BooksA TASTE OF THE GONZO SCIENTIST

A Linnean Feast

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Science  02 Nov 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5851, pp. 752
DOI: 10.1126/science.1152652

If you haven't heard the news yet, this year marks the 300th birthday of Carl Linnaeus. I can report that his fellow Swedes are keenly aware. On a recent visit to Uppsala, I took part in a Linnaeus celebration organized by a group of Swedish scholars and chefs. It was called Culina Mutata, the changing kitchen, and it was the most unusual birthday party I have ever attended.

Linnaeus is best known as the inventor of modern taxonomy, the system of Latin names that divide all organisms into species based on shared traits. The innovation helped pave the way for Darwinism a century later. But like a rock star who is only remembered for that one catchy song, Linnaeus's other contributions are appreciated only by the groupies.

Less well-known is his passion for food. Toward the end of an illustrious career, Linnaeus laid the foundation for modern food science. Many of the questions he posed remain at the forefront of food science research today. Which foods are necessary for development, and which should be avoided? To what extent can diet promote or inhibit disease? Is there an ideal diet for each person, or indeed for each genome?

So for three days, a diverse medley of academics—biochemists, historians, agricultural scientists, psychologists—expounded on the science of food, both in the time of Linnaeus and today. The lectures were punctuated by a series of 18th-century meals, starting with a peasant's lunch and ending with a royal banquet. And for entertainment? The conference organizers performed a play—in handmade period costumes, no less—about one extraordinary day in the life of Linnaeus. We were then exposed to the dance craze of the time, the minuet. (Imagine Saturday Night Fever, but with Mozart.)

If you missed the party, don't worry. The year is not yet done. Why not throw a Linnaeus 300th birthday party of your own? Use the following protocol to prepare a winter feast in true Linnaen style. [The recipes (below) are from Gunnar Broberg and Gunilla Lindell's Till livs med Linné (Atlantis, Stockholm, 2007).]

CREDIT: JOE SUTLIFF

First, find a fish. The winter months are best for the ruthlessly predatory but delicious pike (Esox lucius). They lurk beneath the lake ice. For a dinner party of four, catch two pike, if you can.

While your lines dangle, head into the forest to find a bird. An ideal quarry is the capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), also known as the wood grouse. But beware, they are intelligent and agile creatures. You will need a widely dispersing shotgun, if not an automatic weapon. Check what local laws apply.

On your way back to the lake with birds in hand, march to the swamp to gather cranberries (Oxycoccus palustris). You will find them in low depressions beneath the snow. If your feet get wet, build a fire. Better to ruin a dinner than lose a toe to the frost.

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