A nostalgic celebration of food
Despite the title, John-Bryan Hopkins’ Foodimentary: Celebrating 365 Food Holidays with Classic Recipes isn’t quite a calendar or a cookbook. The first entry is “Peanut Butter Lover’s Day” on March 1, and from there the book covers everything from the Aztecs and Incas to health-food pioneer Dr. John Kellogg to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.
The January 1 entry, many chapters later, is not about black-eyed peas, soba noodles or lentils but a specialty concoction for “Bloody Mary Day.” It is one of many holidays that Hopkins shamelessly admits to having personally anointed. “I looked up all sorts of recipes going back to the 1910s and ’20s,” he says. Ultimately, Hopkins makes his Bloody Mary with vodka, for those into such spirited debates.
Foodimentary—inspired by Hopkins’ popular blog, foodimentary.com—is what he calls a celebration, a daily indulgence and an appreciation of food, culture and nostalgia. It’s also an evocation of Hopkins’ own story, “fleshed out” with recipes, vintage photographs and delightful trivia.
“It’s how I wanted to tell my tale,” says the Birmingham native, “with as much layering as I could bring to it.” It’s comfort food in both senses, a hometown story alongside his favorite dishes.
Hopkins, whose blog began in 2005, came up with the Sherlock Holmes-inspired name during a freewheeling and slightly inebriated post-dinner conversation. Ironically, he had a mild bias against blogs because he felt they tended to be about the blogger, not the subject. He styles himself more as the wizard behind the delicious and decadent curtain. When he discovered the word “foodimentary” was free and clear of copyright, he took it as a sign.
Hopkins’ goal is to lead his readers to their own food-inspired “A-ha!” moment: “When you learn a fact about a food or recipe you think, oh, that makes sense!”
For Foodimentary, Hopkins originally tested 176 recipes, which have been whittled down to a few dozen highlights. Some are personal favorites; others, such as Eggs Benedict, are classics. There’s also his own “personal best” dish, an extra-savory take on grilled cheese featuring sun-dried tomatoes, arugula and sautéed mushrooms on baguette slices.
Altogether, Hopkins estimates he’s introduced the world to around 150 national food holidays. So many, in fact, that one of his proudest achievements is that Google has taken up his food calendar. Foodies can sign up for his daily alerts that include food trivia along with fun historical facts, like his salute to bologna and its Italian origins.
Some holidays are comparatively serious (September 25 honors the multitude of waiters, busers, servers, dishwashers, chefs, etc. in the food service industry) while others are more akin to guilty pleasures. We have “Cheez Doodle Day,” March 5; “Pizza and Beer Day,” October 9; and “Whiskey Sour Day,” August 25 to name a few. This reviewer is looking forward to both the soft and hard taco days, October 3 and 4, respectively, though it seems like October 5 should probably be Alka-Seltzer Day instead of “Apple Betty Day.” While the ubiquitous and beloved fall flavor, pumpkin spice, is seasonally celebrated on October 1, sometimes Hopkins eschews tradition in favor of his own agenda. For example, August is famously among the months when it is considered inadvisable to eat oysters. Perhaps flaunting the all-season convenience of our modern age, he has assigned Oyster Day to August 5.
Adding to the nonstop fun are the trivia questions in the sidebars. The word “zucchini” may translate from Italian into “small squash,” but a full-grown fruit can grow the size of a baseball bat—no doubt thanks to the same food science that allows us to eat oysters year-round. Peanuts have more antioxidants than either green tea or spinach; Brits like to enjoy pigs in a blanket on Thanksgiving; ramen noodles were taken into outer space; Italy is the world’s largest exporter of caviar. This is a book that could easily be displayed in the kitchen or on a coffee table for visitors to leisurely graze.
One of the more intriguing elements of Foodimentary is that the illustrations are by four different artists, one for each season, which are harmonious without being identical. “I wanted each season to have a slightly different feel as you travel through the book,” Hopkins, a former interior designer, says. “I didn’t want the concept just to be about a series of days, I wanted [the nostalgia] to visually rise up under a seemingly simple premise.”
Now that his whimsical almanac has gone public, Hopkins is stirring up ideas for a second book. He envisions a more serious reference title, though still accessible: “Need a quick substitute in a recipe? Don’t go to Google, go to Foodimentary.” He managed most of his first book’s text in six weeks, so followers may not have to wait too long.
Speaking of whimsy, Foodimentary begins with March because spring is Hopkins’ favorite food season. He says it’s the “best time to me to celebrate food.” Hey—it worked for the Romans.
This article was originally published in the December 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.