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«TITLE PAGE WHAT’S COOKING? Roberta Ann Muir Dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the coursework requirements for the degree of Master of ...»

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The next question might be ‘Anong luto?’ or how is it prepared? [‘luto’ being the general verb ‘to cook’] If the answer is ‘tinolang manok’ not only do you know that it’s poached chicken, but that the chicken has been poached with green papaya, bird chili leaves and will have a dipping sauce of calamansi and fish sauce on the side.” Bel adds that in Tagalog to ask if someone can ‘cook’ does not refer to the application of heat to food, “but whether the person in question has the skills to prepare food for consumption, which may or may not involve the application of heat.”

–  –  –

Indonesia is a collection of many ethnic groups, each with its own language. Some common words run through many of the languages however, and the word ‘masak’, which translates as ‘to cook’ in English, is one of them. A native speaker of Bahasa Indonesian assured me that ‘masak’ had a broad meaning of ‘preparing food so that it is ready to eat’. Interestingly it is the same word used to mean ‘ripe’ as in ‘ripe fruit’ or ‘fruit that is ready to eat’. To refer to the application of heat to food, Bahasa Indonesian uses specific terms such as ‘goreng’ (fry) and ‘bakar’ (grill).

Bel Castro, E-mail to author, 6 May 2003.

Lonieta Illiana (Bahasa Indonesian speaker), E-mail to author, 5 May 2003.

–  –  –

The Polish word that translates as ‘to cook’, ‘gotowac’, literally also means ‘to boil’. To enjoy ‘cooking’ in Polish is to enjoy ‘gotowac’ and to ‘cook dinner’ is to ‘gotowac’ dinner, even if the food is not boiled. This seems to stem from the fact that boiled potatoes are considered an integral part of dinner. ‘Gotowac’ is not used in reference to breakfasts and suppers; these are ‘prepared’ rather than ‘cooked’, as they do not involve the ubiquitous boiled potatoes. ‘Gotowac’ is however used to refer to boiling water even if it is just to make tea or a boiled egg.

–  –  –

I was told a story of an elderly Norwegian uncle who when asked how he liked his potatoes would always say (in English): “I like‘m cooked, you know that!” This was understood by his niece to mean “‘not roasted’ and ‘not fried’ but boiled in water with salt.” Norwegian cuisine, like Polish, relies on boiled potatoes as its staple with main meals. As in Polish, the word generally used to mean ‘to cook’, ‘å koke’, literally means ‘to boil’. Norwegian differs from Polish however, in that, if the food is not boiled (which here includes poaching and steaming), ‘koke’ will not be used. Instead, the verb ‘å lage mat’ is used (literally ‘to make food’), which covers all aspects of food preparation (apart from shopping and cleaning up). When preparing a Sunday breakfast, a Norwegian would ‘koke’ his boiled eggs, but not his fried bacon, toast or other heated foods (unless they too are boiled). ‘Koke’ could not be used in the broad sense that we use ‘cook’ as in ‘to cook breakfast’, yet it is the word which Norwegians would offer as a translation of ‘to cook’.

–  –  –

In Arabic, the emphasis seems to be on a finished dish (one that is ready to be served as defined by the parameters of Arabic cuisine), as well as on the application of heat. ‘Tabikh’ is the noun referring to foods Danuta Buczy_ska (Polish speaker), E-mails to author, 6 May, 8 May, 4 August and 6 August 2003.

Liz Packer, E-mail to author, 23 July 2003.

Øyvind Andersen (Norwegian speaker), E-mail to author, 9 July 2003.

that have been prepared with heat, and ‘tabakha’ is the verb referring to the preparation of those foods, including all the preparation stages whether they involve heat or not (chopping, pounding, blanching, basting). Interestingly, however, a plate of steamed vegetables would not be considered ‘tabikh’ (and therefore its preparation not ‘tabakha’) until it had been dressed with oil and lemon juice ready to be served (as vegetables would not be served unadorned in Arabic cuisine). Therefore, the dressing is an essential stage of the process of ‘tabakha’ or ‘cooking’ in this instance. Dishes that have not had heat applied, such as kibbeh naya (raw meat mixed with cracked wheat and seasonings) or salads, are ‘khalit’ (mixed) rather than ‘tabakha’. The steps involved in preparing kibbeh naya are not considered ‘tabakha’, unless the kibbeh naya is subsequently placed in a tray and baked in the oven, only then would the same steps involved in the initial preparation become ‘tabakha’ (‘cooking’).

