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Author David Adler
Publisher Three Rivers Press
The Life and Cuisine of Elvis Presley is a book about the food that made The King. It doesn’t try to hound (dog) you into trying all of the recipes (wise men say only fools rush in, but we can’t help falling for much of the cuisine on offer) but this is, nevertheless, a compelling read that links the life of Elvis Presley with the food that he consumed.
The book starts earlier than you might expect, opening by discussing the dishes that his mother Gladys would have eaten, connecting her diet with the availability of food and Tupelo society at the time, providing a useful context for the rest of the book. It then goes on to discuss the school dinners the young Elvis ate and the 1950’s diner years – indeed it covers all aspects of food from throughout his life, from his years in the army, eating with the other soldiers in the mess, and the celluloid culinary choices of a Hollywood star to lunching in Las Vegas.
But the book doesn’t just deal with the social context it also covers the fluctuation between the habits and culinary needs of Elvis himself, from snacking to dieting (the helpfully titled “Love Me Slender” chapter). And here lies much of the interest beyond the man himself, because you get an in-depth look at southern state food and culture, notably in the “Bible Belt Brunch” page that has two dishes, the 7-Up Salad, which seems light on the salad (the nearest vegetable-related ingredient is a crushed pineapple) but high on 7-Up and gelatine, with added green colouring should you like, and the “magnificent Southern delicacy” Chess Pie. This super sweet pie dessert sounds like an incredibly sugary treat, although you’d probably only be able to manage ‘Just A Little Bit’. Further cakes and pies are available including a guide to making the wedding cake produced for Elvis and Priscilla. The recipe comes straight from the source at the Aladdin Hotel so you can create your own version of the real thing should a happy day arrive for you or a friend/relative.
There are a substantial amount of recipes on offer here, varying in ingredients, creation and calories. And these are often variations on classic or regional dishes (Miss Vertie’s Sweet Potato Pie and her Corn Bread) to the unique aspects of Elvis’s dietary oddities in the Graceland years including the legendary Fool’s Gold Loaf (‘Fools Rush In Where Angels Fear to Tread’), his favourite pizza (Coletta’s Barbecue Pizza) and his culinary invention, the simple and tasty Peanut Butter & Cheese Sandwich (a variant on an old roadhouse favourite of his younger years, the Fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich, but easier to make at home). There is even a useful shopping list should you wish to attempt to cook the recipes provided – but presumably ‘It’s Impossible’ to obtain the variety of cigars in the shopping list these days.
The helpfully detailed and nicely laid out recipe guides add to this a very interesting biographical cookbook. Once read it will be ‘Always On Your Mind’.
by Niki Segnit
Most cookery books have a picture of beautifully presented delicious food on the cover to tantalise the tastebuds. The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit is just as enticing but from an entirely different perspective.
It’s a large colour wheel or, more precisely, half a colour wheel that adorns the front cover. Fear not, if you open to the very first page, the full colour wheel is revealed in all its glory and immediately the purpose of The Flavour Thesaurus becomes clear.
The book’s aim is to demonstrate how different flavours can complement each other. So the colour wheel represents a number of flavours which are divided into particular categories. Meaty, cheesy, marine are straightforward definitions, more descriptive definitions include earthy, mustardy, spicy, woodland. Fruity is further split so that you can fresh, floral or creamy fruity. Then each category has sub-categories which represent the ingredients’ flavours. So meaty comprises: chicken, pork, black pudding, liver, beef, lamb whereas creamy fruity has: banana, melon, apricot, peach, coconut, mango.
And that’s just the first page. After a brief introduction to the purpose of the project, Segnit then launches straight into the thesaurus element. Each flavour category has a chapter and each ingredient within that category its own section. Where the ingredient complements another flavour in the thesaurus Segnit then writes up a paragraph explaining how the particular flavours complement each other with maybe an interesting anecdote thrown in and a high-level but perfectly functional recipe to get your creative cookery juices flowing. These also reference chefs, cooks and food critics’ recipes and opinions (sometimes conflicting) on the success – or not – of the combinations. And these recipes aren’t restricted to western palettes the flavours are derived from all over the world.
Some of the combinations are, of course, tried and tested classics, others more surprising. Who knew, for example, that the Russian Tsar’s children tucked into caviar and mashed banana for breakfast? Or that chocolate might complement cauliflower? Or that blueberries work well with mushrooms?
As well as being a cookery book that is fun simply to read, it also encourages you to experiment. Open the store cupboard, have a poke inside and see what ingredients are there to put together. Who knows what flavour combination you might discover?
You can buy The Flavour Thesaurus by clicking the picture below.