You might groan at the thought of yet another recipe book, but The History of Food in 100 Recipes
is less about recipes than the stories and historical roots that lie behind them. Meticulously researched by author William Sitwell (a presenter and editor of Waitrose Magazine), it offers an intriguing account of the events and characters that have shaped our modern day attitudes, approach and relationship to food, while providing an in-depth insight into the foodie eras throughout time.
Translated rather than updated, the recipes that start each short chapter are often not ones that you can actually cook from. They are, nevertheless, recipes and evidence that, as many as 4000 years ago, people cared enough about food to document in some way the manner in which certain dietary staples (such as bread) should be prepared.
This book is rich in scholarly detail but Sitwell teams academic rigour with humour and plenty of anecdotal detail to keep his readers interested. One entertaining story looks at the discovery and introduction of the fork into English society by Thomas Coryat, who comes across the eating device while travelling in Italy in the early 17th century. On bringing one back to England however, his contemporaries are less than impressed, calling him an ‘effeminate sodomite’ for his pretension.
There are plenty more culinary tid-bits to feast upon. It is encouraging to know, for example, that as far back as the mid-16th century, when a meeting between Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés and Montezuma II (the last king of the Aztecs) led to hot chocolate being brought back to Europe, people became ‘addicted’ to it; and that the sandwich was deemed as good a booze-soaking snack in the 18th century as it is today.
Meamwhile, did you know that Mrs Beeton, long deemed a hero of British food culture, was actually the one responsible for decades of overcooked and tasteless boiled vegetables? Or that the supermarket format - where we help ourselves to food laid out in aisles - was the brainchild of American entrepreneur Clarence Saunders and his ‘Piggly Wiggly’ stores?
With contributions from modern chefs and cooks such as Nigella Lawson, Marco Pierre-White and Heston Blumenthal, Sitwell charts the evolution of food from Ancient Egypt, via the Vikings, the Middle Ages and various countries around the world, through to contemporary times. It is a fascinating story, cleverly told and one that will no doubt take its place as a one of the great discourses on food to be produced today.
Published in 2012 by Collins
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19th June 2012