A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell
“Take nessh chese, and pare it clene, and grinde hit in a mortar small, and drawe yolkes and white of egges through streynour, and cast there-to, and grinde hem togidre; then cast thereto Sugur, butter and salt, and put al togidre in a coffin of faire past, And lete bake ynowe, and serue it forthe.“
Just in case you don’t recognize this recipe, it’s for Else fryes or Cheese Tart. It’s from a manuscript dated 1450, but it first came to be published in 1888 after being owned by people like Elizabeth I and the Earl of Oxford. If reading this recipe and knowing its history makes you happy, then A History of Food in 100 Recipes is the book for you.
• Who wrote it: William Sitwell
• Who published it: Little Brown
• Number of recipes: Technically 100, but not all of them well suited to a 21st Century kitchen (see below.)
• Recipes for right now: How much you will actually cook from this book depends on your interest in culinary history, your ambitions in the kitchen, and perhaps your ability to translate the word ‘coffin’ into ‘prebaked pastry case.’ Of course the 20th and 21st Century recipes are more doable for modern cooks and from there you can choose from 42 recipes, or nearly half of the book. Here you will find Creamed Mushrooms from Florence Kreisler Greenbaum (1917); Elderberry and Apple Jam from Marguerite Patten (1940); Plum Tart from Alice Waters and Lindsey Shere (1971); Sweet and Sour Pork (1984) from Ken Holm; Salmon Tartare with Sweet Red Onion Creme Fraiche from Thomas Keller (1999) and Steamed Salmon with Tomato Basil Couscous (2009) from Jamie Oliver.
• Other highlights: Obviously, this book is primarily a culinary history with the 100 recipes selected simply as a lens through which to view our lives, both past and present. As much as I really appreciate this approach and admire the time and work that went into it, there is one glaring fault that I find hard to get around: there is very little attention given to food outside of Europe and the US. Occasionally a food from another culture is introduced, but only as it relates western civilization. Indian food is represented by a Kedgeree recipe written by Eliza Acton (1845) and by a recipe from Madhur Jaffery’s move to London in the 1960s, for example. Only Congee (636) seems to have an entry based entirely on its own merit. Perhaps they should change the title to The History of Western Food in 100 Recipes?
Nonetheless, there is much interesting information to be found here, from the first, a recipe for Ancient Egyptian Bread (1958-1913 BC), to the 100th, which is called Meat Fruit (2011) from Heston Blumenthal and Ashley Palmer-Watts (it’s a foie gras and chicken liver parfait if that helps). In our modern day world of mega-supermarkets and food being flown around the planet, it’s good to be reminded of the times when food was scarce, precious, and easily lost to the whims of nature, war, and politics.
One other note: Even within its western world bias, the book has a natural slant towards the UK as its author, William Sitwell, is British and is the editor of the Waitrose Kitchen, a British magazine.
• Who would enjoy this book? As mentioned, those interested in culinary history might enjoy this, as well as people who would find it fun to take on some of the older recipes. And the more modern recipes are great, too. In fact, I may just make Alice Water’s Plum Take today as it’s full-on plum season here in California circa Summer, 2013.
Find the book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon: A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell
• Visit the author’s website: William Sitwell
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.
(Images: Dana Velden)