Here’s proof that big things can come in small packages THE PRIMAL CHEESEBURGER (1994)by Elisabeth Rozin is not very BIG book…but don’t be fooled into thinking there isn’t much substance to such a little book.
Ms. Rozin, you may recall, is the author of BLUE CORN AND CHOCOLATE (1992) and ETHNIC CUISINE THE FLAVOR PRINCIPLE COOKBOOK (1983), THE UNIVERSAL KITCHEN and CROSSROADS COOKING (1999) and possibly a few others I haven’t tracked down yet.
Say the publishers of THE PRIMAL CHEESEBURGER, “Here is a witty look at the powerful appeal of that ubiquitous American classic and universal food phenomenon, the cheeseburger platter.
Elisabeth Rozin traces the historical, cultural, and culinary roots of each element (not just the burger itself!) but burger, cheese, bun, ketchup, lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, fries and of course – Coca Cola – in search of the significance of its tantalizing allure. After all, this unique combination of red meat, fat, sugar and salt violates all t his is nutritionally and politically correct in the 1990s (not to mention the 2000 to 2012) –yet, we can’t resist it!
THE PRIMAL CHEESEBURGER is an entertaining exploration of why this particular mix of textures, tastes, and smells evokes our carnivorous cravings and touches such a deep chord in our collective food consciousness.
What I have found particularly amazing in THE PRIMAL CHEESEBURGER is the wealth of food history it contains. If you are familiar with (and enjoyed) in-depth tomes such as
FOOD IN HISTORY (REAY TANNAHILL)
THE DELECTABLE PAST (ESTHER ARESTY)
COOKS, GLUTTONS AND GOURMETS (BETTY WASON)
THE JOY OF EATING (KATE STEWART)
Or, perhaps, SIX THOUSAND YEARS OF BREAD (H.E. JACOB) then I am sure you will want to add THE PRIMAL CHEESEBURGER to your collection. This is not a cookbook! Rather, it is an enchanting, well-written food history lesson, which, taken separately, leads us through the pages of history from bread in ancient Egypt to the curious evolution of tomatoes in the middle ages. Most of us have, for instance, heard the story of tomatoes being rejected by Europe and thought to be poisonous. But did you ever wonder why? And, did you know that such wasn’t the case in southern Europe and the Mediterranean where tomatoes were accepted quickly, grown as a common garden crop and adopted into Mediterranean cusine.
Tomatoes, we learn, were introduced to Europe after the discovery and conquest of Mexico in 1529 by Cortes. But, whereas Southern Europe and the Mediterranean adopted tomatoes and cooked them in a variety of sauces, the rest of Europe largely rejected tomatoes, often considering them poisonous, possibly because the tomato is a member of a family of plants which includes deadly nightshade. Conversely, though, the same areas of Europe that rejected tomatoes accepted potatoes which are also a member of the nightshade family!!
Ms. Rozin explains that she thinks tomatoes were unacceptable because of their color, that their redness (like meat) and vegetable meatiness may have been offensive to meat and dairy focused cuisines of Northern and Central Europe. She says that some highly orthodox Jewish sects in Poland initially rejected the tomato because of its “bloodiness”, its red meaty qualities.
I hope I have whetted your appetite to learn more – there is much to be learned from THE PRIMAL CHEESEBURGER and, as an added bonus for those of you interested in bibliographies, THE PRIMAL CHEESEBURGER has quite an extensive one.
I found THE PRIMAL CHEESEBURGER on Amazon.com starting at six cents for a pre-owned copy, and $7.27 for a new copy. I have never seen this particular book in hardcover edition—what Amazon has to offer is soft-cover, as is my copy. A number of other vendors (such as Barnes and Noble) have copies but I couldn’t find one at all on Alibris.com.
Review by Sandra Lee Smith