And More Gifts: A Selection of Food and Culinary History Books Published in 2013

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Tables in Provence (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)

Before I list my choice of books for 2013, a caveat: I have not read all of these yet. What I attempt here is to list the food and culinary history tomes that interest me (and hopefully you!), published in 2013. The descriptions of these books come from various sources, usually the publisher. That said, if you are looking for material from previous years, you might start with this list from Paperback Swap: List of 64 Food History Books (some are duplicate titles). This will be my last post until after the first of the year, so I wish for all of you plenty of good cheer and good food and good company! So without any further ado, the list:

At the King’s Table: Royal Dining Through the Ages, by Susanne Groom

Here are the feasts that really are fit for a king – or queen. This delightful book explores the history of royal dining from the bustling kitchens of the Middle Ages to the informal dinner parties of today. Susanne Groom, a curator at Historic Royal Palaces, considers the diets of monarchs from Richard II to Elizabeth II, revealing the exotic beasts served at medieval courts, the 48-day picnic prepared for Henry VIII and François I of France at the Field of Cloth of Gold, the romantic suppers made for Charles II and his mistresses, Queen Victoria’s love of nursery food, and the gluttonous appetite of Edward VII. We also learn about royal table manners, the earliest cookbooks, the hiring of flamboyant chefs and the intrigues of unscrupulous kitchen staff, the ever-changing health advice given to the sovereign, and the influence of royal diet on the average family fare. Full of lively anecdotes, colourful characters, rarely seen illustrations, and menus from state banquets, weddings, coronations and jubilees, Kings, Queens, Cooks and Kitchens is a treat for all culinary fans.

An Army marches on its stomach, observed Napoleon, a hundred and fifty years later General Rommel remarked that the British should always be attacked before soldiers had had an early morning cup of tea. This book, written to raise money for the Army Benevolent Fund and with a Foreword by General Lord Dannatt, sets out the human story of the food and “brew-ups” of the front-line soldier from the Boer War to Helmand. Throughout, the importance of the provision of food, or even a simple mug of tea, for morale and unit fellowship as well as for the need of the calories required for battle is highlighted with many examples over the century. For many, until 1942, the basis of food was “bully beef” and hard biscuit, supplemented by whatever could be found locally, all adequate but monotonous. Sometimes supply failed, on occasions water also. The extremes of hardship being when regiments were besieged, as in Ladysmith in the Boer War and Kut el-Amara in Iraq in the 1914-18 war. At Kut soldiers had, at best, hedgehogs or birds fried in axle-grease with local vegetation. On the Western Front the Retreat from Mons in August 1914 was almost as severe. The transport of food is as interesting a story as the food itself, ranging from oxen, horses, mules, camels, even reindeer and elephants to motor transport and aircraft in different theatres at different times. The first airdrop of food, not very successful, was in fact at Kut el-Amara in 1916. … The work has been compiled from documents in the Royal Logistic Corps Museum at Deepcut, from memoirs, letters and interviews, and from the superb collection of regimental histories in the library of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

Congotay! Congotay!: A Global History of Caribbean Food, by Candice Goucher

Since 1492, the distinct cultures, peoples, and languages of four continents have met in the Caribbean and intermingled in wave after wave of post-Columbian encounters, with foods and their styles of preparation being among the most consumable of the converging cultural elements. This book traces the pathways of migrants and travelers and the mixing of their cultures in the Caribbean from the Atlantic slave trade to the modern tourism economy. As an object of cultural exchange and global trade, food offers an intriguing window into this world. The many topics covered in the book include foodways, Atlantic history, the slave trade, the importance of sugar, the place of food in African-derived religion, resistance, sexuality and the Caribbean kitchen, contemporary Caribbean identity, and the politics of the new globalization. The author draws on archival sources and European written descriptions to reconstruct African foodways in the diaspora and places them in the context of archaeology and oral traditions, performance arts, ritual, proverbs, folktales, and the children’s song game “Congotay.” Enriching the presentation are sixteen recipes located in special boxes throughout the book.

