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Posts Tagged ‘food’

04 MARCH, 2013

The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, Illustrated

By:

Love, loss, and the conquest of French cuisine.

Gertrude Stein reached fame late in life with her self-published 1932 memoirs titled — in the author’s characteristic fashion of this-means-that semantic semantic subterfuge — The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, after the love of Stein’s life. The two had met in 1907, the day Toklas arrived in Paris, and remained together for 39 years, until Stein’s death in 1946. But Toklas herself left a memorable imprint on twentieth-century culture, beyond her role as Stein’s lifelong partner.

I was recently fortunate enough to find a copy of the handsome out-of-print 1993 Folio Society edition of The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (public library) — a precursor to such classics as Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, originally published in 1954 and written in a style similar to Stein’s autobiography. The cookbook had been Toklas’s lifelong dream but, intimidated by Stein’s literary prowess, she never ventured into writing herself during Stein’s lifetime. Finally, at the age of 75 and long widowed, Toklas wrote the book over the course of four months, while battling hepatitis, with a rigorous writing routine that allowed “no telephone calls and no door bells answered.”

The Folio edition, which comes bound in silver leather and tucked in a hard slip-case, features gorgeous drawings by artist Natacha Ledwidge.

English biographer Diana Souhami writes in the introduction:

From the time of her childhood in San Francisco, Alice collected recipes. When life became ‘too black’ she read cookbooks an was ‘immediately lost to everything outside.’ She did not keep diaries, but recipes nudged her excellent memory and through them she conjured recollections of place, time and extraordinary company. A leisured hedonism pervades her Cookbook, an assumption that few things are more important than lunch, that there are, after all, only 365 of them in a year and that a bad one is a waste. Cooking was, she said, an art on a par with painting.

Yet despite her passion for culinary art, Toklas herself, not even five feet tall and weighing 100 pounds, was a light and picky eater. She derived her pleasure from her role as a critic rather than consumer of food. Souhami observes the curious yin-yang of Stein and Toklas’s gustatory dispositions:

[Alice] was a critic and connoisseur, more interested in preparing food, tasting it and passing comment on it, than in consuming it. Gertrude Stein’s appetite, by comparison, was prodigious. She loved eating, and in her autobiographical book, The Making of Americans, called it one of the main pleasures of her childhood — the other was reading.

One thing that comes through, subtly but unmistakably, in the narrative surrounding the recipes is the extraordinary bond and remarkable devotion between Toklas and Stein, who seemed to operate as the two halves of one graceful organism. From the day they met until Stein’s death, the two were never apart. Souhami writes:

They never travelled without each other, or entertained separately, or worked on independent projects. They regarded themselves as married. … In the stack of Gertrude’s manuscripts, most of them rejected by publishers until after her death, she wrote often of her love for Alice, whom she called her kitten, baby, queen, cherubim, cake, lobster and wife. When separated from Alice she felt low in her mind. And Alice, towards the end of her own long life, said that from the moment they met, ‘It was Gertrude Stein who held my complete attention, as she did for all the many years I knew her until her death, and all these empty ones since then.’

[…]

In her Cookbook, written after out of a total of twenty years of lonely widowhood, Alice gives a gentle, teasing picture of the woman for whom most of the recipes were prepared. Gertrude, she says, was ‘always cheerful, agreeable and curious,’ did not like to see people working, had no time for officials or bureaucracy, liked American food and was good at finding mushrooms in fields. She never learned to reverse Auntie the car and spent a great deal of time changing spark-plugs. She disliked wasps, hornets, bees, spiders, centipedes and bats, and Alice would get rid of them with ‘determination, newspapers, a broom and pincers.’

Even though Alice spent the vast majority of her energies serving Gertrude’s genius — she cooked, typed Stein’s manuscripts, made housekeeping arrangements, sewed, shampooed the dog, and rose before dawn to pick wild strawberries for Gertrude’s breakfast ‘before the sun kissed them’ — Sohuami assures:

There was nothing demeaning in her apparent servitude. She was the power behind the throne, the uncompromising promoter of Gertrude’s talent and the manager of both their lives. She shaped their fame and promoted their public image. Those who wanted to see Gertrude were first checked out by Alice, and if Alice did not approve, they were turned away. It was she who selected the motto ‘a rose is a rose is a rose’ to appear in a circle on Gertrude’s stationery. Gertrude first used the words in a poem called ‘Sacred Emily.’ Above everything, Alice ensured that the quality of their daily life was orderly and agreeable. She cultivated the art of enjoyable living. Food, friendship, travel, painting, literature and conversation were its main ingredients.

