To kill an eel

seize it with a cloth and bang its head violently against a hard surface.

So begins the “Preparation” section on eels in the Larousse. I love the language of recipes.

Another favourite is for anything deep-fried, which always involves ‘plunging’ X into hot oil. Merely (or carefully) lowering it in obviously won’t yield the right results.

Authors of the enyclopedia evidently also take some pleasure in debunking gastronomic myths, such as the one about ‘the French digestif, a liqueur or spirit that may be taken after a meal, more for the pleasure of drinking it than for any digestive action.’ At least the French tell no lies about why they do what they do.

Less amusing, however, is an entry – in this updated (2001) Hamlyn edition with a blurb by the mighty Jamie Oliver himself – on “Black Africa”, which begins, ‘The cuisine of the countries of Black Africa is little known in Europe, since it calls for ingredients difficult to obtain elsewhere. These include the meats of buffalo, zebra, camel, snake and monkey as well as that of elephant, hippopotamus and lion’. We are also told that ‘Salads and raw vegetables are unknown in African menus’, and that, ‘Although goat’s milk curds are eaten, Africa produces practically no cheese, except henna cheese (in Mali, Niger and Benin), which is used in sauces’.

Where, I wonder, is this “Black Africa” (and what’s the rest of the continent called)? If I wasn’t so amazed at the existence of this claustrophobic page, I would rip it out and burn it.