An Extraordinary Thousand Years of History
After 1100 English cooking reached a high degree of gastronomy, which it shared internationally with the courts of Europe. Medieval food was stylish and tasteful, it was food designed to please and satisfy very sophisticated palates and right up to the mid 19th century it had epochs and phases of greatness. So how did we throw all that away? And not only throw it all away but forget all about it? This book attempts to trace the changes and influences of food in Britain through the Black Death, the Enclosures, the Reformation, the rise of Capitalism and the sado-masochism of the Victorian non-conformists to the present day. It should remind us all of our rich past and the gastronomic importance of the cuisine of these islands.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
This remarkable history book charts the evolution of British food from the Romans' arrival until the present day. Apparently, a rich tradition of imaginative and inventive food was established in mediaeval days when Persian and Mediterranean influences encouraged the ubiquitous use of spices, almonds and lemons. Throughout the book Spencer is on a crusade to reject the popularly held belief that British food is and always has been bland and boring, and he holds that lack of culinary skills and interest are the reasons why a great tradition of cuisine has all but been forgotten. In mediaeval days a huge variety of game, fowl, meat, fruits, herbs and vegetables was used in creative and exciting dishes, and it wasn't until the Reformation, when so-called 'Papish' spiced dishes and exotic sauces were outlawed, that plainly cooked meats and roasts began to epitomize British food. Spencer points out that our present love of spicy foreign foods is just harking back to the time when Arab-influenced dishes were the common fare. The book is full of interesting facts; for example, fast food has been around since the 12th century, when cookshops and street stalls provided hot food for poor people with no means of cooking. Spencer dispels the belief that spices were used to disguise rotten meat, pointing out that spices were so expensive they would only accompany the freshest ingredients in what were fairly sophisticated recipes to be eaten by discerning and fashionable diners. His fervent hope is that the media cooks of today, together with increasingly diverse tastes and the popularity of good organic produce, will protect the old traditions of good food and combat the corporate powers who manipulate world food markets and governments. Spencer's lively, searching approach to his subject makes this book an inspirational read. Thoughtful and well researched, it will delight cooks and historians alike. (Kirkus UK)