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A Sumptuous Smorgasbord Of Food Facts

DO you know why the rolls served on airplanes are often brick-hard? How many peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches the average high school student will have consumed by graduation? Or what Ralph Waldo Emerson said about pears?

Do you care? Irena Chalmers, author of ``The Great Food Almanac: A Feast of Facts From A to Z'' (Collins Publishers San Francisco, $25), sure hopes so. The Cordon Bleu School graduate and author of many cookbooks foraged for food facts, fables, tips, and other tidbits to serve a sumptuous smorgasbord in her latest book.

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From the start of her career, Chalmers has dreamed of this project, which feeds both her fascination with ``everything about everything to do with food,'' as well as readers' appetite for data delivered with spice and wit.

The almanac isn't meant to be consumed at a single sitting, or even cover to cover. It's the serendipitous encounter with Chalmers's useful and entertaining book that makes it so appealing.

``When you read at random'' she writes, ``a synthesis will occur as the volume of information sweeps over you and you begin to make the curious connections - between the decimation of sharks, for example, and the disappearance of crabs - that prompted me to write this book in the first place.''

Still puzzling over those brick-hard rolls? Chalmers tells us they get that way ``because at least half the cabin's air comes in through the plane's superheated engines, which sucks all the moisture out of the air before it is cooled for use in the cabin.'' As for PBJs, the number is 1,500 per student. And the eloquent Emerson had this to say about one of autumn's fruits: ``There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.''

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