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3 books feed the mind, answer cuisine questions

NEW YORK -- Three books, one new and two revised editions, answer questions about food you might not have known enough to ask. Now in the bookstores, they might prove to be worth a few inches of space on your reference shelves.

Want to look up French bread? Welsh laverbread? Czech briosky? Tibetan tsampa?They're all forms of the staff of life, described in the 500-plus pages of "You Eat What You Are: People, Culture and Food Traditions" (Firefly, $35 hardback) by Thelma Barer-Stein.

This solid book is dauntingly thorough and thoroughly fascinating. The secret of dealing with it is to take small bites, unless you are a food professional or academic like the author.

This is a second, updated and expanded edition of a work first published in 1979. Barer-Stein is a Canadian food writer, university lecturer, TV cooking-show host. She shares these details among many others:

In Iceland, cold milk is the most common drink with every meal, and Icelanders' favorite dish is skyr, curds and whey made of fermented milk.

Hungry Canadian settlers arriving in New Brunswick in 1783 copied Malacite Indians by eating young fiddlehead ferns.

Beans are considered good only if cooked in a clay or earthenware pot, according to Brazilian superstition.

She organizes her material in 55 world regions and-or countries; each geographical entity has maps, entries on domestic life, meals and customs, special occasions and glossaries of food terms.

"10,001 Food Facts, Chefs' Secrets & Household Hints" (Friedman-Fairfax, $24.95 paperback) by Myles H. Bader packs more than 600 pages with a wide range of information and advice, ideas and opinions.

Chapters range from All About Potatoes to The Cold Facts and Food Storage and from Substitutions That Work to Stains Begone.

The writing is breezy and clear. As with Barer-Stein's work, this is an entertaining book to browse through. And when you're in pursuit of something specific, navigating through the wads of data and using the index it isn't too hard to find answers for questions such as "Does a hot cup of any beverage really warm you up?" and "How does fruit ripen in a paper bag?"

Bader is described as a Las Vegas-based nutritionist, a physician specializing in preventive care, an author and lecturer.

"The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia" (Penguin Arkana, $18.95 paperback) by Rebecca Wood is subtitled "A Comprehensive Resource for Healthy Eating."

More than 1,000 entries in alphabetical order run from achiote to zucchini. They deal with fruits, grains, herbs and vegetables, include details of health benefits, advice on foraging or buying, and here and there a recipe.

Wood's first edition of this work was published in 1988. She writes about and teaches "whole food" cooking, and runs a cooking school in Boulder, Colo. Her 1997 book, "The Splendid Grain," won both James Beard and Julia Child-IACP awards.