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Margaret Visser: Mega-Fish, 16 April 1998

Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World 
by Mark Kurlansky.
Cape, 294 pp., £12.99, March 1998, 0 224 05104 0
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... A species of fish too well known to require any description,’ reads the entry for cod in the Cyclopedia of Commerce and Commercial Navigation (1858). ‘It is amazingly prolific,’ the article continues. ‘Leewenhoek counted 9,384,000 eggs in a codfish of a middling size – a number that will baffle all the efforts of man to exterminate.’ People have long enjoyed marvelling at the sheer amount, the endlessness of cod ...

Twenty-Two Different Ways of Cooking Veal

Margaret Visser: Modern cuisine, 30 November 2000

The Invention of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture 
by Rebecca Spang.
Harvard, 325 pp., £21.95, April 2000, 0 674 00064 1
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Haute Cuisine: How the French Invented the Culinary Profession 
by Amy Trubek.
Pennsylvania, 171 pp., £18.50, June 2000, 0 8122 3553 3
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... Rebecca Spang explodes a culinary myth that has lasted nearly two hundred years. The story goes more or less like this. Restaurants as we know them were a product of the French Revolution and came into being in order to ensure that pleasurable eating would not remain the privilege of the wealthy. Kitchenless provincial Revolutionaries crowded into Paris, and at the same time the highly skilled chefs of beheaded or émigré aristocrats found themselves out of work ...

Shell Shock

Margaret Visser, 22 February 1996

The English, the French and the Oyster 
by Robert Neild.
Quiller, 212 pp., £18.50, October 1995, 1 899163 12 3
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... In landlocked Zambia,​ then Northern Rhodesia, where I was brought up, oysters were a piece of arcane folklore, one of those memories, precise but inexplicable, of Britain. Oysters were right up there with the Times having no headlines, just adverts on the front page; with Marmite carefully imported and spread on your bread; with little girls’ dresses bearing a rectangle of smocking on the chest ...

Mirabilia

Margaret Visser, 31 October 1996

The Land of Hunger 
by Piero Camporesi, translated by Tania Croft-Murray and Claire Foley.
Polity, 223 pp., £39.50, December 1995, 0 7456 0888 4
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Exotic Brew: The Art of Living in the Age of Enlightenment 
by Piero Camporesi, translated by Christopher Woodall.
Polity, 193 pp., £29.50, July 1994, 0 7456 0877 9
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The Magic Harvest: Food, Folklore and Society 
by Piero Camporesi, translated by Joan Krakover Hall.
Polity, 253 pp., £39.50, October 1993, 0 7456 0835 3
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... Reading this plethora of recent translations of Piero Camporesi’s work is rather like getting a book out of a library and being forced to read only the passages heavily underlined by a previous borrower, together with all the angry or thrilled exclamations peppering the margins. Camporesi is professor of Italian literature at the University of Bologna ...

On wanting to be a diner not a dish

P.N. Furbank, 3 December 1992

The Rituals of Dinner 
by Margaret Visser.
Viking, 432 pp., £17.99, September 1992, 0 670 84701 1
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... physical ease, the blessed state, to some of us unimaginable, of having no physical taboos. Margaret Visser, a Classicist in Toronto, has produced a fascinating work in the field in which Lévi-Strauss has written so memorably – the history of table manners. Her book is crammed to overflowing with things that one would want to know. Did you ...

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