WHEN IT COMES TO FOOD, this household is Magellan and his crew. Well, maybe not exactly; I just remembered what happened to Magellan and his crew. What I'm trying to say is that we're bold as brass about food around here, and some of the minor highpoints of our lives have revolved around its consumption. We have, for example, eaten cow's stomach in Paris. Two thousand miles away, in Brooklyn, I once managed to extract the recipe of Crab Rangoon -- ambrosial dish -- from a Chinese restaurateur known only as Sidney Gleenstleet (the secret ingredient was Worcestershire sauce) and in Idaho I was once embraced by a cook.
True, it hasn't all been beer and skittles. Some years ago, laboring under the orders of the editor of a now defunct weekly, I attempted to cook every single dish in Michael Guerard's Cuisine Minceur. After three weeks of the experiment, the family threatened to burn me in effigy. I thought I could bear that, but then I discovered they had Effigy, New Jersey, in mind, and I swiftly chose to practice the discretion that is the better part of valor. Last spring a travel editor friend stopped at M. Guerard's spa at Eugenie des Baines and somehow found the courage to relate my adventure to the maitre himself. "Horreurs!" cried the three-star genius. "A terrible mistake! That was not food pour la famille. It was, how do you say, medicine for the sick fatties!"
I have grown old is these wars. Yet, like a superannuated artillery horse lifting his head at a growl of distant thunder, I have but to hear of some bold new cuisine, some unexplored country of the palate, and a familiar uneasiness overtakes me. I would probably try to cook a gladiolus bulb if somebody devised a method for doing so. I would not, however, cook a dog. I know I wouldn't because I've just been thinking hard about it. There are two new cookbooks on my desk, and on page 173 of one of them -- Calvin W. Schwabe's unmentionable cuisine -- I find the following recipe: "Dried Dogmeat (Gedorrtes Hundefleisch) Switzerland Hand a dressed dog carcass for 8 to 10 days at about 36*f and then debone it, retaining as large pieces as possible. Pack these in oak barrels. . . ."
Nothing doing. Oh, I might try it, granted I could find a suitable dog, a place to hang it, and some oak barrels, but I might spend the rest of my days living in a packing crate in the back yard, too. I have a shrewd suspicion that Professor Schwabe's little cookery tome is going to be known as "The Dogmeat Book." That's what it's called around here.
If my insight is true, it will be a pity, for Professor Schwabe is a serious and a worried man. As he quite rightly points out, we are in danger of running low on the muscle meat of cattle just as the nation's diet becomes more and more blandly dependent on it -- too few of us, it would seem, are of Italian or Oriental extraction, and the wisdom of our forebears is being lost -- which means that the majority of us are eating the culinary equivalent of petroleum. Until 1950, we ate as much pork as we did beef, although pehaps this wasn't as good an idea as it seems; thanks to the pork-packing interests and their lobby, U.S. pork ranks among the most infested in the world. We are strangers to organ meats (except for the well-educated upper classes, who will eat anything), we ignore the possibilities of possum (except in the South), and we deprive ourselves of such staples as rabbit, squid and guinea pig. Nor do we eat horse. The vegetarian alternative is fraught with such perils as Vitamin B12 deficiency and kwashiorkor. In short, we are in a bad way, and Professor Schwabe wants us to change our habits. This book is his answer.
It is an engaging volume, but it will probably come to nothing. For one thing, if Professor Schwabe wants to change our habits, he ought to start a chain of fast-food restaurants, not write a book; it is my impression that you can get Americans to eat anything is a fast-food place, provided you advertise it on television. For another, most American cooks have been brainwashed by the Cornell Method, where everything is precisely measured, and vague recipes make them panic; Professor Schwabe belongs to the Grandmaw School of a little of this and a pinch of that. Lastly, his recipes are . . . well, they're okay. Okay isn't good enough it you want people to eat horse; you have to blow them out of their socks with a new taste sensation. I carefully concealed the preparation of his Sweet and Sour Tongue from the family, not because the family refuses to eat tongue but because they consider a combination of meat and chocolate unfit for human consumption. His sweetbreads in crust might have been swell if none of us had ever eaten sweetbreads before, and the Peruvian barbecued beef hearts turned out to be the only organ meat kiddie food I've ever encountered, sort of like potatoe chips if potato chips were made of meat. It was enormously popular with the cadet branch, though.
Eddy Hovey's Shark: Sea Food of the Future has no pretensions about saving the world through diet reform; it appears to be the produce of a single-shark-obsessed woman. She makes the obligatory feint in the direction of the angels, what with a line or two about the abundance of shark and its neglect as a food source, but the big deal here is clearly the whole idea of actually cooking one of the damn things. Most you, shark isn't bad if you like salt-water fish -- I am a trout and shellfish man, myself -- and you've probably eaten a lot of it if you buy frozen fish sticks. I am not particularly enamored for recipes calling for canned soup, though and there are a quite a lot of them here. But an assignment is an assignment, and I set off to buy my shark.
i won't bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that, in three days of hunting through the fish markets of the largets city in the county -- a seaport -- I didn't find a shark, but I got myself quite a little reputation. Some places had shark sometimes but didn't have any now; others -- including one of the sources listed in the back of the book -- never carry shack, and still others were willing to obtain one if i would take the whole thing, which sounded okay until I found out what they had in mind. About 100 pounds of shark was what they had in mind. Trying to buy a shark is a good way to lose weight if you do it on foot.
I finally got one. I went to Chinatown -- we investigative reporters have these flashed sometimes -- and bought it at the first fish stand I came to; the man had about a thousand of them. Then I took it home and cooked it.
It tasted like fish. whoop-de-doo.