A History of Food in 100 Recipes
by William Sitwell
Like so many of the books I’ve amassed over the years, I found this one by chance; as a sometimes food blogger, traveller, history nerd and individual contemplating putting together another cookbook, how could a title like this not grab my attention?!
William Sitwell, writer, editor,food critic, British gastronomic stalwart, has brilliantly and entertainingly explored the history of cuisine through recipes that have been recorded over thousands of years, beginning in the 1959s BC with what is believed to be on of civilization’s earliest recorded recipes (Egyptian flat bread) right up to Heston’s 2011 recipe for “meat fruit.”
The journey in between looked at recipes “to salt ham,” recorded somewhere around 160BC, with these sage words: “Be they medieval fish buriers who cured salmon for a living or a Roman disciplinarian who salted pork in his spare time, these early innovators used their ingenuity to keep hunger at bay. Meanwhile, the techniques that once staved off real hunger in former times now sate the greed of the modern snacker today. For where would we be without all those salty, sugary goodies to make us obese and thirsty?”
We also learnt about our evolution in terms of cooking with heat and flames: “However it happened, man’s use of fire to cook was revolutionary. It wasn’t just the new flavour that it introduced to the food, but the inedible then became edible… As man consumed more nutrients, his health must have benefited too. Furthermore, his use of fire for cooking is one of the decisive factors that separates him from other animals… Animals may store food – dogs bury bones, raccoons douse their food in water – but only humans cook it. Having learnt to roast food, man then got all sophisticated and started boiling it.”
Come the mid1600s and we find that cookbooks were being produced in Italy, Germany and England, but not France, because a) recipes were still closely guarded secrets, and b) food was not considered a subject worthy of conversation. My, how times have changed…
Sitwell writes with good humour and refreshing honesty, fully embracing the commonly held world view that Britain HASD no real food culture, and rather than defending it, recognising the uphill battle Britain has faced in trying to establish a “proper food culture,” with one of those battles being the microwave coming along in the 1970s, encouraging people to buy processed food that could be stored almost indefinitely in the fridge or freezer, then re-heated and ready to eat in minutes.
Its a really great read for those of us who are interested in where this culture we’re all now so caught up in (all over the world) all started and how it evolved to the point its at today. Not to mention the fact that there are some really great recipes in there to try, and fantastic recommendations for further reading; grab a copy of your own here and enjoy the trip through food history!