“1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die,” edited by Frances Case (Universe, $36.95)
How far along are you on your list of the thousand or so foods bubbling over in your bucket? As Frances Case, editor of “1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die,” proves, this bucket — the one you might kick someday and that many people name a list for — can instead buy a real bucket or picnic basket or grocery bag with which you fill delicacies.
The nice thing about Case’s thoughtful choices are that they go on and on, meaning this can be a book you enjoy for a long time before ever kicking the bucket. I’ve been doing just that, as I turn to it year after year for delicious inspiration.
My first concern when glancing at “1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die” was for Case. Since I came upon it at the same time, I wondered had she also edited “1001 Wines You Must Taste Before You Die”? Each book —- at least at first lifting — feels as hefty as a 10-pound dumbbell. They are jam-packed with 1,001 delicacies each; my vision was of Case, a famed British food writer and TV personality, puffed up like a parade balloon from her dedicated research.
Fortunately, though, Neil Beckett, a touted wine columnist, handled editing duties for the spirits book. Wine aficionados will love the fat tome. But, like Case, let me have at the food book and pray to spread out the goodies over the decades I have left on the planet, rather than gorging on them all in a week.
You might be tempted to do just that. The book is full of mouthwatering photographs of both the ingredients and the lush surroundings where they grow, or are cultivated or produced. Descriptions are more like temptations, beckoning you to run off on adventures to find the feasts - whether at the farthest corners of the earth, your local supermarket or gourmet store, or simply online.
Modeled after the popular travel series “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” in lots of ways, the food treasure chest is more satisfying. After all, the gratification in many cases can be much more instant; the fruits of your reading can nourish not only your soul but your body as well.
The book is organized by food categories, such as fruit, vegetables and dairy. Future editions might consider more detailed indexing, like a country index, in which you could look up your travel destinations and make a shopping list to pursue on your trip or know what to look for in a local ethnic grocery store or restaurant. A few recipes spotlighted here and there for when you do get your hands on items would be fun additions.
Here are a few of the tasty tidbits:
Page 2 of 2 - Wild Green Hazelnut: “In spring, the furry catkins of the wild hazelnut, less obtrusive than other hedgerow blooms, tell country dwellers all over North America and Europe where they will find nuts in August and September. Unlike blackberries, elderberries, crab apples and rosehips, a reminder is needed: the nuts themselves will be very well hidden underneath the leaves.
“Sometimes called filberts ... fresh hazelnuts are a true wild delicacy.
“In Europe, larger, cultivated varieties, notably Kentish cobnuts, are sold fresh locally, but the pleasure of finding and eating out of hand lifts them to another level ... Taste: Fresh hazelnuts are crisp, milky and sweet in the way a raw pea is, but with a savory twist. They are not that ‘nutty,’ but still as delicious as any ripe nut.”
Moroccan-Style Olive: “ ... Olive trees still thrive on the arid North African plains and Morocco is a major olive producer. Masters in the use of spices, Moroccans preserve their olives in exquisitely aromatic marinades. As olives are harvested at each stage of ripeness, Moroccan markets feature huge bowls of gleaming green, pink, red, brown and black fruit, all preserved in spicy blends including hot peppers, cumin, garlic, coriander seeds, preserved lemons and fennel ... Taste: Moroccan olives are juicy, with a deliciously nutty flavor. Depending on the marinade ingredients, the taste ranges from savory to sweet and pungent to aromatic.”
Arctic Prawn: “As the name would suggest, these crustaceans take their distinctive essence from the icy and unpolluted waters of the far north. Also known as northern or deep-water prawns, they are harvested in the Arctic - particularly Canada and Greenland - but also in the North Atlantic and North Pacific.
“The low temperatures mean Pandalus borealis grows much more slowly than its relatives in warmer climates. The prawns take five or six years to reach maturity, which intensifies the flavors of their meat and improves its texture ... Taste: The Arctic prawn is smaller, juicier, sweeter and more succulent than many of its relatives, the texture less stringy and more meaty, with a satisfying density.”
Titaura: “Made with the pulp of Lapsi fruit, titaura originates from Nepal. Lapsi trees need a cold climate to grow and hence most titaura is made during the winter months. Lapsi is boiled and the pulp extracted is then sun-dried; it is seasoned with sugar, salt and spices. Most households in Katmandu make it at home, and it is also sold at almost all food and beverage shops in Nepal ... Taste: To an untrained taste bud, the sweet variety is still very spicy. Titaura contains Nepalese spices and is mostly tangy due to the Lapsi fruit, somewhat like gooseberry.”
Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the author of seven food books, including “Mrs. Cubbison’s Best Stuffing Cookbook” and “The Sourdough Bread Bowl Cookbook.” Creators Syndicate