I’ll be honest, I thought I was pretty savvy about coffee taxonomy knowing that there were two kinds, arabica and robusta. Not surprisingly, perhaps, a research paper about “Coffea stenophylla and C. affinis, the Forgotten Coffee Crop Species of West Africa” caught my attention. And of course, as I should have known, there are scores of different coffee species. What is particularly intriguing about C. stenophylla, however, is that in its day people considered it a very fine coffee indeed. A 1925 monograph recorded that “The beans are said, by both the natives and the French merchants, to be superior to those of all other species.”
Episode summary: Taste is a very curious thing. We understand that how we taste something is almost entirely subjective, that while it depends to some extent on the physical and chemical properties of the things we’re tasting, the sensation is overlaid with all sorts of cultural and personal memories. Unless you have access to all of those, there’s nothing you can say about my taste. Except, we do that all the time. We slip easily from taste being indisputable to good taste and bad taste and from there to making taste the basis of moral judgements. What’s more, this is nothing new. These thoughts, and many more, were prompted by a new book: Food Fights: How History Matters to Contemporary Food Debates. It contains two chapters that cover taste directly (and a third that considers food choice from a slightly different point of view). In an effort to straighten myself out on the subject, I talked to the two chapter authors, and they’re going to be the guests in at least the next two episodes. In the first instance, Margot Finn…
Darra Goldstein combines a scholar’s knowledge of history and literature with a cook’s interest in recipes and ingredients. She had already written extensively on food across the vast Soviet empire, but more recently turned her attention to a search for what she calls “the true heart of Russian food“. She found it on the Kola Peninsula, a wild and forbidding part of Russia right at the top of Scandinavia. Our conversation, prompted by her new book, went further afield to include glimpses of food revivals and innovation in Russia today.
Marketing campaign for orange-fleshed sweet potato https://media.blubrry.com/eatthispodcast/p/mange-tout.s3.amazonaws.com/2020/ofsp.mp3
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 27:33 — 22.1MB)
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podcast cover artwork There is more to good nu…
In January, with faith in Mother Nature (and confident the earth under the hemp layer was alive with worms), I literally walked away from playing gardener. I threw away the two full packets of lettuce and radish seeds I’d intended to plant. I tossed a bit of cover dirt and replaced the mulch. After which I put the garden out of my mind.
This year I have stepped back. I bought a chilli plant in hope, as well as a zucchini, but in the end I just let it go. I have subsequently had tomatoes pop-up all through the garden, as well as various herbs, without the usual stress and rigour.
Walking down the supermarket aisle in search of coffee, I have this warm inner glow. If I choose a pack that boasts the Fair Trade logo, or that of any other third-party certifying agency, I’ll be doing good just by paying a little more for something that I am going to buy anyway. The extra I pay will find its way to the poor farmers who grow the coffee, and together enlightened coffee drinkers can make their lives better. But it seems I’m at least somewhat mistaken. Certified coffee is certainly better than nothing, but it isn’t doing as much good as I fondly imagine. And the price premium I pay could be doing a lot more.
In this episode I hear about coffee that’s more ethical than fair, and about some of the ways in which Fair Trade falls short.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 27:09 — 21.9MB)
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Linda Civitello is a food historian whose latest book is Baking Powder Wars: the cutthr…
To me, a pedant and a purist, a pickle by rights ought to have gone through a proper fermentation. It might have been pasteurised afterwards and bottled, but at some stage it needs to have supported microbial activity. And yet, I don’t think of kombucha as pickled tea or yoghurt as pickled milk. Maybe that’s because they aren’t salted. Just being boiled in vinegar or soaked in brine doesn’t qualify either, for me.
Luckily Jan Davison, author of Pickles: A Global History, has a much more open mind, which is great, because I learned a lot from her little book. And it gave us plenty to talk about.
Jonathan Bethony is one of the leading artisanal bakers in America, but he goes further than most, milling his own flour and baking everything with a hundred percent of the whole grain. He’s also going beyond wheat, incorporating other cereals such as millet and sorghum in the goodies Seylou is producing. I happened to be in Washington DC just a couple of weeks after his new bakery had opened, and despite all the work that goes into getting a new bakery up and running, Jonathan graciously agreed to sit down and chat.