This book looks at the textual attempts to construct a national cuisine made in Spain at the turn of the last century. At the same time that attempts to unify the country were being made in law and narrated in fiction, Mariano Pardo de Figueroa (1828-1918) and José Castro y Serrano (1829-96), Angel Muro Goiri (1839 – 1897), Emilia Pardo Bazán (1851-1921) and Dionisio Pérez (1872-1935) all tried to find ways of bringing Spaniards together through a common language about food. In line with this nationalist goal, all of the texts examined in this book contain strategies and rhetoric typical of nineteenth-century nation-building projects. The nationalist agenda of these culinary texts comes as little surprise when we consider the importance of nation building to Spanish cultural and political life at the time of their publication. At this time Spaniards were forced to confront many questions relating to their national identity, such as the state’s lackluster nationalizing policies, the loss of empire, national degeneration and regeneration and their country’s cultural dependence on France. In their discussions about how to nationalize Spanish food, all of the authors under consideration here tap into these wider political and cultural issues about what it meant to be Spanish at this time. Lara Anderson is Lecturer in Spanish Studies at the University of Melbourne.

Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History, by Rachel Laudan

Rachel Laudan tells the remarkable story of the rise and fall of the world’s great cuisines—from the mastery of grain cooking some twenty thousand years ago, to the present—in this superbly researched book. Probing beneath the apparent confusion of dozens of cuisines to reveal the underlying simplicity of the culinary family tree, she shows how periodic seismic shifts in “culinary philosophy”—beliefs about health, the economy, politics, society and the gods—prompted the construction of new cuisines, a handful of which, chosen as the cuisines of empires, came to dominate the globe. Cuisine and Empire shows how merchants, missionaries, and the military took cuisines over mountains, oceans, deserts, and across political frontiers. Laudan’s innovative narrative treats cuisine, like language, clothing, or architecture, as something constructed by humans. By emphasizing how cooking turns farm products into food and by taking the globe rather than the nation as the stage, she challenges the agrarian, romantic, and nationalistic myths that underlie the contemporary food movement.

Eating Her Curries and Kway: A Cultural History of Food in Singapore, by Nicole Tarulevicz

While eating is a universal experience, for Singaporeans it carries strong national connotations. The popular Singaporean-English phrase “Die die must try” is not so much hyperbole as it is a reflection of the lengths that Singaporeans will go to find great dishes.
In Eating Her Curries and Kway: A Cultural History of Food in Singapore, Nicole Tarulevicz argues that in a society that has undergone substantial change in a relatively short amount of time, food serves Singaporeans as a poignant connection to the past. Covering the period from British settlement in 1819 to the present and focusing on the post–1965 postcolonial era, Tarulevicz tells the story of Singapore through the production and consumption of food.
Analyzing a variety of sources that range from cookbooks to architectural and city plans, Tarulevicz offers a thematic history of this unusual country, which was colonized by the British and operated as a port within Malaya, but which is without a substantial pre-colonial history. Connecting food culture to the larger history of Singapore, she discusses various topics including domesticity and home economics, housing and architecture, advertising, and the regulation of food-related manners and public behavior such as hawking, littering, and chewing gum. Moving away from the predominantly political and economic focus of other histories of Singapore, Tarulevicz provides an important alternative reading of Singaporean society.

Eating Puerto Rico: A History of Food, Culture, and Identity,  by Cruz Miguel Ortiz Cuadra

Available for the first time in English, Cruz Miguel Ortiz Cuadra’s magisterial history of the foods and eating habits of Puerto Rico unfolds into an examination of Puerto Rican society from the Spanish conquest to the present. Each chapter is centered on an iconic Puerto Rican foodstuff, from rice and cornmeal to beans, roots, herbs, fish, and meat. Ortiz shows how their production and consumption connects with race, ethnicity, gender, social class, and cultural appropriation in Puerto Rico. Using a multidisciplinary approach and a sweeping array of sources, Ortiz asks whether Puerto Ricans really still are what they ate. Whether judging by a host of social and economic factors–or by the foods once eaten that have now disappeared–Ortiz concludes that the nature of daily life in Puerto Rico has experienced a sea change.

