There are five books I think anyone interested in food history should read. These are the five books I wish I’d known about when I first started cooking from the past.
My own first book
Three years ago I found myself in a Regency kitchen. I knew I wanted to cook in it. That bit was easy. I’d cooked in many large kitchen in the past. But my aim was to cook what would have been cooked in that kitchen in the past. In the 1830s.
I was completely out of my depth. I had no idea where to start with historic cookery. Where do you look for historic recipes?
One day I was given The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse (see below). A book from 1745. There were no pictures and only bare instructions. But within those pages recipes for dishes long forgotten but that would have been made in a kitchen like the one I was standing in. More books followed. These books had the answers I needed. Through them discovered a new (old) world of flummeries, of syllabubs and salmagundi salads.
I’ve made a list of five of these books that I’ve found most useful. Some give you a historical background, some inspire and some produce incredibly tasty historical food. If only someone had slipped me this list of books when I first stood, bewildered, three years ago in that old kitchen.
I hope that my list of books will inspire you to enter the world of historic recipe cooking. To try some recipes from the past for yourself.
Before you cook – An overview
A Taste of History 10,000 Years of Food in Britain. Peter Brears, Maggie Black, Gill Corbishley, Jane Renfrew and Jennifer Stead. English Heritage in association with British Museum Press. 1993.
This book is a great place to start as it provides you with an overview of Brtitish food history. The book covers social history, kitchen technology and recipes over 10,000 years. .
Before you cook – inspiration
Charlemagne’s Tablecloth – A piquant history of Feasting. Nichola Fletcher. Phoenix. 2004.
If you want to read about asbestos tablecloths, black banquets and a feast where the food wasn’t touched this is the book for you. Charlemange’s Tablecloth offers a captivating selection of triumphant successes as well as dismal failures. From the eccentric to the touchingly ordinary.
To get you cooking
Pride and Pudding. Regula Ysewijn. Murdoch Books. 2015
The joy of this book is that you get both the original recipes and the author’s adaptations. It’s the story of puddings, savoury and sweet, original recipes and historical background. It’s visually beautifully but also incredibly well researched and written.
Original recipes 1
The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. Hannah Glasse. Dover Publications. 1747/2015.
This is the book you need when you first start experimenting with original recipes. I first used when I needed to cook in the Regency kitchen.
The recipes are easy to follow once you decipher some confusing terms. Moist sugar, for example, means soft brown sugar. Tricky historical words is something I will cover in future blog posts.
Try chocolate tarts the Hannah Glasse way – wonderfully delicious!
Original recipes 2
Modern Cookery for Private Families. Eliza Acton. Quadrille. 1845/2011
Given to me at Christmas, it’s a bright orange book. It’s a complete reprint of the original with all the recipes. Eliza Acton is the first cookery writer to list all the ingredients needed separately . Before her ingredients were included in the main body of the recipe. This makes her recipes easy to follow. Her recipe for superlative mincemeat is the one I use every Christmas. Her mincepies were the first thing I EVER cooked in the Town House’s kitchen.
These 5 books will give you a good start in food history but I’d love to hear your own suggestions for food history books. What books do you recommend? What are your favourites? Do let me know.