New Mexico–based food researcher and author DeWitt (The Essential Hot Spice Guide, 2013, etc.) traces the Earth-changing ramifications of the “Columbian Exchange,” which brought indigenous American foods like chili peppers, maize and turkey back to the Old World and transformed the world’s diet.
The author happily admits that he is a chili fanatic, so it is with chili peppers that he is most sympathetic and interesting. He begins the journey from the prehistoric Mayan village of Cerén, now in El Salvador, which was buried in a volcanic eruption in A.D. 590 and which revealed the oldest evidence of chili-growing and -eating outside of Mexico. Christopher Columbus remarked on many of the unfamiliar foods he observed the natives of Puerto Rico consuming with gusto—e.g., chilis, maize, sweet potatoes, pineapple and cacao bean (chocolate). He brought many of these foods back to show the astonished Spaniards. On his second voyage, he deposited many Old World foods in America that would similarly enrich (or change adversely) the American diet and enterprise, such as sugar cane, wheat, melons, fruit trees, and livestock like pigs, cattle and sheep. Both turkey and pineapple became great favorites at European courts, while the potato was scorned as “pig food,” and the tomato was suspected of being poisonous and had to wait much longer to truly be appreciated. The author doggedly pursues how Hungarian paprika was born, thanks to the Turkish traders and occupiers, and he also examines Indian curry, as chilis mixed marvelously with the ancient spices of that land. Felicitous matches occurred with the New World pairing of cacao bean and vanilla with Old World sugar and coffee, while American foods like peanuts, sweet potatoes and avocados became valuable staples in African cuisine.
An amazing journey, though the organization is meandering and digressive—frequently scattershot but ultimately satisfying.
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)