This compelling volume brings together original essays that explore the relationship between food and identity in everyday life in the Caribbean. The Caribbean history of colonialism and migration has fostered a dynamic and diverse form of modernity, which continues to transform with the impact of globalization and migration out of the Caribbean. One of the founders of the anthropology of food, Richard Wilk provides a preface to this exciting and interdisciplinary collection of essays offering insight into the real issues of food politics which contribute to the culinary cultures of the Caribbean. Based on rich contemporary ethnographies, the volume reveals the ways in which food carries symbolic meanings which are incorporated into the many different facets of identity experienced by people in the Caribbean. Many of the chapters focus on the ways in which consumers align themselves with particular foods as a way of making claims about their identities. Development and political and economic changes in the Caribbean bring new foods to the contemporary dinner table, a phenomenon that may subsequently destabilize the foundations of culinary identities. Food and Identity in the Caribbean reveals the ways in which some of the connections between food and identity persist against the odds whilst in other contexts new relationships between food and identity are forged.

High Society Dinners: Dining in Tsarist Russia, by Yuri Lotman and Jelena Pogosjan, ed. and annotated by Darra Goldstein, translated by Marian Schwartz

High Society Dinners offers extraordinary insight into the domestic arrangements of the Russian aristocracy, presenting six months’ worth of menus served in St Petersburg to the guests of Pavel Durnovo (1804–64), Grand Equerry to the Tsar, businessman and politician, part of an important late-19th-century dynasty that included ministers and high officials. The menus themselves would be useful enough for what they reveal about culinary culture in Russia, but it is the academic commentary in the introductory essay Yuri Lotman and Jelena Pogosjan that is so invaluable, dissecting the choice of dishes, the dining rituals and the social circles of the participants. The second part is a transcript of one year’s menus and guest lists interspersed with extracts from family letters and journals. This section was undertaken by A.A. Kononov and M.A. Gordin. Taken with the extensive contemporary illustrations, it sets in context the domestic and gastronomic underpinnings of life in this group at the heart of the Russian empire. The Russian has been finely translated by Marian Schwartz (who has worked with M. Gorbachov and translated works by Tolstoy, Bulgakov and Lermontov) and the book as a whole is annotated and introduced by Darra Goldstein, formerly editor of Gastronomica, professor of Russian Studies and author of books about Russian and Georgian food. This publication has been grant-aided by the Prokhorov Foundation’s Transcript programme.

Historic Heston, by Heston Blumenthal

British gastronomy has a grand old tradition that has been lost over time. Now England’s most inventive chef is out to reclaim it. Heston Blumenthal, whose name is synonymous with cutting-edge cuisine, nonetheless finds his greatest source of inspiration in the unique and delicious food that the sceptered isle once produced. This has been the secret to his success at world-famous restaurants The Fat Duck and Dinner, where a contrast between old and new, modern and historic, is key. Historic Heston charts a quest for identity through the best of British cooking that stretches from medieval to late-Victorian recipes. Start with thirty historic dishes, take them apart, put them together again, and what have you got? A sublime twenty-first-century take on delicacies including meat fruit (1500), quaking pudding (1660), and mock-turtle soup (1892). Heston examines the history behind each one’s invention and the science that makes it work. He puts these dishes in their social context and follows obscure culinary trails, ferreting out such curious sources as The Queen-like Closet from 1672 (which offers an excellent method for drying goose). What it adds up to is an idiosyncratic culinary history of Britain. This glorious tome also gives a unique insight into the way that Heston works, with signature dishes from both The Fat Duck and Dinner. Illustrated by Dave McKean and with some of the most superb food photography you’ll ever see, Historic Heston is a book to treasure. You think you know about British cooking? Think again.

