Another damned, thick, food book! Always scribble, scribble

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.


7 thoughts on “Another damned, thick, food book! Always scribble, scribble

  1. Sounds like a good one. In “Word Painting,” a book I highly recommend, the author (Rebecca McClanahan) suggests that writers look at books just like the one you’re describing, because the words for things out in the world conjure up the poetic muse … indeed.


  2. Interesting.

    So I can blame my interest in the externals of food and cooking rather than on the actualities of food and cooking on maybe perhaps my edging towards being a writer, is what you’re saying.

    I rather like that idea, Cindy.

  3. Words are sensuous: their look, sound, history, and use all can be stimulating. Words feed the mind with ideas, and certainly stimulate the writer. — Therefore: stir, stir, stir; scribble, scribble, scribble.

  4. Words can be sensuous. They can be rather odd-shaped and awkward, too. And they can look sensuous, and even mean to be sensuous, and simply not be sensuous at all. Give any of us the mere stuff of someone else’s art, and stir and scribble as we will, and feel all we might dare to feel, we will gob and smear Rembrandt’s paints nonetheless.

    And whether they feed the mind with ideas, or whether they are means for ideas to formulate themselves in expression and be conveyed thusly, who is to say. Chicken and egg, maybe: ideas and words.

    Foodvox’s stirs and scribbles have evolved. Maybe it’s the evolution of stirring and scribbling, rather then simply the stirring and scribbling that is the key. Goodness knows what the lock is that the key is to. Maybe it’s a lock that guards sensuous language. Maybe it’s a lock that guards significance and meaning. Must significant & meaning be sensuous? What the heck is “senusous” anyway? It’s a theatre of surfaces, wonderful, enthralling, but surfaces still, all the way around. Maybe there is no lock, there is no key; there’s only evolution, in which the metaphors of surfaces and depths have no obvious truth value — Nature red in tooth and claw, and all that. But is the artist’s evolution Darwinian or Lamarckian?

  5. Dear me. I feel like a shoemaker, reading all this.

    I’ll have to get out my pattern-making book, to try to understand it all.

    Evolution, ReaderX. Great topic.

    Perhaps I should do a post on the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster . . . it is food-like and all that.

  6. Evolution is all about eating. One species eats others, successfully, and thrives, until a volcano blows upon in the vicinity. The species succeeds then in becoming a museum exhibit. We eat cotton candy and stare at its footprints in the ancient mud.

  7. With the amusement park right off there to the side, ReaderX – where one can also get murky hot dogs, bad hamburgers, Italian sausage on stale buns and now even deep-fried Oreos!

    Personally I’ve always preferred musing on about the phrase ‘Eat or Be Eaten’ than musing on about the phrase ‘You Are What You Eat’. The latter simply falls flat in terms of action-adventure interest for me.


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