For by now obvious reasons, Schott’s Food & Drink Miscellany is one of my favorite light reads. William Grimes’s review in the New York Times gives you a sample:
“…The book is pointedly pointless, intentionally aimless and endlessly entertaining.
It is gratifying to learn that humble pie is no mere expression. There really was such a thing, a dish made with venison offal, or humbles, a word that derived from the French word for deer entrails, nombles. Mr. Schott thoughtfully includes a 17th-century recipe, which sounds delicious, much more appealing than a restaurant’s roast camel “English style,” one of several dishes served on Christmas at Voisin in 1870, when Paris was under siege.
The zoo at the Jardin des Plantes sold off the animals it could no longer feed, and enterprising chefs rose to the challenge. At Voisin, diners feasted on stuffed ass’s head, elephant soup, wolf haunch in venison sauce and a truffled antelope terrine. The wines were appropriate.
Anyone curious to know what elephant soup tastes like will be disappointed, but Mr. Schott does include a list of exotic creatures and their reputed flavors. Bat, it seems, tastes like partridge, the Nephila spider tastes like a potato, and termites taste like lettuce. A valuable footnote explains why Portuguese settlers in Africa were allowed to eat hippopotamus (tastes like beef) during Lent. Because it spends so much time in the water, the hippo was judged to be a fish.”
Schott also recounts the history of the sandwich and explains how famous cocktails got their names. This book is a riot and imminently re-readable. Pick it up sometime!