The Land of the Five Flavors: A Cultural History of Chinese Cuisine, by Thomas O. Höllmann and translated by Karen Margolis

Renowned sinologist Thomas O. Höllmann tracks the growth of food culture in China from its earliest burial rituals to today’s Western fast food restaurants, mapping Chinese cuisine’s geographical variations and local customs, indigenous factors and foreign influences, trade routes, and ethnic associations. Höllmann details the food practices of major Chinese religions and the significance of eating and drinking in rites of passage and popular culture. He enriches his narrative with thirty of his favorite recipes and a selection of photographs, posters, paintings, sketches, and images of clay figurines and other objects excavated from tombs. Höllmann’s award-winning history revisits the invention of noodles, the role of butchers and cooks in Chinese politics, debates over the origin of grape wines, and the causes of modern-day food contamination. He discusses local crop production, the use of herbs and spices, the relationship between Chinese food and economics, the influence of Chinese philosophy, and traditional dietary concepts and superstitions. Citing original Chinese sources, Höllmann uncovers fascinating aspects of daily Chinese life, constructing a multifaceted compendium that inspires a rich appreciation of Chinese arts and culture.

The Larder: Food Studies Methods from the American South, ed. by John T. Edge, Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt, and Ted Ownby

The sixteen essays in The Larder argue that the study of food does not simply help us understand more about what we eat and the foodways we embrace. The methods and strategies herein help scholars use food and foodways as lenses to examine human experience. The resulting conversations provoke a deeper understanding of our overlapping, historically situated, and evolving cultures and societies. The Larder presents some of the most influential scholars in the discipline today, from established authorities such as Psyche Williams-Forson to emerging thinkers such as Rien T. Fertel, writing on subjects as varied as hunting, farming, and marketing, as well as examining restaurants, iconic dishes, and cookbooks. Editors John T. Edge, Elizabeth Engelhardt, and Ted Ownby bring together essays that demonstrate that food studies scholarship, as practiced in the American South, sets methodological standards for the discipline. The essayists ask questions about gender, race, and ethnicity as they explore issues of identity and authenticity. And they offer new ways to think about material culture, technology, and the business of food. The Larder is not driven by nostalgia. Reading such a collection of essays may not encourage food metaphors. “It’s not a feast, not a gumbo, certainly not a home-cooked meal,” Ted Ownby argues in his closing essay. Instead, it’s a healthy step in the right direction, taken by the leading scholars in the field.

In Meat We Trust: An Unexpected History of Carnivore America, by Maureen Ogle

The moment European settlers arrived in North America, they began transforming the land into a meat-eater’s paradise. Long before revolution turned colonies into nation, Americans were eating meat on a scale the Old World could neither imagine nor provide: an average European was lucky to see meat once a week, while even a poor American man put away about two hundred pounds a year. Maureen Ogle guides us from that colonial paradise to the urban meat-making factories of the nineteenth century to the hyperefficient packing plants of the late twentieth century. From Swift and Armour to Tyson, Cargill, and ConAgra. From the 1880s cattle bonanza to 1980s feedlots. From agribusiness to today’s “local” meat suppliers and organic countercuisine. Along the way, Ogle explains how Americans’ carnivorous demands shaped urban landscapes, midwestern prairies, and western ranges, and how the American system of meat making became a source of both pride and controversy.

Pure and Modern Milk: An Environmental History Since 1900, by Kendra Smith-Howard

