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Book review: A Taste of Heaven - A guide to food & drink made by monks & nuns

Book review: A Taste of Heaven - A  guide to food & drink made by monks & nuns

A Taste Of Heaven: A Guide To Food & Drink Made By Monks & Nuns
Madeline Scherb
Published by: Tarcher Penguin
Charting little known waters with her subject matter, Scherb immerses us from the outset in the mysterious culinary rituals and ways of life of convents, monasteries and their inhabitants.
Totally devoted to the pursuit of a heavenly existence, monks' and nuns' beliefs relating to the principles involved with excellent food production are no less devout. Often, wonderful artisan wares form a vital part of the monastic existence- generating a large part of the income necessary for the institutions to continue to thrive.
The author visits monastery kitchens throughout Europe, cataloguing her experiences via prose, potted histories, product guides, folklore and itineraries. Chapters cover the topics of 'Celestial Spirits', 'Holy Cheese', 'Sweet Temptations', and the gloriously-monikered 'Other Edifying Edibles'.
However diverse your taste preference, it's likely there's a monastic product for you. The intriguing Portuguese liqueur 'Singevera', Ganagobie's local honey-flavoured pates de fruits, superior Trappistine Creamy Caramels, 'Southern Touch' Georgia peach fudge from Holy Spirit, walnut liqueur-rubbed 'Timanoix' cheese and 'Alexion' herbal elixir are just a few of the specialities guaranteed to induce longing.
The thirty-five recipes scattered throughout are universally tempting, often with an accompanying tale. Chimay ale appears in an unusual Trappist coffee recipe, whilst Westmalle Tripel finds its way into a salad dressing. For those with a sweeter tooth, Chocolate Espresso Cake uses Saint Hildegard spelt, and St Jean-Baptiste Priory's goats cheese is a welcome addition to an apple pie.
'A Taste Of Heaven' is a difficult work to categorise. Themes arising include travel guides, history, social anthropology, food and recipes- many provided by the people behind the produce. Owing perhaps to its meditative subject manner, the book provides far more to reflect on than similar 'food and travel' publications, evoking a true sense of place and a yearning for the reader to become part of the landscape.
For those who concur, details of the products, the monasteries and their conventions are comprehensive, allowing one to plan a trip encompassing many of these elusive experiences. The author encourages us to revel in produce which both stems from and sustains those seeking a higher existence and, in doing so, perhaps inspires us all to live and consume a little more conscientiously.




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23 March 2010
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