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Caviar: The Strange History and Uncertain Future of the World's Most Coveted Delicacy
Synopses & Reviews
In the tradition of Cod and Olives: a fascinating journey into the hidden history, culture, and commerce of caviar.
Once merely a substitute for meat during religious fasts, today caviar is an icon of luxury and wealth. In Caviar, Inga Saffron tells, for the first time, the story of how the virgin eggs of the prehistoric-looking, bottom-feeding sturgeon were transformed from a humble peasant food into a czar’s delicacy–and ultimately a coveted status symbol for a rising middle class. She explores how the glistening black eggs became the epitome of culinary extravagance, while taking us on a revealing excursion into the murky world of caviar on the banks of the Volga River and Caspian Sea in Russia, the Elbe in Europe, and the Hudson and Delaware Rivers in the United States. At the same time, Saffron describes the complex industry caviar has spawned, illustrating the unfortunate consequences of mass marketing such a rare commodity.
The story of caviar has long been one of conflict, crisis, extravagant claims, and colorful characters, such as the Greek sea captain who first discovered the secret method of transporting the perishable delicacy to Europe, the canny German businessmen who encountered a wealth of untapped sturgeon in American waters, the Russian Communists who created a sophisticated cartel to market caviar to an affluent Western clientele, the dirt-poor poachers who eked out a living from sturgeon in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse and the “caviar Mafia” that has risen in their wake, and the committed scientists who sacrificed their careers to keep caviar on our tables.
Filled with lore and intrigue, Caviar is a captivating work of culinary, natural, and cultural history.
"Fascinating....affecting...Part natural history, part culinary history....a modern parable about greed and loss...Saffron has done a nimble job of dramatizing it in the most vivid of terms, leaving the reader with a understanding of how the fate of a fish has been determined by the vicissitudes of politics and business, by technological advances and shifting cultural appetites." Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"Inga Saffron is a journalist who knows how to tell a story... [her] book that tracks the fate of these fascinating eggs from peasant fare to the ultimate luxury, from the Black Sea to San Francisco, from abundance to near-extinction. Along the way, she introduces scenes and characters with a journalist's passion for detail." Washington Post
"Here's whatever is worth knowing about Romanoff and Petrossian and the remarkable history of beluga, osetra, or sevruga eggs, all in this one basket, served with much style." Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Covering foreign affairs and domestic culture, Inga Saffron has been a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer for fifteen years and served as the newspaper’s Moscow correspondent from 1994 through 1998. Currently the Inquirer’s architecture critic, she lives in Philadelphia.
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