Executive Times






2005 Book Reviews


Schott’s Food and Drink Miscellany by Ben Schott


Rating: (Mildly Recommended)




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Readers will find the unusual, funny, offbeat factoids about food and drink in Ben Schott’s new book, Schott’s Food and Drink Miscellany. Sampling this book is like feasting at a smorgasbord: variety; old favorites; the unfamiliar; average quality; and an occasional delight. Schott takes trivia to another level: there’s more than you’d expect could be known about any given thing. Here’s an excerpt from pp. 50-51:



Mirepoix is the combination of diced vegetables (usually celery; onion, carrot), and occasionally meat (bacon or ham), that is gently sautéed and used as a garnish or to impart flavor to sauces. It was probably named after the Cl8th French ambassador Charles de Levis, duc de Mirepoix.



Considered by some to be unspeakably (and uneatably) cruel, foie gras is the liver of a goose or duck which has been grossly enlarged by force-feeding. (According to Larousse, the record goose liver weight is 2kg.) Most accounts trace foie gras back to Roman times, when geese were crammed with figs. Cato, Columella, and Palladius all give instructions for making the delicacy; indeed, Emperor Heliogabalus noted for his brief reign (AD 218—222) of debauched excess and homosexual orgies fed foie gras to his dogs. However, it is claimed that foie gras was known in Egyptian times, based upon illustrations of force-feeding found inside the tomb of the celebrated Fifth Dynasty official Ti (fl.2430BC). The ideal accompaniment to foie gras is usually considered to be Sauterne or sherry; though there are some who advocate port, Madeira, or even Champagne. Grimod de la Reynière drank Swiss absinthe with foie gras, but warned:

 . . . nothing surpasses an excellent pâté de foie gras:

they have killed more gourmands than the plague.



All or nearly all Red wine is the better for having just one or two drops of water poured into the first glass only. Why this should be I know not, but so it is. It introduces it. This admirable and little known custom is called ‘Baptizing’ wine.

HILAIRE BELLOC, Advice, c.1950



The Bolognese School of painting was influential in developing the Roman baroque style, and it had three distinctive periods: the Early, founded by Zoppo (C 15th); the Roman by Bagnacavallo (C 16th); and the Eclectic by Carracci (late Cl 6th). It seems that, throughout its history, the Bolognese School has enjoyed no association whatsoever with spaghetti.



Since the death penalty was reinstated in the mid-1970s, Texas has had the dubious honor of executing more people than any other American State. The lethal injection Texas employs consists of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride (at a cost of $86.08). Below are the final meal requests from some of those executed in Texas.


JEFFERY DOUGHTIE executed on 08.16.2001

8 soft fried eggs (wants yellow runny), big bowl of grits, 5 biscuits with bowl of butter, five pieces of fried hard and crisp bacon, two sausage patties, pitcher of chocolate milk, 2 pints vanilla Blue Bell ice cream, and 2 bananas


GERALD MITCHELL executed on 10.22.2001

1 bag of assorted Jolly Ranchers


SPENCER GOODMAN executed on 01.18.2000

Double cheeseburger, french fries topped with onions and cheese, baked potato topped with sour cream, cheese and butter, 2 fried pork chops, 3 beef enchiladas, and chocolate cake



executed on 06.01.1999

15 slices of cheese, 3 fried eggs, 3 buttered toasts, 2 hamburger patties with cheese, 2 tomatoes sliced, 1 sliced onion, french fries with salad dressing, 2 lb. of crispy fried bacon, 1 quart chocolate milk and 1 pint of fresh strawberries



executed on 02.11.1992

Ice cream


RONALD O’BRYAN executed on 03.31.1984

T-bone steak (med. to well done), french fries & catsup, whole kernel corn, sweet peas, lettuce & tomato salad with egg & French dressing, iced tea, sweetener, saltines, Boston cream pie, rolls


(The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is at pains to note that ‘The final meal requested may not reflect the actual final meal served’.)


The writer Grimod de La Reyniere observed that during the French Revolution condemned prisoners were also focused on their last meals:

the victims in the prisons are still preoccupied with food, and through the prison door pass some of the most exquisite dishes... in the bottom of the dungeons one finds those condemned ones making deals with restaurateurs, signing away one valuable after another...


It has been claimed that President Francois Mitterrand’s very last meal included the illegal French delicacy ortolan, for details of which see p.128.


Few readers will admit to having known things like the cost of potassium chloride, or the history of foie gras. Now that you these trivial things, if you’re ready for hundreds more just like them, pick up a copy of Schott’s Food and Drink Miscellany.


Steve Hopkins, December 20, 2004



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the January 2005 issue of Executive Times

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