Americans have never been more concerned about their food’s purity. The organic trade association claims that three-quarters of all consumers buy organic foods each year, spending billions of dollars “Dairy farm families, health officials, and food manufacturers have simultaneously stoked human desires for an all-natural product and intervened to ensure milk’s safety and profitability,” writes Kendra Smith-Howard. In Pure and Modern Milk, she tells the history of a nearly universal consumer product, and sheds light on America’s food industry. Today, she notes, milk reaches supermarkets in an entirely different state than it had at its creation. Cows march into milking parlors, where tubes are attached to their teats, and the product of their lactation is mechanically pumped into tanks. Enormous, expensive machines pasteurize it, fortify it with vitamins, remove fat, and store it at government-regulated temperatures. It reaches consumers in a host of forms: as fluid milk, butter, ice cream, and in apparently non-dairy foods such as whey solids or milk proteins. Smith-Howard examines the cultural, political, and social context, discussing the attempts to reform the production and distribution of this once-perilous product in the Progressive Era, the history of butter between the world wars, dairy waste at mid-century, and the postwar landscape of mass production. She asks how milk could be conceptualized as a “natural” product, even as it has been incorporated into Cheez Whiz and wood glue. And she shows how consumer’s changing expectations have had repercussions back down the chain, affecting farmers, cows, and rural landscapes. A groundbreaking, interdisciplinary history, this book reveals the complexity and challenges of humanity’s dependence on other species.

Reading and Writing Recipe Books, 1550 – 1800, ed. by Michelle DiMeo and Sara Pennell

This collection of essays provides an overview of new scholarship on recipe books, one of the most popular non-fiction printed texts in, and one of the most common forms of manuscript compilation to survive from, the pre-modern era (c.1550–1800). This is the first book to collect together the wide variety of scholarly approaches to pre-modern recipe books written in English, drawing on varying approaches to reveal their culinary, medical, scientific, linguistic, religious and material meanings. Ten scholars from the fields of culinary history, history of medicine and science, divinity, archaeology and material culture, and English literature and linguistics contribute to a vibrant mapping of the aspirations invested in, and uses of, recipes and recipe books. By exploring areas as various as the knowledge economies of medicine, Anglican feasting and fasting practices, the material culture of the kitchen and table, London publishing and concepts of authorship and the aesthetics of culinary styles, these eleven essays (including a critical introduction to recipe books and their historiography) position recipe texts in the wider culture of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They illuminate their importance to both their original compilers and users, and modern scholars and graduate students alike.

Repast: Dining Out at the Dawn of the New American Century, 1900-1910, by Michael Lesy and Lisa Stoffer

Before Julia Child introduced the American housewife to France’s cuisine bourgeoise, before Alice Waters built her Berkeley shrine to local food, before Wolfgang Puck added Asian flavors to classical dishes and caviar to pizza, the restaurateurs and entrepreneurs of the early twentieth century were changing the way America ate. Beginning with the simplest eateries and foods and culminating with the emergence of a genuinely American way of fine dining, Repast takes readers on a culinary tour of early-twentieth-century restaurants and dining. The innovations introduced at the time—in ingredients, technologies, meal service, and cuisine—transformed the act of eating in public in ways that persist to this day. Illustrated with photographs from the time as well as color plates reproducing menus from the New York Public Library’s Buttolph Menu Collection, Repast is a remarkable record of the American palate. 67 color plates, 21 black-and-white photographs.

Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal, by Abigail Carroll

In Three Squares, food historian Abigail Carroll upends the popular understanding of our most cherished mealtime traditions, revealing that our eating habits have never been stable—far from it, in fact. The eating patterns and ideals we’ve inherited are relatively recent inventions, the products of complex social and economic forces, as well as the efforts of ambitious inventors, scientists and health gurus. Whether we’re pouring ourselves a bowl of cereal, grabbing a quick sandwich, or congregating for a family dinner, our mealtime habits are living artifacts of our collective history—and represent only the latest stage in the evolution of the American meal. Our early meals, Carroll explains, were rustic affairs, often eaten hastily, without utensils, and standing up.  Only in the nineteenth century, when the Industrial Revolution upset work schedules and drastically reduced the amount of time Americans could spend on the midday meal, did the shape of our modern “three squares” emerge: quick, simple, and cold breakfasts and lunches and larger, sit-down dinners.  Since evening was the only part of the day when families could come together, dinner became a ritual—as American as apple pie. But with the rise of processed foods, snacking has become faster, cheaper, and easier than ever, and many fear for the fate of the cherished family meal as a result.

