Top seven books on Food

Food: ‘any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink or that plants absorb in order to maintain life and growth’ (Oxford Dictionaries (2018)).

Simple, right? But what is the actual history of food? I’m afraid that one cannot simply explain the history of food. This is because food is, and always has been, extremely specific to each culture and country. Not all food history is the same.

Can food bring people together? It can certainly push people apart, as history shows, there are at least 15 instances when food has started a war (Allan, 2019). But, it can also bring people together over holidays, company gatherings or dinner parties. Many of our fondest memories involve food, cooking or eating.

Is food different in different cultures? Of course it is. Food is specific to different countries across the world, and some may even say that it helps shape their identity. I don’t know many who would visit Italy and not eat pizza, or spend the day at IKEA and not order Swedish meatballs.  

Has the kitchen been designed specifically for women? According to medieval times, the master cook was often a man, and the term ‘housewife’ only really came into play in the 16th century.

At Boydell & Brewer we love to delve into history and to examine specific points in time that have been impactful. Therefore, you can be sure that we have a list dedicated to books on food.

Whether you are looking to find out more about cooking in the medieval times, a guide for wives when cooking, what to eat at funerals in the Anglo-Saxon times, where and when company dinner parties began and what types of food makes someone truly Spanish, we have just the book for you.

The Medieval Cook

What was the true role of the medieval cook and did it matter if you were a man or a woman?

Enter the world of the medieval cook: from the chefs in the great medieval courts and aristocratic households catering for huge feasts, to the peasant wife attempting to feed her family from scarce resources, from cooking at street stalls to working as hired caterers for private functions.

The Art of Cookery

What status did the master cook hold in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries?

The master cook who worked in the noble kitchens of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries had to be both practical and knowledgeable. His apprenticeship acquainted him with a range of culinary skills and a wide repertoire of seasonal dishes, but he was also required to understand the inherent qualities of the foodstuffs he handled. Research in original manuscript sources makes this a fascinating and authoritative study where little hard fact had previously existed.

The Goodman of Paris

It fell to his young wife to make his aging last years comfortable, is his ‘guide for wives’ appropriate today?

When he wrote his Treatise he was at least sixty but had recently married a young wife some forty years his junior. It fell to her to make his declining years comfortable, but it was his task to make it easy for her to do so. The first part deals with her religious and moral duties: as well as giving a unique picture of the medieval view of wifely behaviour it is illustrated by a series of stories drawn from the Goodman’s extensive reading and personal experience. In the second part he turns from theory to practice and from soul to body, compiling the most exhaustive treatise on household management which has come down to us from the middle ages.

Food, Eating & Identity

Does food shape or reflect your identity?

Food in the Middle Ages usually evokes images of feasting, speeches, and special occasions, even though most evidence of food culture consists of fragments of ordinary things such as knives, cooking pots, and grinding stones, rarely mentioned by contemporary writers. This book puts daily life and its objects at the centre of the food world. It brings together archaeological and textual evidence to show how words and implements associated with food contributed to social identity at all levels of Anglo-Saxon society.

Feasting the Dead

Food has always been important at funerals, Anglo-Saxons were often buried with food.

Anglo-Saxons were frequently buried with material artefacts, ranging from pots to clothing to jewellery, and also with items of food, while the funeral ritual itself was frequently marked by feasting, sometimes at the graveside. The book examines the place of food and feasting in funerary rituals from the earliest period to the eleventh century, considering the changes and transformations that occurred during this time, drawing on a wide range of sources, from archaeological evidence to the existing texts.

The Dinner Book of the London Drapers’ Company

Company dinners continue to punctuate the corporate year in London with the city full of collective events. What were company dinners like in the late 16th century?

As a compilation of incredibly detailed accounts for many consecutive years of corporate dining (between 1564 and 1602), the Drapers’ Company Dinner Book is extraordinary. It records the organisation of the Company’s dinners and the supply of items of food and drink, as well as the names of guests in the hall and employees in the kitchen. This edition is presented with introduction and notes.

Cooking up the Nation

How does food and the unification of a country play hand in hand? Find out how they did in Spain in the turn of the last century.

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 their discussions about how to nationalize Spanish food, these authors tap into these wider political and cultural issues about what it meant to be Spanish at this time.

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