Cooking and Science

I enjoy it when patrons let me in on what they’re reading. Sometimes the book comes with a glowing recommendation, and other times it’s obvious the reader is not too keen on what they’ve read. As often as staff are asked for suggestions, many times the best suggestions come from the patrons.

This “cook book” is one of those suggested by a patron, and it is a wealth of material in regards to cooking and science. What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained by Robert L. Wolke is packed tighter than a can of sardines with information about what’s really going on with the ingredients that fill our cupboards.

Wolke, according to the bookcover, was a professor of chemistry and wrote the column Food 101 for the Washington Post.

What I particularly liked about this book is that you can pick it up and open it to any page and read. There are chapters, but those chapters are comprised of questions and answers covering the chapter topic. Wolke’s wit and ease with which he explains chemistry is entertaining and makes the book seem like easy reading, even though the knowledge is more than basic.

So what kind of questions are included, you ask? Everything. Here’s a sampling:

  • Please tell me about sea salt. Why are so many chefs and recipes using it these days? How is it better than regular salt?
  • The label on my baking powder can says it contains sodium aluminum sulfate. But isn’t aluminum dangerous to eat?
  • Some of the wines I buy have “corks” made of plastic. Is there a world cork shortage, or are there technical reasons for this?

And that’s just a small sampling. Wolke also delves into different kitchen appliances and equipment and what exactly the crisper in your refrigerator does.

The book contains a few recipes scattered throughout. I did not make any of them. In a small way I feel that I have failed, but, in my defense, there weren’t any pictures, and those pictures are inspiring, and without that little inspiration, I didn’t have enough motivation. Also, though it seems a chemistry professor should be able to make some fine tasting stuff, I kept thinking about high school chemistry with Mr. Miller and how my lab partners and I broke one of the last glass syringes that he entrusted to our group because we were so trustworthy. I know there really isn’t any correlation between Mr. Miller’s chemistry class and my failing to make one of Wolke’s recipes, but somehow it makes sense to me.

Seriously, though, Wolke’s book is definitely worth a read. And if you try one of his recipes, let me know!