Friday, February 02, 2007

At a Loss for Words... And Then...

Apart from a brief mention on Ethicurean, I don't know if anybody else has blogged this bit of sad news. Last week, Sharon Tyler Herbst, author of The Food Lover's Companion, died.
You probably already know about this fantastically useful dictionary that teaches you hundreds and hundreds of things such as the names of all those crazy pasta shapes, or what a bain-marie is (but it doesn't tell you why it's called that, darn).
You may own a copy of the book yourself. And perhaps you know that it's available to browse online, free, via
Herbst and her husband wrote other food and wine books, too, but I don't want this to turn into one of those long obituary-type tributes. I just wanted to say how pained I was by the news of her passing, partly because she and I had chatted on the phone a few times five years ago, when she still lived in Marin County. I had something to do with assigning stories back then, and I had arranged for a freelancer to do a little profile on her, complete with a cute photo. She was cute. (The piece is not available online, sorry.)
I'm trying for a happy ending here, folks, really I am.
OK. So then yesterday I spotted a new dictionary about food terms. DairyQueen, at Ethicurean (she loves some tasty wordplay, yes she does), pointed me toward The Devil's Food Dictionary, an incipient site (seriously, I think he's still working on it) by one Barry Foy for some very funny, smirky, snarky definitions. (E.g.: "shad — past tense of shid." Or, "tuna — Excellent raw, cooked in any way, or canned, this sleek, majestic, powerful animal is so delicious that we have decided not to waste any of it on future generations.")
I am just kicking myself that he beat me to this project. Well, no. I'm just kicking myself that I didn't think of that title first. It's a perfect culinary spin on the old Ambrose Bierce book of wry definitions, The Devil's Dictionary, and Foy seems to be following in Bierce's literary footprints with cunning precision.
That cheers me up a bit.

Photo credit:


kudzu said...

You're right about Sharon Herbst's really valuable contribution to food lit. Sorry to lose someone of her sharp talent -- and in the same week as Molly Ivins, my heroine.

Thanks for the links to new pursuits, esp. Devil's Food. I am going there right now to cheer myself up.

Anonymous said...

The term bain-marie originates from alchemy, where some practitioners needed to give their materials prolonged periods of gentle heating, in an attempt to mimic the supposed natural processes whereby precious metals germinated in the earth. It was said to be an invention of Mary the Jewess, an ancient alchemist and traditionally supposed to have been Miriam, a sister of Moses. The name comes from this tradition: balneum Mariae in medieval Latin, from which the French bain de Marie is derived, although, in the French wikipedia the coinage of the term is attributed to the medieval German philosopher, theologian, and chemist/alchemist Saint Albert the Great (1193-1280).

kathyF said...

Great minds were thinking alike.

Jennifer Jeffrey said...

That's really sad. And from ovarian cancer... that's one of those that deserves more research $$.

tammy said...

What a loss. That book has been my bible for years.

I have been enjoying the Devil's Food version, though.

Shauna said...

Oh no! My lovely chef uses that book every day, in his search for the latest taste.

So sad.

Catherine said...

How sad. I love the FLC but also Never Eat More Than You Can Lift.

jeanne bee said...

such sad news, I feel fortunate that I met her a few years ago at Copia. I gushed over her and her gift to home chefs everywhere.

Jack said...

I was a big fan of her Wine Lover's Companion - for quite awhile it was my go to wine book to figure out what grape was in a French or Italian wine.

cookiecrumb said...

Kudzu: I'm assuming you had met Herbst. What a loss. (And to think I had buried my nose in her book for so long without realizing she lived in the Bay Area.)

Anonymous: Yes, Wikipedia. Thanks.

KathyF: Hm.

Jennifer: One of the scariest cancers for women, I think.

Tammy: Yeah, I'm checking back on Monday to see new daffynitions.

Shauna: Fortunately he can still use it. I can't predict what will happen to the possibility of future revisions, though.

Catherine: I'll take a look at that one. Thanks.

Jeanne Bee: Lucky you. Her book is also a gift to newspaper food sections everywhere, so they can spell-check, etc. A real standard.

Jack: That's a fine endorsement.