Cookery book review -William Sitwell

First published August 2014 on The History Girls.

People  often ask where my love of food history began and where they can go to do similiar research. I took my first steps with medieval recipes, a time when sugar and exotic spices influenced the stomachs of the most affluent in British society, and, as so often is the case, reflected many of the political and social changes of the era. There is a wealth of written information on this period, perfect for the historically curious cook.

As my understanding grew I so did my desire to learn more about how our diets evolved throughout history, rather than focusing on a single snapshot in time. So imagine my delight when my husband arrived home with a book by the excellent William Sitwell. The arrival of a new cookbook is always greeted with boundless excitement but this new publication offered the perfect combination of instruction and commentary on my favourite topic. Rather than a simple collection of receipts, ‘A History Of Food In 100 Recipes’ aims to show the reader how each new innovation fits with the social context, and how it influenced the next.

William Sitwell is a renowned food writer and restaurant critic perhaps best known for his role as Editor for Waitrose Kitchen Magazine. Throughout the book his style is warm and friendly. So often history can be dry and humourless but Sitwell manages to include a lot of factual information in a manner which feels accessible to the novice reader. His experience is evident and instills you with confidence as you move through the evolution of cooking and diets within human civilisations.

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The ‘recipe’ I use most from this book is already reproduced on the blog. Tiger nut sweets, circa 1400 bc is a tantalising story of Ancient Egyptian stone carvings and Old Testament bible stories. Made up of nothing more than dried fruits, almonds and honey it acts as an example of how ancient recipes can fit perfectly with modern trends. Pressed together the ingredients form the original high fibre, low sugar energy snack: perfect for life on the move.

If you’re interested in widening your own repertoire of historically influenced dishes then I can thoroughly recommend this first book by William Sitwell. In addition to confirming research I had from previous sources, it proved to be the starting point for a great number of research threads I am still following years later.

To find out more about William Sitwell and his work please visit http://www.williamsitwell.com

To explore medieval and Tudor recipes try Ivan Day at http://www.historicfood.com/

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