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Elisabeth Townsend

Elisabeth Townsend is a culinary sleuth who specializes in food, drink, and travel. She writes about the best of everything from cod and lobster to dark chocolate to artisanal cheese to beer and sparkling wine. Her second book, Cod: A Global History, published in Fall 2022 by Reaktion Books, begins with the captivating story of how codfish fed the Viking and Portuguese explorers, leading to its evolution from a northern European staple to one of the world’s most versatile food sources.  Fresh, salted, or dried, it is consumed from Iceland to Macau, and was the first fish traded as an international commodity.

Her first book, Lobster: A Global History, offers an original, comprehensive narrative about lobster’s transformation from peasant food to a luxurious delicacy.

Townsend has reviewed restaurants for The Boston Globe and written features for magazines including the Quarterly Review of Wines and Portland Monthly. “The Cooking Ape: An Interview with Richard Wrangham” was selected for The Gastronomica Reader (2010), the tenth anniversary celebration of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. She has contributed several articles to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Townsend is a member of the Culinary Historians of Boston. You can ask her where to eat the best fresh codfish and lobster rolls in New England.

You can purchase both books here.

Reviews for Cod: A Global History

Cod is an engaging celebration of the history, ecology, and deliciousness of an extraordinary fish that has sustained people worldwide for centuries, and a heartfelt plea for its future survival.’ — Darra Goldstein, founding editor of “Gastronomica” and author of “Beyond the North Wind”

‘Through a human lens, Townsend puts focus on this iconic fish, which has shaped our history, fed societies and fuelled economies for centuries. Richly illustrated, well researched – no one has told the story better.’ — George A. Rose, Honorary Professor, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, UBC

‘This is the first culinary history of a truly remarkable fish. Elisabeth Townsend follows cod around the globe, showing how its pursuit began with the Vikings, and exploring its influence on human affairs ever since. The book looks at the different ways cod has been caught, cooked and eaten, often by the descendants of explorers, enslaved people and traders. Cod examines the fish in the myths and legends of the North Atlantic, the West Indies, South America, West and Southeast Africa, and across the Indian Ocean to the Far East. It is a fascinating journey through cod fact and lore, and features delectable historical and contemporary recipes that showcase the myriad ways it can be consumed.
It is the 90+ book in the Edible Series. For a complete list of books go to Reaktion Books or The University of Chicago Press.’ — Andrew Franklin Smith, Editor, Edible Series, Reaktion Books

‘Townsend tells the important story of this fish and surprises constantly with fascinating stories of its centrality to the progress of world history. She appends with recipes both ancient and contemporary, from Jamaican ackee and saltfish to French haute cuisine. Carefully chosen illustrations and photographs enhance the text.’ — Booklist

Reviews for Lobster: A Global History

‘Elisabeth Townsends concise but rich Lobster: A Global History offers a journey through lobsters prehistoric and recorded history, exploring scientific, environmental and culinary matters . . . She also does an outstanding job of documenting and explaining the modern controversy over the treatment of lobster.’ — Jasper White, Wall Street Journal

‘a frothy confection of lobster history, lore, and art, with an emphasis on cooking and consuming the crustaceans. There are plenty of entertaining moments . . . You could certainly pick up a tidbit or two from this jam-packed little book to enliven your next lobster dinner conversation. — Darra Goldstein, founding editor of “Gastronomica” and author of “Beyond the North Wind”

‘Elisabeth Townsend considers the creature that inspired mosaic artists in ancient Pompeii, reclined like a cardinal in still life paintings, gave Salvador Dalí a telephone handle, fed the indigent poor and later the spoiled rich and became a partial success in shellfish farming . . . Reading its 128 pages inclusive of recipes will leave almost anyone considerably more clued up about lobsters than they were before.’ — Fay Maschler, The Spectator