EDIBLE AESTHETICS: Arcimboldo used clever arrangements of fruits, flowers, legumes and roots to create this likeness of Rodolfo II of Hapsburg, here depicted as Vertunno, the god of transformations. Image:
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Ever been impressed with our modern world's ability to produce meals that look like one food but which are actually made of something else—like a tofu burger or artificial crab meat? It's actually an old trick. In medieval times fish was cooked to imitate venison during Lent, and celebratory banquets included a number of extravagant (and sometimes disturbing) delicacies such as meatballs made to resemble oranges, trout prepared to look like peas, and shellfish fashioned into mock viscera. Recipe books from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance also describe roasted chickens that appeared to sing, peacocks re-dressed in their own feathers and made to breathe fire, and an all-time favorite, a dish aptly named "Trojan Hog," in which a whole roasted pig was stuffed with an assortment of living creatures such as small birds, to the amusement and delight of cherished dinner guests. Unwelcome visitors were also treated to illusory food, but not quite as nice: They were served perfectly good meat that was made to look rotten and writhing with worms. Maybe not appetizing enough to eat, but repulsive enough to send your in-laws packing!
This month's slide show proves that illusory foods are alive and well. Our buffet of contemporary lip-smacking illusions will appeal to both your eyes and your stomach—for the most part. We hope you'll enjoy the spread.