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The Carrot Purple and Other Curious Stories of the Food We Eat

Joel S. Denker

Hardback
eBook
How many otherwise well-educated readers know that the familiar orange carrot was once a novelty? It is a little more than 400 years old. Domesticated in Afghanistan in 900 AD, the purple carrot, in fact, was the dominant variety until Dutch gardeners bred the young upstart in the seventeenth century. After surveying paintings from this era in the Louvre and other museums, Dutch agronomist Otto Banga discovered this stunning transformation.

The story of the carrot is just one of the hidden tales this book recounts. Through portraits of a wide range of foods we eat and love, from artichokes to strawberries,
The Carrot Purple traces the path of foods from obscurity to familiarity. Joel Denker explores how these edible plants were, in diverse settings, invested with new meaning. They acquired not only culinary significance but also ceremonial, medicinal, and economic importance. Foods were variously savored, revered, and reviled.

This entertaining history will enhance the reader’s appreciation of a wide array of foods we take for granted. From the carrot to the cabbage, from cinnamon to coffee, from the peanut to the pistachio, the plants, beans, nuts, and spices we eat have little-known stories that are unearthed and served here with relish.
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 328Size: 6 1/4 x 9 1/2
978-1-4422-4885-4 • Hardback • October 2015 • $38.00 • (£24.95)
978-1-4422-4886-1 • eBook • October 2015 • $37.99 • (£24.95)
Subjects: Cooking / History
Joel Denker, a Washington-based food historian, is the author, among other books, of The World on a Plate: A Tour through the History of America’s Ethnic Cuisine and Capital Flavors: Exploring Washington’s Ethnic Restaurants. He has written for the Boston Globe, The Washington Post, and other publications. He has taught American History and a wide range of other subjects at George Washington University, Rutgers University, SUNY/College at Old Westbury, and other institutions. His rich background in educational innovation includes developing an early alternative high school in Washington, DC; teaching refugees in Tanzania; and organizing a labor studies degree at Washington’s city university.
Introduction
Anise: The Allure of Anise

Apricot:“Moon of the Faith”: Appreciating the Apricot
Artichoke:The Artichoke “Undressed”
Arugula:The “Lascivious Leaf”: The Allure of Arugula
Asparagus:Asparagus: Scents and Non-Scents
Avocado:The “Butter Pear”: The Mysterious Avocado
Banana:The “Curiosity of the Indies”: The Baffling Banana
Basil:Holy Basil
Broccoli:“It’s Not Broccoli. It’s Andy Boy”
Cabbage:Head of Its Class: The Cabbage
Caper:The Wild Caper
Cardamom:From Arabia to Scandinavia: A Cardamom Chronicle
Carrot:The Carrot Purple
Cashew:The Nutty Fruit: The Curious Cashew
Celery:The Celery Cure
Chickpea:The Battle over the Bean: The Curious Chickpea
Chocolate:Food of the Gods: Chocolate
Cinnamon:“Sweet Wood”: Cinnamon
Clove:The “Nail Incense”: Uncovering the Clove
Coffee:The “Wine of the Bean”: Coffee
Coriander:Saved from the “Two-Headed Serpent”: The Curious History of Coriander
Cranberry:The “Bitter Berry”: Reclaiming the Cranberry
Cucumber:The “Bilious” Cowcumber
Cumin:Hidden Punch: Cumin’s Untold Story
Dill:A Fine Feathered Friend: The Wonders of Dill
Eggplant:The “Mad Apple”: The Terrifying Eggplant
Fennel:The Truth about Finocchio
Garlic:The “Stinking Rose”: The Wonders of Garlic
Lentil:“Poor Man’s Meat”: The Lentil
Mint:Vigor and Venery: The Story of Mint
Nutmeg:The “Harem Tree”: Nutmeg
Olive:“A Taste as Old as Cold Water:” The Story of the Olive
Onion:Knowing Your Onions
Orange: Sweet for Sour Oranges
Papaya:The “Fruit of Angels”: The Papaya
Peanut:Found a Peanut
Pear:Gift of the Gods: The Pear
Pepper, Black:Hot Commodity: A Pepper Story
Pineapple:Yes, We Have No Ananas: The Pineapple
Pistachio:The Princely Pistachio
Pomegranate:Persephone’s Temptation: The Seductive Pomegranate
Potato:The “White Truffle”: The Perplexing Potato
Saffron:Hunting for Gold: The Sage of Saffron
Spinach:The “Prince of Leafy Greens”: Spinach
Strawberry:Sex and the Single Strawberry
Sweet Potato:Candy from the Field: The Sweet Potato
Tomatoes:“Home Grown Tomatoes”
Vanilla:The Scent of Vanilla
Walnut:Cracking the Walnut
Watermelon:“What the Angels Eat”: The Watermelon
Bibliography

