Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Butter: A Rich History

Title:  Butter:  A Rich History
Author:  Elaine Khosrova
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2016. 288 pages.
ISBN:  1616203641 / 978-1616203641

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "... catch up to his mother."

Favorite Quote:  "Indeed, one of the best lessons learned from my career in food and cooking is that gratification is something of a paradox:  To much of a good thing often diminishes the pleasure we derive from it. (Would you really want to eat your favorite dessert every day?) Call it the Goldilocks principle. Balance isn't just right for your body; I think it also assures real satisfaction."

Butter - Yum! What's not to like? A book about butter perhaps does not have the same wide appeal as butter itself, but for foodies, it absolutely does. After all, most of us have some in our fridge. These days, it could be a stick, a tub, a tube, or the many other ways in which butter can be bought. Butter at times has gotten a negative reputation. Eat it. Don't eat it. Cook with it. Don't cook with it. The advice changes with the research you read.

At the end of it all, how much do any of us really know about butter itself? For me, the answer is not a lot until reading this book. This book starts in the mountains of Bhutan and travels the world through the different sources and uses of butter. For many of us, the search for a specific butter from a specific milk from a specific farming technique may not be affordable or practical. Nevertheless, it is fascinating to read about, and the global economy of today may put it more within reach than we think.

This book is structured in two main parts - The Story and The Recipes. The Story is not a chronological history but rather a set of chapters centered around specific topics such as the advent of butter, the role of women in the butter trade, tools and techniques, sacred traditions that surround or use butter, the invention of margarine and its purported health claims, and the rise of artisan butter today. (Note:  The galley I received has certain words missing in this section. I assume that is a function of the galley and not the final book. I am able to infer much of the information from the surrounding text so it does not impact my enjoyment of the book.)

The Recipes are just that; as the author states, since butter is such a widely used ingredient, the selection here is a limited one. "I chose to include classic dishes that owe their character to butter, to both its flavor and behavior as an ingredient. It's a collection of Butter's Greatest Hits, you might say."  About half the recipes, as you might suspect, are for baked goods. The next selection is for sauces and toppings. The final section is on making variations of butter such as smoked butter and brown butter. The recipes have a European / North American bent, as far as cuisines go which differs from the the global focus found in the narrated story of butter.

The fact that the book has the subtitle "A Rich History" gives me an indication that the author approaches her storytelling with a sense of humor. This holds true throughout the book. Books such as this one can at times be dry reading. Fortunately, this one is not. The book packs in a lot of information, but in an easy to read package. The photographs, the quotes from other sources at the beginning of each chapter, and the conversational tone of the book help with the readability of the book.

A fun, informative book for foodies that will leaving you craving "butter's most common and beloved application ... a thick melting smear on toasted bread." Yum!

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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