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Book Worth a Look: The Devil's Food Dictionary

Last month, I mentioned a funny post on a blog called The Ethicurean, and said I hoped to read the author's book someday soon. And voila! Within days, a copy of Barry Foy's The Devil's Food Dictionary appeared on my desk. (On the off-chance that magic trick will work again...hey, I also hope to att...

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Last month, I mentioned a funny post on a blog called The Ethicurean, and said I hoped to read the author's book someday soon. And voila! Within days, a copy of Barry Foy's The Devil's Food Dictionary appeared on my desk. (On the off-chance that magic trick will work again...hey, I also hope to attend this upcoming Smithsonian Resident Associate beer tasting lecture next month!)

As promised in its subtitle, The Devil's Food Dictionary is indeed "a pioneering culinary reference work consisting entirely of lies." It's an alphabetically arranged series of puns, brief satiric essays and witty asides. A few examples:
"Caramelizing: A term applied—quite misleadingly—to the cooking of foods that have little or no connection with dessert. Many a sweets fancier has been disappointed to learn that no amount of caramelizing will turn a beef tenderloin or cauliflower into a lump of luscious, buttery caramel."

"Dressing: The opposite of undressing."

"Pear: Perhaps the only famous enough to be shaped like itself."
As if by accident, a few entries provide actual information (for example, injera really is "a thin, spongy bread that is a staple of Ethiopian cuisine," as I discovered recently), but Foy makes up for that by inventing outrageous stories like this:
"Amuse-bouche*: Derived in part from the French word for "mouth," this is another name for the windup chattering teeth sold in novelty stores. It is traditional in expensive French restaurants, on certain holidays, to glue a set of these teeth shut with caramelized sugar and surreptitiously submerge them in a tureen of hot soup. As the soup melts the caramel, the teeth begin to chatter and bounce up and down, splashing diners' clothing with soup. Customers and staff alike find this very 'amusing.'"
I get the feeling Foy's the kind of person who was really bummed when Gary Larson retired from writing The Far Side cartoons...which is to say, the kind of person I'd invite to Lunch: the midday meal. Experts attribute the broad popularity of this repast to the fact that midday occurs in nearly all time zones.

*For the record, an amuse-bouche is actually a pre-appetizer, as well as the name of an excellent food blog written by Boston-area chef Jo Horner.
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About Amanda Bensen

Amanda Bensen is a former assistant editor at Smithsonian and is now a senior editor at the Nature Conservancy.

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