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A History of Food in 100 Recipes – a review

Book Reviews | 23rd July 2012 | By


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.


  1. Debby

    23rd July 2012 at 6:49 am

    This book sounds fascinating Choclette. Amazing insight…I had no idea that there vegetarian restaurants so far back. I’d love to know what was on the menu…Is there information about that in the book?

    • Choclette

      24th July 2012 at 6:21 am

      It’s a really good read Debby and so much to learn. Sadly no menus provided. It did talk about the recipes in one of the earlier vegetarian cookbooks though – which were mostly boiled veg!

  2. Helen @ Fuss Free Flavours

    23rd July 2012 at 7:26 am

    Lovely review of such an interesting book which re defined our view of a 5* ratng

    I am really enjoying how all the reviews are picking out different things from the book. Makes me need to go and readed parts.

    • Choclette

      24th July 2012 at 6:24 am

      Yours is the only review I’ve seen so far Helen. Will have to look out for others.

  3. Debs Dust Bunny

    23rd July 2012 at 7:51 am

    Sounds like a fascinating book, but if I’m honest, I really want to know about that chocolate cake! You will be featuring it on your blog soon…I hope!

    • Choclette

      24th July 2012 at 6:26 am

      You are a woman after my own heart Debs! I can’t promise soon, but I will be featuring the chocolate cake at some point.

  4. Jacqueline

    23rd July 2012 at 8:18 am

    It is interesting to learn about the start of the veggie society, but I don’t think this is one for me.

    • Choclette

      24th July 2012 at 6:27 am

      That’s OK Jac, it’s not compulsory 🙂

  5. May

    23rd July 2012 at 10:00 am

    Nice to read the review. Didn’t know what this book had in it as it’s not obvious on the cover. But it sounds really interesting. Will add to the reading list.

    • Choclette

      24th July 2012 at 8:21 pm

      Hi May, this is most definitely worthy of being added to a reading list 🙂

  6. Ellen B Cookery

    23rd July 2012 at 2:11 pm

    I think it’s great to know the history behind each food. Could shed some light on why foods are getting modified today.

    • Choclette

      24th July 2012 at 8:35 pm

      You have a good point Ellen, sadly so many know so little about the food we grow and eat 🙁

  7. Vanessa Kimbell

    23rd July 2012 at 9:38 pm

    It’s a superb book Really I would have thought it would be a best seller instantly because it’s so readable.

    • Choclette

      24th July 2012 at 8:37 pm

      Yes, it certainly ought to be Vanessa.

  8. rita cooks italian

    24th July 2012 at 6:04 am

    It sounds like a very interesting book, I really enjoy reading about recipes and history of food.

    • Choclette

      24th July 2012 at 8:39 pm

      The history of food is really the history of us and our culture, so it is a fascinating subject.

  9. Janice

    24th July 2012 at 11:32 am

    Lots to keep you amused in that book!

    • Choclette

      24th July 2012 at 8:47 pm

      Plenty indeed – when I can wrest it off CT that is 😉

  10. Dom at Belleau Kitchen

    24th July 2012 at 2:53 pm

    i’ve loved this book since I received a copy but am finding it really hard to review… yours in an excellent review… I think I must try and find a recipe and then use it… there are some really bizarre ones from it that i’m sure would go down well in Belleau Kitchen x

    • Choclette

      24th July 2012 at 8:49 pm

      Thanks Dom, you can come again, the excellent word always goes down well. Bizarre Belleau Kitchen – bring it on 😉

  11. Karen S Booth

    24th July 2012 at 6:59 pm

    I am with Dom – I LOVE this book but am finding it so hard to write a succinct and good review….I am going to take a leaf out of your book and hone in on a recipe…..and then take it from there! Karen

    • Choclette

      24th July 2012 at 8:50 pm

      Te he Karen, I’m happy to lead the way 😉

  12. Foodycat

    24th July 2012 at 8:52 pm

    Fascinating sounding book!

    Choclette, the soup recipe I linked to in my unphotogenic post was this one from Dan Lepard. Didn’t the link work for you?

  13. All That I'm Eating

    25th July 2012 at 12:21 pm

    Well I certainly need to get my hands on this book! It sounds really interesting, can’t believe the Vegetarian society was formed so long ago!

  14. Alida

    25th July 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Looks like a very interesting book, lots of new things to learn in there!

  15. Rachel

    25th July 2012 at 3:33 pm

    I often go to bed with a good cookery book to read but this sounds really interesting – I’d love to find out more about the history of food. 🙂

  16. Raisa @ Endless Wardrobe

    26th July 2012 at 4:36 am

    Great review! This is a must-read, thanks for recommending this!

  17. Blomberg designed fridge

    27th July 2012 at 9:46 am

    As a history buff and foodie this is going to be a really interesting read for me. I can just imagine how exciting it is to prepare a dish served some 2000 years ago. I would definitely fancy a copy of this book.

  18. Carmela Sereno Hayes

    12th February 2013 at 6:42 pm

    A wonderful review and a great book x

  19. JaynesDen

    19th March 2013 at 11:01 am

    A beautiful looking book. An excellent review.

  20. Maya Russell

    18th November 2013 at 10:58 am

    Sounds like a really interesting read and a well researched book.

  21. Heather Haigh

    13th May 2014 at 11:00 am

    That sounds like a fascinating book, would love to read it.


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