The Digest

A Brief History of Doughnuts & Other News

16th September 2017

Words: James Hansen


In this week’s food writing round-up: eating a path through New Orleans, Instagram’s leftovers, and a treasury of antique cookbooks

We kick off with one from the archives: Nora Ephron on the uniquely American majesty of doughnut machinesIn a note sent to The New Yorker – naturally attached to a box of doughnuts – Ephron reveals how her quiet fascination with the machinery belies a distaste for the product: “Most doughnuts taste like fried cake dough, which is what they are, and they cause doughnut stomach, the primary symptom of which is the recurring sense for hours afterward that you have eaten a doughnut earlier in the day.” The microscopics of the Krispy Kreme operation are what fascinate: “You can stand there and hold your children up to the window.”

George Reynolds eats his way around New Orleans unshackled from the diktat of lists and itineraries for World Travel Guide. “A ranked list or detailed pintxo-crawl itinerary drives an exclusionist, inherently limited way of thinking… An alternative model starts with food, and tells a story from there.” With freedom of choice comes freedom to criticise – eschewing the distinctly holiday narrative of perfection to address the fact that wherever you are, some food just isn’t going to be that tasty. Restaurants disappoint or delight based on expectations; freeing yourself of them waves in the liberating power of surprise.

The Paris Review unearth an illustrated letter from the inimitable Patience Gray, a brilliant food writer whose work far outranks her notoriety. Sent from Carrara, Italy in 1966, a depiction of erbe di lupo – Gray forgets its Latin name, as we struggle to find it – sits amidst her writing as she remembers “purple crocuses growing out of the tangled last year’s lion-coloured grass”. Reproduced from an upcoming book on Gray from Adam Federman, it’s a window on to Gray’s time in Italy revealing for its brevity – a snapshot of a kind of food writing that resists attempts at classification.

Laura Shapiro makes the case of documenting leftovers on Instagram for The New York Times. It’s an obvious dilemma: Insta’s obsession with the final product overshadows “all the stories behind them – everything that happened in the kitchen before you picked up your phone and clicked”. As much as Instagram might paint a clear picture of culinary trends – what we’re eating and how we eat it – it erases everything outside the little square frame. Shapiro’s message is clear: “Next time you eat a meal that’s certain to be forgettable, that’s the very moment to pull out your phone and hit ‘share’.” An inclusive culinary history is what we need, and it’s what Shapiro demands.

Laura Beare picks out her highlights from “Cooks and their Books: Collecting Cookery Books” for Museum Crush. An extensive collection of books, papers and snippets is panned for gold by Beare, turning up some true gems. From the forgotten heroine of Victorian cooking, Mrs Marshall, to the entirely self-explanatory “Spontaneous Combustion of Drunkards”, it’s a fascinating insight into the history Laura Shapiro argues for above. Stay the course for a Roman recipe for flamingo tongue (us neither), as well as a guide to table settings so comprehensive as to be fit for the likes of Queen Anne.

Posted 16th September 2017

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen

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