As the title suggests, A history of food in 100 recipes is a collection of stories elaborating on the history of food from a Western perspective. The book begins with a recipe for bread in Ancient Egypt from about 2000 BC and journeys through the ages right up to the present day where it ends with a recipe for meat fruit by Heston Blumenthal. Each chapter commences with a recipe – of sorts. These are taken from sources of the period so are not necessarily easily understood or recognisable as a modern recipe. This then leads into the chapter proper which is connected in some way with the recipe. The book is an engaging way of reconnecting with our food and where it comes from. It’s a treasure trove of fascinating facts, a history book written in a light, humorous and accessible style. I’m thoroughly enjoying it.
The Author William Sitwell is a food critic, journalist and presenter. He currently edits the food magazine Waitrose Kitchen amongst a plethora of other activities including gardening and being the resident expert on BBC TVs A Question of Taste. He has by no means covered the whole history of food, but has picked out the stories which particularly appeal to him.
Of course the first chapters I jumped to were the chocolate ones and I had two of these to revel in. Both interesting, both very different. The first was Hot Chocolate and recounts the well known “discovery” of chocolate by the conquistador Hernan Cortes. During his stay with Montezuma he learnt the secrets of the cocoa bean, so highly prized it was used as currency. And he enjoyed many a brew of spiced frothing hot (sometimes cold) chocolate. Cocoa beans went back with him to Spain where the drink soon became revered for its health giving properties. The second was Chocolate Cake, a chapter that was more about the first modern supermarkets than it was chocolate, but which featured an interesting chocolate cake recipe using bread flour. I shall certainly be trying that out at some future date. This chapter tells the remarkable story of Clarence Saunders in the USA and the founding of his chain of self service stores, Piggly Wiggly, in 1916.
Being a vegetarian, I was fascinated to learn in the chapter Cauliflower & Cheese, that the Vegetarian Society was formed as far back as 1847 with a surprising 150 members signing up at its inception. The first vegetarian cookbook was published as far back as 1812, Vegetarian cooking by a Lady (anonymous in other words). Amazingly, by 1897 there were seven vegetarian restaurants in London. I had always assumed that early Western vegetarians had chosen this diet for health reasons rather than ethics, but I was wrong. As far back as Pythagoras, vegetarians were also also motivated by animal welfare. This chapter is not for the faint hearted and perhaps should come with a warning; there are some very gruesome descriptions of animal brutality.
The book is a wonderful mix of facts, stories, interesting characters and recipes. It currently resides on my bedside table as it is a great book for dipping in and out of and the chapters are very short. By the time I get to bed, I can hardly keep my eyes open, so having a chapter which is just three to five pages long is ideal. Never has the term bite sized chunks seemed more appropriate.
This book was sent to me for review purposes and as always, all opinions expressed are my own.