Deliciously organized by the Seven Deadly Sins, here is a scintillating history of forbidden foods through the ages—and how these mouth-watering taboos have defined cultures around the world.
From the lusciously tempting fruit in the Garden of Eden to the divine foie gras, Stewart Lee Allen engagingly illustrates that when a pleasure as primal as eating is criminalized, there is often an astonishing tale to tell. Among the foods thought to encourage Lust, the love apple (now known as the tomato) was thought to possess demonic spirits until the nineteenth century. The Gluttony “course” invites the reader to an ancient Roman dinner party where nearly every dish served—from poppy-crusted rodents to “Trojan Pork”—was considered a crime against the state. While the vice known as Sloth introduces the sad story of “The Lazy Root” (the potato), whose popularity in Ireland led British moralists to claim that the Great Famine was God’s way of punishing the Irish for eating a food that bred degeneracy and idleness.
Filled with incredible food history and the author’s travels to many of these exotic locales, In the Devil’s Garden also features recipes like the matzo-ball stews outlawed by the Spanish Inquisition and the forbidden “chocolate champagnes” of the Aztecs. This is truly a delectable book that will be consumed by food lovers, culinary historians, amateur anthropologists, and armchair travelers alike. Bon appétit!
"When I pluck a few leaves for my tagliatelle, I make sure to scream obscenities at its fuzzy little head just like the Italians used to." Unaware of basil's complicated past, some cooks might use the herb with carefree abandon, but Allen, author of The Devil's Cup: A History of the World According to Coffee, knows better. When it arrived in Europe from India around the fourth century B.C., basil came wrapped in a tale of fatal passion, which eventually morphed into the belief that a person who smelled the herb would go mad and curse up a storm. Allen's conceit is to take dozens of such tales and categorize them as one of the seven deadly sins: the section on "Lust," for instance, looks at the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden; the section on "Sloth" covers the potato and its supposed tendency to turn the Irish into lazy fornicators; the section on "Blasphemy" recounts how 16th-century Catholic priests roamed the streets of Madrid sniffing for Jewish cookery. While the historical and cultural links between food, sex and religion make for fascinating reading, Allen's structure is forced at times: it is difficult to understand why Allen places France's obsession with bread and class in the section on "Sloth." The book's tone flip and entertaining seems geared to the casual foodie, but its breeziness is often frustrating: Allen devotes only three pages, for example, to the potent trio of food, lust and homosexuality. Cooks may find Allen's unusual assortment of recipes from around the world as well as his recommendation on where to find the world's best potatoes (and it's not Idaho) to be the best part of the book.