‘The Edible Atlas’ by Mina Holland – Review

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Any food book citing our heroine- the American food writer Laurie Colwin (who died tragically young) as an influence has an automatic advantage conferred upon it in our eyes. Referencing Colwin’s Lo-Fi Batterie De Cuisine as aspirational in its pared back aesthetic and cut to the chase necessity, Holland’s own book is paying its literary and culinary dues.

Holland’s gentle and scholarly approach starts with a wander through the subject of the Grape and particularly the European Grape before settling in for a chat about France, focusing upon selected departements and acknowledging their collective status as gastronomic High Priestess. Both rural, home cooking and the more esoteric Michelin starry eyed high jinks are given the nod and in one short passage we have Escoffier, Bourdain and El Bulli name checked. Holland knows her onions. Or should that be oignons?

We roam the highways and byways of the great cuisines of the World charmed and distracted by all manner of tables, graphs and statistical fancies, charting their cross pollination and Darwinian fight for supremacy. Europe to the Middle East, Asia to Africa and onto the Americas, we have breadth but not deep meta analysis. Some regions are skated over- we get a reduction of China into two of its ‘ingredients’ Szechuanese and Cantonese cooking suggesting that Holland felt less assured of her ability to do China justice. To be fair to her, China really is too large for any section in a wider ranging book to do it justice.

Spiked with autobiographical detail and quirky word play- Chile names depicted as swaggering and sinister members of a Barrio Gang- Ancho, Piquin, Cascabel and Habanero delighted us. Recipes are offered at the end of each section; chosen by the author to best represent a region and accompanied by ingredient glossaries that are in themselves, masterpieces of time, place and description.

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