Food historian Denker has compiled a fascinating collection of short essays on the history of many common fruits, vegetables, and spices in an effort to get readers to appreciate the fullness of these histories. He delves into each item’s historical importance, which cultures adopted it first, how it traveled, and what it was used for—including medicinal and ritualistic uses, in addition to food. For example, he discusses how the tomato was cultivated and sold in the U.S. by such entrepreneurs as Giuseppe Uddo, an Italian immigrant from New Orleans who founded Progresso Foods, and Hector Boiardi, who emigrated to Ohio from Italy and found a way in the 1920s to can and sell prepared pasta and sauce, which became popular under the Chef Boyardee brand. Denker urges readers to appreciate the history of food, and he brings enthusiasm and interest to the topic. The anecdotes are accessible and enjoyable, and he debunks popular misconceptions of how foods have achieved their present form.
Publishers Weekly


Have you ever wondered where baby carrots come from? Denker (The World on a Plate) has the answer. Along with the secret origin of those vegetables, the author shares the backstories of 49 other foods in short essays aimed at a general audience. Readers will learn that asparagus is related to leeks and that the Mafia cornered the artichoke market in the 1920s, along with which herb is said to smell like a squashed bedbug (coriander) and what nut was known as Jupiter’s acorn (walnut). The essays delve into word origins, health properties (both proven and purported), preparation styles, and modern uses. Quite a few of the herbs and spices have been at different times encouraged and forbidden owing to reputations for inciting lust or aiding in fertility. A botanical illustration accompanies each entry. . . [T]he bibliography is extensive[.] [T]he brevity of individual essays makes this work [suitable] for browsers . . .VERDICT A diverting source for food tidbits and conversation openers.
Library Journal


Every ingredient has a backstory. Knowing these histories may not translate into better pies, soufflés, or roasts, but it certainly makes for a more interesting and enlightened cooking experience. Once you are aware of an ingredient’s origins, the next time you cook with it, your mind naturally wanders back into that story, and suddenly you are connected to the past in a manner that only food can facilitate. We believe this book, with its delicious and easily consumable short essays, will simultaneously fill you up and leave you hungry for more.
The Kitchen Journals


The Carrot Purple takes a look at many of the foods we are familiar with today and traces their paths from obscurity. From anise to watermelon, each chapter is dedicated to a different plant food, spice, or in the case of coffee and chocolate, beverage, beginning with anise and ending with watermelon. Mr Denker delves not only the culinary significance of each, but also its cultural, ceremonial, medicinal, and economic importance. Certain foods were savored or revered while others were reviled. . . .I don’t usually give a second thought to most of the foods on my plate, but after reading The Carrot Purple, I now that I know where many of them originated and how they made their way to me. I also realize that had history gone taken a slightly different turn, I might be eating something completely different altogether. I’m really impressed with the research that went into this book, and how much info is packed into each chapter. I highly recommend The Carrot Purpleto anyone who likes to read about food, is interested in history, or just likes to learn new facts.
Chic Vegan


After more than 25 years contributing his popular series to The InTowner, known in its early years at 'The Ethnic Bazaar' and later as 'Food in the ‘Hood,' Joel Denker decided devote his energies to not only researching & writing this new book as well as producing an expanded output of food writing. We have been honored that this well-known scholar of the history of food had chosen us to be the publisher of his highly readable and informative essays which always pointed our readers to neighborhood restaurants and purveyors of specialty foods in keeping with our mission of hyper-local reporting; many of those essays served as springboards for essays in this book.
The InTowner