Mary-Ann Boustany (Arabic speaker), E-mails to author, 5 May 2003, 30 June 2003, and 1 August 2003.

–  –  –

In attempting to define a word, the obvious starting place is the dictionary. The Oxford English Dictionary

gives the following definitions of “cook”:

• (noun) “One whose occupation is the preparation of food for the table” • (intransitive verb) “To act as cook, to prepare food by the action of heat (for a household, etc.).” • (transitive verb) “To prepare or make ready (food); to make fit for eating by due application of heat; as by boiling, baking, roasting, broiling, etc.” Already we have some confusion in the definition. The first definition given is of the noun: ‘a cook’ is one who prepares food for the table (no mention of heat). Then the verb is defined: ‘to cook’ is to do what a cook does (which we were previously told was ‘prepare food for the table’) however there is an additional element to this definition: the preparation of the food now involves ‘the action of heat’. A further definition (as a transitive verb) reiterates the preparation of food, adding the possibility of ‘making food ready’; could this differ from ‘preparing’ by involving the plating and arranging of previously ‘prepared’ food? This definition adds the ‘making fit for eating’ but again includes the condition of the ‘application of heat’, giving specific examples of heat application. If ‘to cook’ is ‘to do what a cook does’, as the first part of the intransitive verb definition suggests, then surely there are many aspects of cooking which do not involve the application of heat. Yet, the full definitions of the verb all introduce the element of ‘heat’. Michael Symons was equally confused when he consulted a number of English dictionaries in an attempt to define ‘cook’. All referred to heat except for a nineteenth century edition of Webster’s Dictionary, which defined ‘to cook’ as: “To dress victuals for the table; to prepare for any purpose”. This, he says, was later modernised to: “To prepare food for eating”, and eventually altered to specify heating. An online version of the 1913 edition of Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary gives the definition of the intransitive verb ‘to cook’ as: “To prepare food for the table.” Other definitions given in the Oxford English Dictionary The Oxford English Dictionary, 1989 ed., s.v. “cook.” Michael Symons, A History of Cooks and Cooking (Totnes: Prospect Books, 2001; originally published as The Pudding that Took a Thousand Cooks, Victoria: Viking, 1998), 99.





The Project for American and French Research on the Treasury of the French Language (ARTFL), ed. Analyse et Traitement Informatique de la Langue Française (ATILF) of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and the Division of the Humanities, the Division of the Social Sciences, and Electronic Text Services (ETS) of the University of Chicago, [dictionary on-line];

accessed 24 August 2003; available from http://machaut.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/WEBSTER.sh?WORD=cook.

involve some sort of manipulation, modification, alteration, falsification, or even to ruin or spoil. The dictionary does not elaborate on the link between these two apparently different definitions. It might be suggested however, that when we ‘cook’ food, even in a sense broader than that involving heat, we do in some way manipulate, modify or alter it from its original state (sometimes even ruining or spoiling it in the process). If this transformative function were applied to documents, they may become falsified, ruined or spoiled. Perhaps this broader definition of ‘cooking’, as ‘transforming from an original state’, is more appropriate than the narrower, ‘application of heat’, definition.

In considering the meaning of a word, it is worth looking at other words closely related to it. We shall see that many writers use the words ‘cooking’ and ‘cookery’ interchangeably, while a few attempt to draw a

distinction. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘cookery’ as:

• “The art or practice of cooking, the preparation of food by means of fire.”