But success, at least by way of cultural acclaim, came late in Stein’s life — by the time of her first bestseller, she was 58. Having just reached the zenith of her fame, Stein succumbed to cancer, leaving Alice widowed and heartbroken. Despite her own devastation, however, Alice once again put her love of Gertrude first: Per Stein’s will, Alice was free to sell anything she wished from Gertrude’s voluminous and prized art collection, valued at $6 million by 1967; but she knew how important these pictures were to Gertrude, so she set out to do anything she could to survive while keeping the collection intact. The Cookbook might have been her lifelong dream, but its ultimate manifestation was a survivalist business decision, its publication a source of income above all else. That it went on to become a cultural classic in its own right was, as far as Alice might be posthumously concerned, a side of fortuitous chance, sprinkled with kismet.

Timid as she might have been in appearance and eating habits, Toklas was unafraid of having a commanding point of view when it came to the theory and practice of cuisine:

To cook as the French do one must respect the quality and flavour of the ingredients. Exaggeration is not admissible. Flavours are not all amalgamative. These qualities are not purchasable but may be cultivated. The haute cuisine has arrived at the enviable state of reacting instinctively to these known principles.

For mussels, noting that “if one likes mussels at all one likes them madly,” Toklas offers a fennel sauce:

The mussels can be served cold with a

FENNEL SAUCE

made by adding 1 whole fennel, cooked covered in boiling salted water for 3 minutes, removed from water, drained, pressed and wiped dry. Then chop very fine and add to a sauce mousseline.

Much of the book uses the recipes as anchors for autobiographical and historical narratives. Her hot chocolate recipe, for instance, is served amidst the context of the war-torn Paris in the latter part of WWI in 1917, where Stein and Toklas volunteered to drive food and wood to hospitals in their ancient Model T Ford, lovingly nicknamed Auntie after Stein’s Aunt Puline:

Aunt Pauline had been militarised and so could be requisitioned for any use connected with the wounded. Gertrude Stein evacuated the wounded who came into [the luxury hotel] Nîmes on the ambulance trains. Material from our unit organised and supplied a small first-aid operating room. The Red Cross nuns in the best French manner served in large bowls to the wounded piping

HOT CHOCOLATE

3 ozs melted chocolate to 1 quart hot milk. Bring to a boil and simmer for ½ hour. Then beat for 5 minutes. The nuns made huge quantities in copper cauldrons, so that the whisk they used was huge and heavy. We all took turns beating.

Aunt Pauline was succeeded by Lady Godiva, thusly named because she came to Toklas and Stein stripped of everything on her dashboard, naked in the way only an open two-seater Ford could be in post-WWI France.

A chapter titled “Recipes from Friends” invites contributions from Stein and Toklas’s social circle. Several come from poet Mary Oliver, at the time in her late teens, in a delightful micro-predecessor to the 1973 gem John Keats’s Porridge: Favorite Recipes of American Poets. In one, Oliver offers:

PILAW STELLA MARIS DE PORTO FINO

Cut up one small octopus, remove bone from interior. Dip particles in honey, roll in paprika, then plunge in batter mixed with garlic. Boil in olive oil. Serve with rice; with a sauce made with tomatoes over it, white wine, green peppers and finely diced mushrooms.

Morocco-based painter and writer Brion Gysin, a friend of Gertrude’s in the 1930s, wrote in with a recipe for hashish fudge, complete with notes on growing cannabis at home. Naively, Alice included it and a publicity crisis ensued. Harpers, the book’s publisher, eventually sent a telegram to the Attorney-General to check if they were in legal trouble and, if so, whether they should halt the printing. (They were not; they did not.) Some even argued Alice had included the recipe as a publicity stunt.

