Our pick for a summer read: “Cooked – A Natural History of Transformation”

Cooked – A Natural History of Transformation,  is the latest book by Michael Pollan, one of our favorite writers, and we highly recommend it!  Anyone that has any interest in food and cooking will enjoy this book.

Pollan has written extensively in previous books about the dangers of industrialized farming and the negative effect it has had on our nation’s diet and nutrition (see The Omnivore’s Dilemna, another book we recommend).  He believes that agribusiness has contributed greatly to the disconnect that exists between people and their food:  the fact that so few people actually cook for themselves anymore, or even know where their food is really coming from.

From the back cover of the book, an excerpt from Cooked:

At a certain point in the late middle of my life I made the unexpected but happy discovery that the answer to several of the questions that most occupied me was in fact one and the same:


Some of these questions were personal.  For example, what was the single most important thing we could do as a family to improve our health and general well-being?  And what would be a good way to better connect to my teenage son?  Other questions were slightly more political in nature.  For years I had been trying to determine (because I am often asked) what is the most important thing an ordinary person can do to help reform the American food system, to make it healthier and more sustainable?  Another related question is, how can people living in a highly specialized consumer economy reduce their sense of dependence and achieve a greater degree of self-sufficiency?  And then there were the more philosophical questions, the ones I’ve been chewing on since I first started writing books.  How in our everyday lives, can we acquire a deeper understanding of the natural world and our species’ peculiar role in it?  You can always go to the woods to confront such questions, but I discovered that even more interesting answers could be had simply by going to the kitchen.

And so Pollan, who already knows his way around a kitchen, embarks on a quest to master 4 classic techniques, each corresponding to one of the 4 basic elements-fire, water, air and earth.  What a great concept!!  Be warned, though, reading this book will make you hungry…

The 4 techniques are:  barbecue (Fire),  braising (Water),  leavening bread with a sourdough starter (Air), and fermentation (Earth).

This book may also make you jealous, besides hungry, because being a famous writer with connections, Pollan is able to apprentice with some real masters.  He chooses North Carolina to learn from a “pit master” the proper way to cook a whole pig.  He spends months of Sundays learning to cook from a Chez Panisse trained chef, mostly one-pot dishes, or braises.  He interviews a celebrated young bread baker from San Francisco and gets to help out in his bakery.  He learns about fermentation: saurkraut, pickles, kombucha and beer-from several different folks including possibly the world’s first fermento-celebrity (who just so happens to be mentioned in this old post of yours truly at the Brampton Inn).

All in all a terrific read, and yes, it’s the first book we’ve talked about in this blog, and it’s NOT A COOKBOOK!  However, the appendix does include 4 recipes: one from each section of the book.

If you pick it up, let us know what you think; we would love to hear it!!