Sugar and Sweets – Review and Giveaway #61
With my sweet tooth and lifelong addiction to sugar, I was fascinated to find a whole encyclopaedia has been devoted to the story of the human predilection for sweet food – ah, it’s not just me then. The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, edited by Darra Goldstein, has just been published and happily a copy landed on my desk.
As with all good encyclopaedias, it is a fascinating collection of facts, stories and ideas that can be dipped into at will as well as being used as a reference tool. With nearly 600 entries, 265 contributing experts, 160 images and two full-colour inserts, Dara has fashioned a veritable treasure trove. My only reservation was that the images were all in black and white, apart from the colour inserts obviously, which makes the book seem a little old fashioned. History, politics, language, religion, art, science and of course food are all covered and demonstrate how sugar has been an integral part of human development and civilisation.
Appendices at the back are a nice touch, with entries for films and songs that have been influenced by sweets: from Julie and Julia to Like Water for Chocolate and from Blueberry Hill by Fats Domino to Jelly Roll Blues by Jelly Roll Morton. Two more appendices list pastry shops from around the world and confectionary museums. Who knew there was a museum specialising in gelato or one on Thai desserts? Running through the list of contributors, I realised I wasn’t nearly as “up”on the subject as I’d imagined. A few names like Rose Levy Beranbaum, Ivan Day, Trine Hahnemann and Maricel E Presilla, jumped out at me, but most were unfamiliar.
Some entries, such as the one for stevia are quite short, others such as children’s literature span several pages. I learnt that wagashi means Japanese confectionery and that mochi and dumplings have been made in Japan since the prehistoric era. I was surprised to find that Marshmallow Fluff, which I only heard about a couple of years ago has been made in Massachusetts since 1920. Our very British pudding comes from the French boudin which originally meant sausage and referred to blood pudding. Nearing the end of the book, I was interested to see the entry for xylitol states that not only is this sugar substitute suitable for diabetics, but it’s also good for dental health. Both CT and I use it as a mouthwash for this very reason.
Not all the subjects covered are “sweet”, there are entries on dental caries, diabetes and the despicable horrors of slavery in the sugar plantations. It was Europe’s growing demand for sugar in the Seventeenth Century that kickstarted the international African slave-trade. Oh, our western civilisation has so much to be proud of.
I was pleased, if not surprised, to see that chocolate gets more than just a mention. There are entries for single origin, cacao, chocolate pots and cups as well as the expected pre and post Columbian history. Although I have read many histories of chocolate in my time, it hadn’t quite sunk in that the Americas had been producing chocolate for over 2,500 years before it was “discovered” by the West in the Sixteenth Century. Many of the brands have their own entries such as Cadbury, Lindt, Nestlé, Mars and Hershey.
Published by Oxford University Press and retailing at £40, this hardback book is a serious and thorough exploration of the subject of sugar and sweets and would make a valuable edition to anyone’s bookshelf. I can see it’s going to keep me informed and entertained for years to come.
Oxford University Press has kindly agreed to give one Tin and Thyme reader a copy of The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets. To be in with a chance of winning, please fill in the Gleam widget below. You will need to leave a comment on this post, answering the question, which then gives you additional chances to enter if you so wish. Gleam will pick a winner at random from the entries received. If you are commenting anonymously, please give me some way of identifying you as I will be verifying the validity of entries. Any automated entries will be disqualified. This giveaway is only open to those with a UK postal address. Winners will need to respond within 7 days of being contacted. Failure to do this may result in another winner being picked.