Your mind and body both need nourishment — and luckily, cooking and reading are two of the best activities you can engage in this Friday. Read on to find out about the cookbooks you’re missing, the history of watermelons, how to throw a fabulous book-themed party and the future of apples (trust us, it’s cool). You’ll come away from it feeling full … of knowledge.
Fiona Zublin, senior editor
snacks of the moment
1. It's a Real Picnic
Living off the fat of the land isn’t just for farmers. In Helsinki, there’s a growing urban-foraging movement whose proponents visit local parks to partake of the berries and leaves they scavenge. Finland’s passion for foraging actually began during a period of postwar poverty, but in the now-prosperous nation it’s more of a foodie hobby. Why not take a look around your favorite green space and see whether you can find yourself a snack? Nettles make great pesto, and mushrooms — as long as you know what you’re looking for — often grow wild.
As long as there are watermelons, it’s still summer. But this Renaissance painting shows starkly how much watermelons have changed over the last few centuries, bred into the gigantic, delicious behemoths we know and love. The beautiful spirals displayed in the painting aren’t just artistic license: They’re called “starring” and can happen when the fruit is deprived of pollen.
3. A Working Lunch
Currywurst is one of Germany’s iconic dishes, so it’s no surprise that the 60,000 workers at Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg factory — the world’s largest — love eating it. In fact, Volkswagen makes its own wurst based on a secret recipe from its internal butchery, and sells what its workers don’t eat to the public. That means the iconic car company’s best-selling product isn’t actually a car, but a sausage (and yes, there is a vegan version).
In France, Les Frigos Solidaires are helping their neighbors … with leftovers. The community fridges, maintained by local businesses, help reduce food waste and keep people from going hungry. The French wasted 233 pounds of food per person as of 2017 (way less than the U.S. total of 612 pounds), so the fridges, which are cheap to install, turn out to be a win for everybody. The trend is starting to bloom in other countries, including the U.S. Could you do something similar in your community?
Addicted to books? Yeah, us too. In fact, so many people are that there’s a word for book addiction: Lesesucht, coined in the 1700s when Germans thought reading too many novels was bad for your brain. Of course, that’s lasted into the modern era — remember how freaked out people were about girls’ obsession with Twilight? And very few of them actually became vampires.
There’s a paradise for those addicted to reading — but it’s in Wales. Tiny Hay-on-Wye has staked its reputation on being the most book-friendly small town on the planet, claiming that it has more bookshops per capita than anywhere else. To be fair, that’s only two dozen bookstores — but with a population that barely tops 1,500, it’s still extraordinary.
This autumn will see an abnormal number of books hit shelves — and with that comes production challenges. America’s biggest printing companies have been struggling in recent years, and while the surge of interest in print books is good news for the industry, it also means there’s a massive backlog at printers. And while first-time authors are likely to be affected most, heavy hitters like Martin Amis have also had their books delayed and may be caught in the same bind.
4. Getting Spooky for Halloween
Alma Katsu spent most of her career working for the NSA and the CIA, stomping out evil around the world. But her second career gets into more paranormal territory: Her history-inspired novels re-imagine iconic events like the Donner Party or the sinking of the Titanic, but add paranormal elements like ghosts. As Halloween approaches, it’s the perfect time to bone up on historical facts (and fictions) with Katsu’s oeuvre.
If you’re sick of flashy restaurant recipes, dive into the cozy, unpretentious world of vintage community cookbooks. Filled with sacred family recipes, these books also provide a fascinating look into the neighborhoods that produced them, and help the home chefs of today feel connected to cooks of 50 years ago who gave us recipes like Hattie’s Never-Fail Southern Fried Chicken. Now, these long-neglected recipe books are getting new life online, with communities sharing recipes via Google Docs in the modern incarnation of a very old trend.
2. No Photos, Please
The Short Stack cookbook series also has a vintage feel, taking its inspiration from midcentury recipe pamphlets with each edition focusing on a single standout ingredient like cheddar or lemons. The lack of photos will keep you from focusing on the instagrammability of the dish and focus instead on taste. Plus the books are cute and collectible. If you’re looking for a place to start, try the pamphlet dedicated to tomatoes. The green shakshuka recipe is amazing.
Read a food blog lately? Then you’ve probably weighed in, at least mentally, on the dumbest foodie argument of our time: Should recipe blogs and cookbooks include a personal essay, or just get right to the good stuff? Some love the personal touch and heartfelt writing; others just want food in their faces as fast as possible. The latter group is increasingly using browser extensions to skip straight to the recipe and never learn why it’s so important to the blogger in question.
books you can cook
1. Throwing the Book at Party Time
Want to get really into your party decor? These recipes and tips will help you throw some theme nights based on best-selling books like Gabriel García Márquez’s exquisite Love in the Time of Cholera, complete with mango parfaits and little envelopes scattered around to represent the love letters in the novel.
2. Fun With Fictional Food
We’ve all finished a dinner scene in a novel and thought “I want that.”Well, now there’s a book to help you out. The Little Library Cookbook is full of recipes mimicking literature’s most iconic meals, like the spanakopita from Middlesex and the midnight feast in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The cookbook works both ways: You can seek out your favorite books, and the recipes may also inspire you to dig into Anna Karenina or Norwegian Wood for the first time after you taste the food.
3. Game Night With a Twist
Or you could always make it into a game. Australian designer Jenn Sandercock designed every game in her Edible Games cookbook to be eaten — usually as you play. The book includes a French Resistance-themed escape game that allows you to practice your patisserie skills, and others that require markedly less preparation. If you’re not sure whether it’s for you, try Flip ’n’ Stick, which requires Nutella, M&M’s, cookies, some friends, decent aim and an appetite.
New treaties being forged in the Middle East are giving way to new tourism — and thus new fusion cuisines. Today’s is Kosherati, aka kosher Jewish food with an Emirati twist, as served by the UAE’s most of-the-moment Dubai caterer, Elli Kriel. The Orthodox chef was asked to prepare a kosher banquet for U.S. and Israeli dignitaries while Israel and the UAE were normalizing relations, and now she’s expanding her business to cater to all the new Israeli tourists expected in Dubai.
Quinoa was just the beginning. A cultural craze for ancient grains is ramping up, and that means you may soon be seeing teff, amaranth and buckwheat making a comeback on your plate as farmers experiment with the resilience of the OG carbs. With crop diversity on the decline around the world, an interest in long-neglected grains could make a real change to the way modern cultures approach agriculture.
Cosmic Crisp. SnapDragon. No, these aren’t new Pokémon — they’re just a few of the newly engineered varieties of apples that have entered the scene in recent years: In fact, in the past seven years the world has welcomed 25 new apple varieties. That’s driven by breeders but also consumers, who are paying more attention to apple varieties and demanding strains specifically suited to pies, salads or whatever else they feel like cooking. Of course, that makes for crowded supermarket produce sections, which could mean that older, familiar varieties find themselves bumped out of the barrel.