Book review: Cooked by Michael Pollan

Cooked: A Natural History of TransformationCooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not the sort of book I normally read, but my husband recommended it, and his judgment on what I would like is usually impeccable. Michael Pollan divides the origin of cooking into four areas based on the four traditional elements: fire (barbecue/roasting), water (braises & stews), air (bread/baking), and earth (pickling/fermentation). In each section, he speculates as to the origin of the technique and follows experts in that particular area while practicing his cooking skills in that particular area.
I am not much of a cook, but I do like to bake, and I found the book to be interesting, informative and thought-provoking. The author discusses the proliferation of pre-packaged foods and its impact on American society, and suggests that a return to home-made meals would do more to improve the fabric of society than merely adding nutritional benefits. It’s an interesting theory and a nice hook. I found the discussion about techniques and his experiences with learning new skills and the evolution of cooking in those four elements to be particularly interesting and entertaining.
Even if this type of book is outside your comfort zone, I highly recommend giving it a try. It is filled with interesting information and thoughtful experiences. The author also includes recipes (one for each element) at the end of the book to try. I can vouch for the sugo recipe (it’s the only one we’ve tried so far).

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