Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Food: Recipes, cookbook reviews, food notes, and restaurant reviews with a heavy emphasis on San Diego. Unless otherwise noted, I have personally tried each recipe that gets its own page, but not necessarily recipes listed as part of a cookbook review.

Mimsy Review: The Frugal Gourmet Keeps the Feast

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, January 25, 1997

Review of The Frugal Gourmet Keeps the Feast, with a recipe for Yogurt and Cucumber Soup with Saffron.

AuthorJeff Smith
PublisherWilliam Morrow and Company Inc.
Year1995
Length302 pages
Book Rating6

Jeff Smith appears to be focussing on theology in cooking; or at least, those are the books of his I’ve been picking up recently: The Frugal Gourmet Celebrates Christmas is probably the best other example of this. Where that was a specific look at favorite and biblical foods of Christmas, The Frugal Gourmet Keeps the Feast is a general look into the theology of food in Christianity, especially the Old Testament and Judaism. Coming from a desert people, many of these recipes are extremely simple, most have very few ingredients. Smith quotes his assistant Craig Wollom as saying “You’ve sure got a lot of cracked wheat and yogurt in this one.”

Celebrating the ancient feasts also by its nature brings out a diatribe or two about the lack of feast in our modern (American) culture. Jeff Smith rails against the lack of communal eating in general, and especially within the family. “Private eating has given rise to a very popular artistic symbol in our time: the Swanson TV dinner. It marks the collapse of communal family eating and thinking and eventually the collapse of our culture. Mrs. Swanson is of the Antichrist! Such a loss, our family table.”

And how our “rules of eating”, our table manners, are really about trying to pretend that we don’t really need to eat, that it is not a necessity, that it is not something we like to do. Heaven forbid that we should do something because we like to do it! (Or, perhaps, “Man forbid…”)

Now, what about the food itself? The chapters are divided up as follows: Appetizers, Old World Soups, Grains in Biblical Times, Salads from the Ancient World, Eggs on the Biblical Table, Bread in Early Times, Desert Cheese, Red Meat on the Biblical Table, Birds and Game, Fish in Biblical Times, Vegetables in Biblical Times, and Desserts on the Biblical Table.

First of all, few cookbooks have survived from the time period that Smith is talking about. We know from the Bible that milk and honey was prized, and that meat (the fatted calf or kid) was generally saved for very special occasions. Beyond that there isn’t a heck of a lot of information. So what he did was make up a list of ingredients that would have been available. Then, he looked at traditional recipes from the Mediterranean and the Middle East and the Jewish table, and chose recipes that could have been made from contemporary ingredients, replacing modern ingredients with the Biblical counterparts.

For other recipes, he took that list of ingredients and played around with them, guessing on how they would most likely have been combined. This is how he came up with Fried Cucumbers with Sesame Oil and Coriander, for example, and Fried Cucumbers with Sumac: “When Craig and I thought about whether or not someone in ancient times would have enjoyed a dish such as this, we simply decided that we enjoyed it and thus it qualified for this collection.”

Another recipe, Semolina Bread, gets in only because he just discovered it and couldn’t bear not including it. Semolina flour wasn’t available in Biblical times.

The dessert section consists of milk and honey; honey and vinegar (“Just thought you should know!”), Sesame and Almond Honey Candy, Honey Cake (“Mostly Biblical ingredients. OK, the instant coffee doesn’t count.”), Yogurt and Honey, Yogurt and Jam, and Quince Jam (“I happen to know that the Queen of Sheba was very fond of the following recipe”).

The section on desert (not dessert) cheese is interesting. He exhorts us to make our own yogurt, and then to turn our yogurt into low-fat cheese by hanging it over our kitchen sink overnight.

The bread chapter is a wonderful collection of odd-grain and spiced loaves, from Sesame Bread to Fennel Bread and Four-Grain Bread with Lentils (taken from Ezekiel 4:9).

The rest of the recipes are simply an interesting collection of things we would not normally eat, at least in those combinations. Lots of lentils and grains and cucumbers. Hyssop is used often as a spice, as is sumac. He shows us how to sprout grains (and which ones sprout, and which do not). Yogurt is everywhere.

I find that the stories and theology is not quite as interesting in this book as it has been in the past; he repeats himself a bit too much. But if you see this book in a bookstore, I recommend flipping through the middle and seeing if the recipes interest you. I think this book will keep me busy for quite a few dinners, and I expect to use a number of the recipes for my next open house. They’re simple and—if you steer clear of the grains—flavorful.

Yogurt and Cucumber Soup with Saffron

  • 2 peeled/seeded cucumbers,
  • 2 cups plain yogurt,
  • 1½ tblsp chopped fresh dill,
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh mint,
  • 1 cup chicken stock,
  • pinch white pepper,
  • salt to taste,
  • 1 tsp saffron.
  1. Coarsely grate the cucumbers and place in a plastic bowl.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients except the saffron.
  3. Rub the saffron between your fingers into a small glass.
  4. Add 1 tsp hot tap water and stir with a spoon to release the yellow-orange color.
  5. Add to the other ingredients and stir.
  6. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  7. Stir before serving and adjust salt if necessary.
  8. Serve cold.

“Jesus never says, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone should open the door, I will enter and discuss existential theology with him.’ No. Jesus says, ‘I will sup with him.’”

The Frugal Gourmet Keeps the Feast

Jeff Smith

My cost: $7.00

Recommendation: Interesting

If you enjoyed The Frugal Gourmet Keeps the Feast…

If you enjoy Biblical, you might also be interested in Jesus Christ Superstar and The Life of Brian.

If you enjoy Jeff Smith, you might also be interested in The Frugal Gourmet Celebrates Christmas.

If you enjoy William Morrow and Company Inc., you might also be interested in The Frugal Gourmet Celebrates Christmas.