Caviar: A Global History (Edible)
Nichola Fletcher is as interesting as the books she writes, and she writes a lot of them - over ten books on food. She designs and makes handmade jewelry, she and her husband live in Scotland and run Europe's first deer farm. According to Fletcher, Americans are second only to Russians in the amount of caviar they consume. I am conflicted about caviar. Its the eggs from sturgeon - a 250 million year old species. They can grow 7 to 12 feet long and the largest sturgeon on record was nearly 2 tons. They have an average lifespan of 60 to 70 years and can live over 100. They are docile creatures that will allow you to pick them up. Last summer two Edina boys pulled a 6 foot sturgeon out of Minnehaha Creek by lassoing a rope around its tail and pulling it out of the creek. They released it after they measured it. Over exploitation has pushed many of the 27 species of sturgeon to the edge of extinction. I had sturgeon steak once in Seattle at Roy's Boat House and caviar a handful of times and they were all great but the age of the fish and its potential extinction give me pause when it comes to eating it. With caviar there is the additional issue of expense.
In Caviar: A Global History (Edible) Nichola Fletcher doesn't necessarily ease my conscience but jumps right into the environmental issues, the magnificence of the fish and the delightful elegance of its product. Fletcher covers the history of the fish and its human exploitation in Russia, Iran, Europe and America. She gives us the ins and outs of caviar processing and teaches us how to buy it. She offers pointers on how to find sustainable, quality caviar and suggests less spendy alternatives. Fletcher instructs us on how to eat caviar and she ends with a selection of recipes. I find her discussion of the crisis in the Caspian particularly interesting and important. While we complain about the zebra mussels infesting our waters after arriving here in the ballasts of ships from Russian waters, an invasion of the comb jellyfish - an American native brought to Russian waters in the ballasts of American ships are devastating the Caspian Sea fisheries and wiping out the sturgeon's major food sources. As alternatives to wild caught sturgeon, Fletcher discusses the potential of farmed sturgeon and also reviews some alternative fish roe sources. This excellent book opens the door to the world of caviar and also tells the story of human impact on one of the world's oldest existing species. The book is well written and peppered with attractive illustrations.