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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Jim Harrison’s writing fills your mouth. I’m not suggesting that you eat his pages -- that’s a personal decision -- but when one of Harrison’s hefty phrases rolls off a thick paragraph, you really must chew on it a while. Try this: “We proceeded through a soup of white beans and plump mussels, roasted eel, a simple pasta of basil and fresh tomatoes, roasted squab in garlic sauces, a number of bottles of Tuscan wine, a tasting of fine grappas.” Or this: “We ate half a pound of Beluga with a bottle of Stolichnaya, a salmon in sorrel sauce, sweetbreads en croute, a miniature leg of lamb (the whole thing) with five wines, desserts, cheeses, ports. I stumbled to the toilet...in a near greasy faint.” Harrison’s a glutton for language, whether high-flown or rank, and in this collection of his writing about food we are treated to a sensual overload of both.
The Raw and the Cooked is divided into three series of essays: Hunting for food, dining out, and culinary friendships. But despite this clever grouping, each essay seems separate, complete with its own memories and aromas. In “Hunger, Real and Unreal,” for example, Harrison reflects on what makes a dish truly great. Though he has dined in the most extraordinary kitchens, Harrison reminds us that the most delicious meals are as simple as the one he shared with two gardeners in Normandy: “They had cored a half-dozen big red tomatoes, stuffed the tomatoes with softened cloves of garlic, added a sprig of thyme and a basil leaf and couple of tablespoons of soft cheese. They roasted the tomatoes until they softened and the cheese melted.... A simple snack, but indescribably delicious.” In “Back Home,” Harrison offers up a tiny paean to the delights of cupboard food: Saltines, sardines, and head cheese with Chinese mustard.
Harrison is best known for his poetry and fiction; his work, including the popular Legends of the Fall and Wolf, has won him numerous awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Here, Harrison digs into the sensory pleasures that infuse his meaty books. “I love to cook, hunt, fish, read good books and not incidentally try to write them,” he explains. “All of our sensualities and passions merge because we are one person and it’s best not to neglect any of these passions if we wish to fully live our lives.” The Raw and the Cooked celebrates Harrison’s passions and our own, dish by dish. His reflections on food are rich and rare; lovers of food -- and lovers of Harrison -- will lick up each one. (Jesse Gale)