HASHISH FUDGE
(which anyone could whip up on a rainy day)

This is the food of paradise — of Baudelaire’s Artificial Paradises: it might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies’ Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR. In Morocco it is thought to be good for warding off the common cold in damp winter weather and is, indeed, more effective if taken with large quantities of hot mint tea. Euphoria and brilliant storms of laughter; ecstatic reveries and extensions of one’s personality on several simultaneous planes are to be complacently expected. Almost anything Saint Theresa did, you can do better if you can bear to be ravished by ‘un évanouissement reveillé‘.

Take 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 whole nutmeg, 4 average sticks of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon coriander. These should all be pulverised in a mortar. About a handful each of stoned dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts: chop these and mix them together. A bunch of Cannabis sativa can be pulverised. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of butter. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut, it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient.

Obtaining the Cannabis may present certain difficulties, but the variety known as Cannabis sativa grows as a common weed, often unrecognised, everywhere in Europe, Asia and parts of Africa; besides being cultivated as a crop for the manufacture of rope. In the Americas, while often discouraged, its cousin, called Cannabis indica, has been observed even in city window boxes. It should be picked and dried as soon as it has gone to seed and while the plant is still green.

The tome is a gem in its entirety, full of mouthwatering recipes from the golden age of cooking and fascinating vignettes from the lives of Toklas and Stein against a broader cultural and historical backdrop. Even if you can’t get a hold of the Folio edition, the classic one is well worth a read.

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18 DECEMBER, 2012

5½ Favorite Food Books of 2012

By:

From Thomas Jefferson to the secret history of coffee, by way of urban farming and Downton Abbey.

Following this year’s best science books, art books, design books, philosophy and psychology books, children’s books, history books, and graphic novels and graphic nonfiction, the 2012 best-of reading lists continue with the annual roundup of the year’s favorite food-related reads. (Catch up on last year’s omnibus here.)

THOMAS JEFFERSON’S CREME BRÛLÉE

If you, like me, believed that Julia Child brought French cuisine to America, you’re off — nearly two centuries off. It turns out we owe the feat to Thomas Jefferson, who in 1784 made a deal with one of his slaves, 19-year-old James “Jame” Hemmings, to apprentice him to one of France’s finest chefs. In exchange for going along with the plan, Jefferson would grant Jame his freedom. “Thus began the most interesting and influential culinary partnership in American history,” writes Thomas J. Craughwell in Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brûlée: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America (UK; public library). But perhaps most fascinating in Craughwell’s account is the role Jefferson played in championing vegetables and minimal animal products more than 200 years before Michael Pollan, popularizing indispensable plant species previously thought inedible, and even pioneering modern-day buzzword concepts like urban farming.

For starters, Jefferson took special pride in his diet. In a letter to his physician in 1819, he wrote:

I have lived temperately, eating little animal food, and that not as an aliment, so much as a condiment for the vegetables which constitute my principal diet.

And it was an active, actionable pride that he backed with practical tactics. Craughwell writes:

In his thousand-foot-long vegetable garden, Jefferson grew almost all the vegetables, fruits, and herbs he needed to feed himself, his family, and their guests. Over a period of nearly sixty years, he experimented with ninety-nine species of vegetables and three hundred thirty varieties. He also cultivated plants that were unknown in his neighbors’ gardens, including tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and peanuts.

Jefferson was ahead of his time in many ways, including the intersection of food and aesthetics and the notion of edible architecture:

The man who built one of the most beautiful homes in eighteenth-century America also desired his garden to be visually appealing. Along the border of the square in which he grew tomatoes, for example, he planted okra and sesame plants. The smooth, red skin of the tomatoes contrasted with the tough, deep green of the okra, while the sesame plant, standing five or six feet tall, added height and visual interest. When he planted eggplant, he alternated white and purple varieties. The cherry trees he placed along the walkway through the garden, where they would provide shade.

So intense was Jefferson’s passion for vegetation that he once wrote:

There is not a shoot of grass that springs uninteresting to me.

