Holiday reading

It is rare to recommend a food book as a holiday read, but A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell (Collins) is just such a book.   As soon as you turn its pages, you find yourself waylaid by curious facts and entertaining snippets of culinary information.   Iíd never considered congee (a porridge-like rice dish) as the perfect sustenance for sword-wielding ancient Chinese warriors, or pondered on the deeper meaning of Virgilís mention of roasting goatís entrails on hazel sprigs in his poem The Georgics .  In case you wondered, the latter was written at a time when Epicurean Philosophy was very popular, so enjoying the simple things in life was very a la mode in 30bc.

As you might guess from the title, the book is divided into a hundred short chapters. William Sitwell has ordered these chronologically.   He begins with a recipe for Ancient Egyptian bread taken from an inscription on the wall of Senetís tomb in Luxor, 1958-1913bc and ends with the Heston Blumenthal and Ashley Palmer Watts version of Meat fruit (foie gras and chicken liver parfait encased in a mandarin jelly) from the opening menu of Hestonís restaurant Dinner in 2011. This is not so much a cookbook, as a miscellany of intriguing food related subjects.

Each chapter begins with a quote and is filled with Sitwellís amusing reflections on his chosen subject. In An Englishman discovers the fork , for example, he starts with a quote from Coryatís Crudities (1611) on the use of forks in Italy, follows with an introduction to the eccentric Thomas Coryat, including his observations on Italian umbrellas, before discussing European attitudes towards using a fork in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Perfect for travelling, as you can read it in short bursts and retain your bonhomie .  

Better still, this is one of those rare food books that engages the imagination.   As you laze on the beach, you can ponder about what life must have been like in Italy before tomatoes were widely accepted in the seventeenth century; or brood over the origins of eggs Benedict as you read about tales of Charles Ranhofer, a once famous head chef of the equally famous Delmonicoís, in New York.   He was the first man to write down a recipe for Eggs ŗ la Bendick .  

You might even feel inspired to make a holiday list of further foodie reading for your return.   Once home, leave this book lying around for others to discover.   Itís far too engaging to be tidied on to a shelf.




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