The Vegetarian Crusade: The Rise of an American Reform Movement, 1817-1921, by Adam D. Shprintzen 

Vegetarianism has been practiced in the United States since the country’s founding, yet the early years of the movement have been woefully misunderstood and understudied. Through the Civil War, the vegetarian movement focused on social and political reform, but by the late nineteenth century, the movement became a path for personal strength and success in a newly individualistic, consumption-driven economy. This development led to greater expansion and acceptance of vegetarianism in mainstream society. So argues Adam D. Shprintzen in his lively history of early American vegetarianism and social reform. From Bible Christians to Grahamites, the American Vegetarian Society to the Battle Creek Sanitarium, Shprintzen explores the diverse proponents of reform-motivated vegetarianism and explains how each of these groups used diet as a response to changing social and political conditions.

By examining the advocates of vegetarianism, including institutions, organizations, activists, and publications, Shprintzen explores how an idea grew into a nationwide community united not only by diet but also by broader goals of social reform.

Writing Food History: A Global Perspective, ed. by Kyri Claflin and Peter Scholliers

The vibrant interest in food studies among both academics and amateurs has made food history an exciting field of investigation. Taking stock of three decades of groundbreaking multidisciplinary research, the book examines two broad questions: What has history contributed to the development of food studies? How have other disciplines – sociology, anthropology, literary criticism, science, art history – influenced writing on food history in terms of approach, methodology, controversies, and knowledge of past foodways?Essays by twelve prominent scholars provide a compendium of global and multicultural answers to these questions. The contributors critically assess food history writing in the United States, Africa, Mexico and the Spanish Diaspora, India, the Ottoman Empire, the Far East – China, Japan and Korea – Europe, Jewish communities and the Middle East. Several historical eras are covered: the Ancient World, the Middle Ages, Early Modern Europe and the Modern day. The book is a unique addition to the growing literature on food history. It is required reading for anyone seeking a detailed discussion of food history research in diverse times and places.

And a plug for my own book: Mushroom: A Global History, by Cynthia D. Bertelsen
Known as the meat of the vegetable world, mushrooms have their ardent supporters as well as their fierce detractors. J.R.R. Tolkien’s hobbits went crazy over them, while the French philosopher Denis Diderot thought they should be ‘sent back to the dung heap where they are born’. In Mushroom, Cynthia D. Bertelsen examines the colourful history of edible fungi, whose story is fraught with murder and accidental death, hunger and gluttony, sickness and health, religion and war. Some cultures equate them with the rottenness of life while others delight in cooking and eating them, and elevate them to the status of delicacy. And then there are those ‘magic’ mushrooms which some people link to ancient religious beliefs. In the nineteenth century mushrooms entered the realm of haute cuisine after millennia of being picked from the wild for use in everyday cooking and medicine. This new demand drove entrepreneurs and farmers to seek methods for cultivating mushrooms, including experiments in domesticating the highly sought after but elusive truffles. Packed with images of mushrooms both nondescript and outlandish from around the globe, this savoury book will be essential reading for any who appreciate the earthy delights of mushrooms.

P.S. Nabu Press has recently published a large number of titles of old books that would be of interest to food and culinary history buffs and researchers. Note that many of these Nabu titles are available at sites such as archive.org. © 2013 C. Bertelsen  

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8 thoughts on “And More Gifts: A Selection of Food and Culinary History Books Published in 2013

    1. Thank you, Dorette. Enjoy the season, so filled with wonderful opportunities for cooking. I made a Kouign Amann the other day for the first time – it turned out pretty well, all things considered!

    2. Yes, here’s to wonderful cooking opportunities for you too! Well, of course I have to ask, what is a Kouign Amann?

    3. Dorette, Kouign Amann is a Breton butter cake-like thingy made in the puff pastry manner, butter spread on a bread dough sprinkled with LOTS of sugar, folded, and then rolled again, refrigerated, more sugar, rolling and folding. Really interesting. The recipe I used comes from the Saveur Cooks Authentic French (1999) cookbook.

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