Caviar: The Strange History and Uncertain Future of the...

Editor's Choice

October 06, 2002|By Michael Pakenham

Caviar: The Strange History and Uncertain Future of the World's Most Coveted Delicacy, by Inga Saffron (Broadway Books, 256 pages, $23.95).

Saffron first tasted more than a hint of caviar not long after arriving in 1994 as Moscow-based Russian correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer. She became obsessed -- as by the enormously complex history, both natural and economic -- of the salt-preserved eggs of sturgeon, one of the most primitive and grotesque of all fish. She also loved the stuff. She is also a tireless reporter with that rare and beautiful zeal and artfulness that can transform food writing from menu notes into spun gold. Here, she traces the history -- rather, histories -- of caviar from simple peasant food to one of the most sought-after and expensive edibles on earth. Once plentiful in the Susquehanna and Delaware rivers and in other unpoisoned major waterways, sturgeon now survive in serious quantities only around the Caspian Sea. The domination of the trade by czars and commissars, by poachers and now by organized crime provides a dozen fascinating tales -- among lots else. An enchanting book on a deliciously mysterious subject.

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