Definitions of other ‘cooking’ related words include:

• ‘Culinary’: “Of or pertaining to a kitchen … Of or pertaining to cookery.” • ‘Cuisine’: “Kitchen; culinary department or establishment; manner or style of cooking; kitchen arrangement.” • ‘Cookery-book’: “a book of receipts and instructions in cookery.” • ‘Recipe’: “A statement of the ingredients and procedure necessary for the making or compounding of some preparation, esp. of a dish in cookery; a receipt.” Roget’s Thesaurus offers synonyms for ‘cook’ listed under the headings of “heat … prepare … [and] falsify.” These three headings broadly cover the dictionary definitions above. The culinary encyclopaedia, Larousse Gastronomique (henceforth Larousse), defines ‘cooking’ as: “The culinary operation of subjecting food to the action of heat, which either renders it fit to eat or improves its flavour.” The Oxford English Dictionary, 1989 ed., s.v. “cookery.” The Oxford English Dictionary, 1989 ed., s.v. “culinary.” The Oxford English Dictionary, 1989 ed., s.v. “cuisine.” The Oxford English Dictionary, 1989 ed., s.v. “cookery.” The Oxford English Dictionary, 1989 ed., s.v. “recipe.” Roget Thesaurus, revised by D. C. Browning, (London: Octopus Books, 1982), s.v. “cook.” It goes on to list “seven basic cooking techniques: frying, grilling (broiling), roasting, sautéing, cooking in water (or steam), braising, and pot-roasting.”

–  –  –

A review of the literature on cooking reveals that while some writers follow the narrow dictionary definition of ‘the application of heat to food’, others take a much wider-reaching approach, incorporating everything a ‘cook’ does, from the selection and acquisition of produce to the washing up. Not surprisingly, scientists writing on cooking generally follow the more narrow definition. Harold McGee, who writes about the science of everyday life, says: “Cooking can be defined in a general way as the transfer of energy from a heat source to food.” In his popular book of kitchen chemistry, What Einstein Told His Cook, chemistry professor and food writer, Robert Wolke, says: “For cooking, we need a lot of heat delivered in a short period of time.” He does later allude to cooking’s complex nature however when he asks: “And what do we mean by ‘cook,’ anyway?” Wolke in fact defines ‘cooking’ as more than the application of just any heat to food, saying that the critical element is to achieve a temperature sufficient for the food’s molecules to be transformed. His definition of ‘cooking’ is: “raising the food’s temperature (by any means, including microwaves) to a value where certain chemical changes begin to take place, such as denaturation of proteins, decomposition of carbohydrates, etc.”

–  –  –

Some writers believe that cooking does necessarily involve heat, but that heat alone is not sufficient.

Baron Karl Friedrich von Rumohr (a German gastronome whose work preceded by a few years that of his more famous French contemporary Brillat-Savarin) defined “the art of cooking” as “to develop, with the aid of heat, water and salt, the nutritional, refreshing and delectable qualities of those natural substances which are suitable for the nourishment or restoration of mankind.” Therefore, while he agreed that heat Larousse Gastronomique, (London: Paul Hamlyn, 1988), s.v. “cooking.” Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (New York: Scribner, 1984; reprint, New York: Simon & Schuster, Fireside, 1997), 610.

Robert L. Wolke What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2002), 187.

Wolke, 192.

Robert Wolke, E-mail to author, 4 July 2003.

Karl Friedrich (Baron) von Rumohr, The Essence of Cookery, trans. Barbara Yeomans (London: Prospect Books, 1993), 61.

was essential to cooking, he argued that water and salt were no less essential (a point proponents of modern low-sodium diets may well note!). For Willi Bode, a professional chef and lecturer in food studies, the critical point in the development of cooking was not the application of heat to food, but something that provided greater control over the heat. He says: “It is probable that the advancement of cooking and cookery really developed from the point where man found a vessel”. Bode, covers the subject of cooking from a technical perspective in his work, European Gastronomy, tracing the history of European gastronomy from prehistoric to modern day, he acknowledges that the harnessing of fire was a critical step in human development. Interestingly though, in discussing this, he says: “between about 500,000 BC and the appearance of Neanderthal man at about 75,000 BC, some simple cooking of, or more correctly, the application of heat to, food, particularly meats, was discovered and used.” Clearly for Bode, even “simple cooking” is more than “the application of heat to food”. In fact, he later says,

regarding the first application of heat to food, it is important that it should not be called ‘cooking’:

Prehistoric man may have made some of his food more digestible, nutritious and palatable by applying heat, but cooking and cookery as we understand it today means so very much more than the mere application of heat … The application of heat may give some recognition to the beginnings of cookery and does, in some cases, identify early and simple cooking methods still recognisable today, but cannot be called cookery as yet.

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