A book came across my desk . . . called The Carrot Purple and Other Curious Stories of the Food We Eat by Joel Denker, a food historian, author and professor, who lives in Washington, D.C. Denker tells the origin of about 50 domesticated foods, most of which are fruits and vegetables. Some are fun. Most are interesting.
The Packer


As kale continues its evolution from overlooked to adored, and as chia seeds displace pomegranate as the next miracle food, Joel Denker provides some perspective on the changing character of what we eat – driven by attitudes and economics. From anise to watermelon, Denker has assembled a nibble-able collection of essays that proves we think is edible, let alone delicious, is a matter of interpretation. Fruit by fruit, spice by spice, and vegetable by vegetable, Denker explores history and attitudes. . . . Status, superstition, economics – Denker finds the stories hidden in the produce aisle.
Appetite for Books


An impressive selection of herbs, fruits, and vegetables, the author explores the odyssey of 50 selected historical origins with snippets on cultural and mythical tales pertaining to superstitions & taboos, sacred symbolism, sacramental as well as denounced, raw materials originating myths & legends, social distinction, and engine of economic growth.... You’ll find ... interesting reads about Mr. Peanut and those Chiquita Banana blue-and-gold stickers, how Chef Boyardee and Wedgwood came to be, and why Classic Coca Cola is what it is! You may be pleasantly surprised by more curious stories on such foodstuffs!
FoodLit Dishcoveries


In this book, Denker has compiled interesting anecdotes about the origins and varied uses of some of the foods we commonly eat.... I [enjoyed] learning about the different attitudes towards certain foods and how they changed over time.... The Carrot Purple is most engaging when Denker weaves his own experiences into the story. His writing can be evocative and pull us along into uncovering the mysteries behind a food.... The Carrot Purple gives readers a well-researched introduction to the hidden stories behind common foods.
Digest: A Journal of Foodways & Culture


Joel Denker’s breadth of knowledge is dazzling, his stories are packed with jewels of information, captivating, and amusing. Reading them is pure delight.
Claudia Roden, food writer, author of The Food of Spain, The Food of Italy - Region by Region, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, and The Book of Jewish Food


Joel Denker’s smorgasbord of historical essays about common and curious plant foods (and spices) that Americans eat every day makes for an uncommonly good meal for the mind. Well researched and wonderfully written, this popular history is as good, highly informative, and fun as it gets. Now, to find some purple carrots!
Bruce Kraig, co-author Man Bites Dog: Hot Dog Culture in America


The Carrot Purple is a classic Denker product. Smart, intriguing, and elegantly delivered. Every chapter is a surprise and a surprisingly subtle argument about change and global flows that has shaped peoples' food habits as much as roots and tradition. Denker takes academic research in various fields – botany, cultural studies, and history – extracts its essence and sharpens its delivery to the great pleasure of the reader, the eater, and the cook.
Krishnendu Ray, Chair, Department of Nutrition, Food Studies & Public Health, New York University; President, Association for the Study of Food & Society


Mr. Denker has a searching mind, and a busy pen. Now he has given us a culinary syllabary. The Carrot Purple and Other Curious Stories of the Food We Eat offers readers a savory taste of just about everything, from anise and arugula to walnuts and watermelon. There is lots in between, set before us with the flavors of history and geography. If you have ever wondered idly why you have never seen a purple carrot, this is where you will find the answer.
Sidney W. Mintz, anthropologist, Johns Hopkins University; author of Three Ancient Colonies. Caribbean Themes and Variations and Sweetness and Power


Reading Joel Denker’s zingy sketches of some taken-for-granted fruits, vegetables, and spices is like meeting fifty interesting people at a party and listening to a well-connected friend dish about each of them — "You want to know who climbed in bed with who before strawberries hit the charts?” “Arugula? Well, talk about nouveau riche!” For inquiring minds, the amply stocked bibliography is an added bonus.
Anne Mendelson, culinary historian; author of Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages


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