More than mere curiosity, however, Jefferson’s relationship with vegetables was an almost political one, reining in monumental cultural shifts in culinary perceptions:

He was one of the first Virginians to grow and eat tomatoes, or ‘tomatas,’ as he called them. Most Americans thought the tomato was poisonous (and, indeed, it is a member of the deadly nightshade family, though its low toxicity levels pose no risk to humans), and so it was an astonishing event when, in 1806, Jefferson served them to guests at the President’s House.

He also had a soft spot for cabbage:

[Étienne Lemaire, Jefferson’s maître d’hôtel] records fifty-one purchases in 1806 alone. At Monticello, Jefferson not only raised his own cabbage — eighteen varieties in al — he also bought some from his slaves. Closely related to cabbage is sea kale, which was also grown at Monticello; Jefferson found a variety that was perennial, thus eliminating the expense of purchasing seedlings every year.

His plant pioneering didn’t stop there:

In 1812 Jefferson became the first gardener in his neighborhood to plant the hot Texas bird pepper, which his cooks used to spice up sauces. And he must have been fond of asparagus, too. Although he devoted only one square in his garden to the vegetable, he tended it with special care, mulching the plot with tobacco leaves and fertilizing it with manure. His Garden Book includes entires for twenty-two years that record the date on which the first plate of asparagus was brought to his table.

In another chapter on how Jefferson pioneered African dishes at the Monticello, Craughwell shares the Founding Father’s curious coffee recipe:

On one measure of the coffee ground into meal pour three measures of boiling water.

boil on hot ashes lined with coal till the meal disappears from the top, when it will be precipitated.

pour in three times through a flannel strainer.

it will yield 2 1/3 measures of clear coffee.

an ounce of coffee meal makes 1 ½ cup of clear coffee in this way.

the flannel must be rinsed out in hot or cold water for every making.

The rest of Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brûlée is an equally delectable chronicle of the beloved Founding Father, political philosopher, amateur naturalist, and zealous bibliophile’s lesser-known but remarkable contributions to modern cuisine and food politics.

Originally featured in November.

URBAN FARMS

In Urban Farms (UK; public library), writer and editor Sarah C. Rich, who also happens to be a dear friend, explores the state and future of urban farming at the intersection of food politics, sustainability, and the DIY movement through the stories of 16 bleeding-edge urban farms and the brilliant, wholehearted people behind them. Covering farms as diverse as a vast compound enlisting multiple ecosystems and the rooftop of a ghost duplex on a dead-end street, the tome features lavish photographs by Matthew Benson that instantly transport you to the richest, freshest core of urban farming. Alongside the absorbing profiles are intelligent tips on beekeeping, composting, canning, and more ways of practical engagement.

Sarah writes in the introduction:

Urban farming is a uniquely powerful tool of change, in that it can simultaneously reshape the places where we live and the way we eat. It is also uniquely accessible — available to grassroots change agents and high-ranking policymakers alike.

THE BEST ILLUSTRATED COCKTAILS

From brother-sister creative duo Nate Padavick and Salli Swindell, the fine folks who brought us They Draw & Cook, comes The Best Illustrated Cocktail Recipes: Created by Artists from Around the World (UK) — a compendium of 24 wonderfully illustrated libations, from timeless classics to kooky holiday concoctions, a kind of modern-day visual equivalent to the 1930 gem The Savoy Cocktail Book.

Also from the series, out this season: The Colorful Vegetarian: 30 Colorfully Illustrated Recipes.

THE UNOFFICIAL DOWNTON ABBEY COOKBOOK

With a documented soft spot for cross-disciplinary cookbooks and the intersection of food and fiction, I was instantly adrool over The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook: From Lady Mary’s Crab Canapes to Mrs. Patmore’s Christmas Pudding (UK; public library) by baker and writer Emily Ansara Baines, who brings us “more than 150 recipes from upstairs and downstairs.” Whether you’re in the mood for Mr. Bates’ chicken and mushroom pie or Sybil’s ginger nut biscuits, each delicious bite of these surprisingly approachable dishes is a tiny time machine that transports you right back to the post-Edwardian era.

And for the hopeless tea-lovers among us, there’s an entire chapter dedicated to tea time. (Mrs. Isobel Crawley’s smoked salmon tea sandwiches — enough said.)

For a warm-up, watch the Dowager Countess make a proper cup of tea in between essential gossip:

Complement with the vintage gem John Keats’s Porridge: Favorite Recipes of American Poets.

