph. Then the following facts are essayed: Historic Origins, Botanical Facts, Culinary Fare.
Proso Millet, Hyacinth Bean, Marsh Samphire, Mombin, Ice-Cream Bean, Bilimbi, Quandong. Poetry? Perhaps. Edible, too.
The book finishes up with a reference section of nutritional tables.
The foreword is by Deborah Madison, who should need no introduction to anyone who browses the food world for excellence. The last line she writes is –
I mean, who knew that when the shell of the pistachio is split, it’s said to be laughing?
I didn’t. But I do know that curling up with this book makes me smile with pleasure, just like a happy pistachio.