Originally featured in September.

A SECRET HISTORY OF COFFEE, COCA & COLA

From Ricardo Cortés, the illustrator behind the irreverent modern classic Go The Fuck To Sleep, comes A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola (UK; public library) — a fascinating and beautifully illustrated piece of visual journalism, six years in the making, tracing the little-known interwoven histories of coffee, the coca leaf and kola nut, Coca-Cola, caffeine, and cocaine, within a larger subtext of the role of prohibition in modern culture. (It was also among the year’s best graphic novels and graphic nonfiction.)

Like most recreational drugs, cocaine got its start as a medical aid, and like many modern psychological fixations, it goes back to Freud. Cortés explores its cultural evolution and the eventual synthesis of coke into Coke:

At first, experiments with cocaine were confined to medical practice.

In 1884, Sigmund Freud began to use it as a treatment for depression. He was enthralled by the ‘magical substance’ and enthusiastically introduced it to colleagues and friends, including an oculist named Carl Koller. By then, cocaine’s numbing effect had been observed on the tongue. Koller tested cocaine as a regional anesthetic; first on the eyes of animals and then his own. His discovery was a medical revolution.

Previously, surgeries were performed with general anesthesia or none at all. Ether and chloroform allowed severe operations without pain, although with significant risks from inducing unconsciousness. As the first true local anesthetic, cocaine opened the practice of surgery to previously impossible procedures.

Cocaine’s popularity spread to other branches of therapy, and its use quickly grew beyond anesthesia and melancholia.

Cocaine eased toothaches and labor pains. It was said to cure fatigue, nervousness, impotence, even addiction to the opium poppy’s alkaloid morphine. ‘Coke’ could be purchased in asthma medicines, snuffs, and tonics like Coca-Cola — ‘The Brain Workers’ Panacea,’ touted to relieve mental and physical exhaustion, was first sold in
1886.

But as a lover of letters, I find the most fascinating part of the book to be the prolific correspondence between legendary Bureau of Prohibition anti-drug kingpin Harry J. Anslinger, who spent 42 years pioneering and enforcing anti-narcotic policies in America, and Coca-Cola executive Ralph Hayes, which Cortés uncovered in the course of his research. These documents, spanning several decades of friendly exchange, reveal Anslinger’s instrumental role in helping Coke not only to import coca leaves legally, an activity otherwise illegal in the US, but also to do so with exclusive rights.

The book is partly a response, but mostly a stubborn yet thoughtful retort to critical reactions to Cortés’s 2005 science picture-book It’s Just a Plant: A Children’s Story of Marijuana and sarcastic comments about whether teaching kids about cocaine would be next.

Cortés ends with a wonderful throw-back to an obscure Bach cantata about coffee, displaying the composer’s uncommon sense of humor:

The cat won’t stop catching mice,
and young ladies will hold to their coffee. Mother loves her coffee,
Grandmother drinks it, too.
Who, in the end, would scold the daughters?

“Although I caught a buzz last year as the illustrator of Go The Fuck To Sleep,” Cortés tells me, “my real interest is studying the evolution of legal and cultural taboos against inebriates (especially biota).” And, indeed, it shows — A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola is as thoroughly researched and absorbingly narrated as it is charmingly illustrated.

Originally featured earlier this month.

BONUS: APPETITE FOR LIFE

In 1997, Noël Riley Fitch released the only authorized biography of legendary chef Julia Child, based on her private diaries and letters, her personal archives, and a number of exclusive interviews. The result was an intimate glimpse of the icon’s culinary mastery and personal life, from how she arrived at her calling to the secrets of a fifty-year marriage. Though not officially a new release and not exactly a “food book” per se, Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child (UK; public library) was published in a new paperback edition this year, in time for Child’s centennial.

Fitch writes in the 2012 introduction:

She strove to be fun-loving and spontaneous, just like her mother. Yet she also wrote otherwise: ‘It’s the discipline. That is the thing.’ She would deliberately cultivate a protective detachment.

[…]

Looking back on Julia’s remarkable life as we celebrate the hundredth anniversary of her birth, it is clear that she belongs in the pantheon of great American teachers. She taught with panache, careful preparation, and a seemingly casual air that gave confidence to every cook. That she was occasionally personally clumsy only validated and amused her television ‘students.’ The became in everyday life the Julia she had been on camera. Her professional and personal life have much to teach us today.

Complement with the fantastic As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, which gave us Child’s timeless lessons in friendship, self-publishing entrepreneurship, and perseverance in the face of rejection.

Donating = Loving

In 2012, bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings took more than 5,000 hours. If you found any joy and stimulation here this year, please consider becoming a Member and supporting with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of coffee and a fancy dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

11 DECEMBER, 2012

A Secret Illustrated History of Coffee, Coca, and Cola

By:

What America’s premier anti-drug autocrat has to do with Bach and helping Coke import illegal coca leaves.

On the heels of the year’s best picture-books and the question of what makes a great one comes A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola (UK; public library) by Ricardo Cortés, the illustrator behind the irreverent modern classic Go The Fuck To Sleep. This fascinating and beautifully illustrated piece of visual journalism, six years in the making, traces the little-known interwoven histories of coffee, the coca leaf and kola nut, Coca-Cola, caffeine, and cocaine, within a larger subtext of the role of prohibition in modern culture.

Like most recreational drugs, cocaine got its start as a medical aid, and like many modern psychological fixations, it goes back to Freud. Cortés explores its cultural evolution and the eventual synthesis of coke into Coke:

At first, experiments with cocaine were confined to medical practice.

In 1884, Sigmund Freud began to use it as a treatment for depression. He was enthralled by the ‘magical substance’ and enthusiastically introduced it to colleagues and friends, including an oculist named Carl Koller. By then, cocaine’s numbing effect had been observed on the tongue. Koller tested cocaine as a regional anesthetic; first on the eyes of animals and then his own. His discovery was a medical revolution.

Previously, surgeries were performed with general anesthesia or none at all. Ether and chloroform allowed severe operations without pain, although with significant risks from inducing unconsciousness. As the first true local anesthetic, cocaine opened the practice of surgery to previously impossible procedures.

Cocaine’s popularity spread to other branches of therapy, and its use quickly grew beyond anesthesia and melancholia.

Cocaine eased toothaches and labor pains. It was said to cure fatigue, nervousness, impotence, even addiction to the opium poppy’s alkaloid morphine. ‘Coke’ could be purchased in asthma medicines, snuffs, and tonics like Coca-Cola — ‘The Brain Workers’ Panacea,’ touted to relieve mental and physical exhaustion, was first sold in
1886.

But as a lover of letters, I find the most fascinating part of the book to be the prolific correspondence between legendary Bureau of Prohibition anti-drug kingpin Harry J. Anslinger, who spent 42 years pioneering and enforcing anti-narcotic policies in America, and Coca-Cola executive Ralph Hayes, which Cortés uncovered in the course of his research. These documents, spanning several decades of friendly exchange, reveal Anslinger’s instrumental role in helping Coke not only to import coca leaves legally, an activity otherwise illegal in the US, but also to do so with exclusive rights.

The book is partly a response, but mostly a stubborn yet thoughtful retort to critical reactions to Cortés’s 2005 science picture-book It’s Just a Plant: A Children’s Story of Marijuana and sarcastic comments about whether teaching kids about cocaine would be next.

Cortés ends with a wonderful throw-back to an obscure Bach cantata about coffee, displaying the composer’s uncommon sense of humor:

The cat won’t stop catching mice,
and young ladies will hold to their coffee. Mother loves her coffee,
Grandmother drinks it, too.
Who, in the end, would scold the daughters?

“Although I caught a buzz last year as the illustrator of Go The Fuck To Sleep,” Cortés tells me, “my real interest is studying the evolution of legal and cultural taboos against inebriates (especially biota).” And, indeed, it shows — A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola is as thoroughly researched and absorbingly narrated as it is charmingly illustrated.

Images courtesy Ricardo Cortés / Akashic Books

Donating = Loving

In 2012, bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings took more than 5,000 hours. If you found any joy and stimulation here this year, please consider becoming a Member and supporting with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of coffee and a fancy dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.