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British Food: An Extraordinary Thousand Years of History
     

British Food: An Extraordinary Thousand Years of History

by Colin Spencer
 

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Until the middle of the nineteenth century, English cuisine was known throughout Europe as extraordinarily stylish, tasteful, and contemporary, designed to satisfy sophisticated palates. So, as Colin Spencer asks, why did British food "decline so direly that it became a world-wide joke, and how is it now climbing back into eminence?" This delectable volume traces

Overview

Until the middle of the nineteenth century, English cuisine was known throughout Europe as extraordinarily stylish, tasteful, and contemporary, designed to satisfy sophisticated palates. So, as Colin Spencer asks, why did British food "decline so direly that it became a world-wide joke, and how is it now climbing back into eminence?" This delectable volume traces the rich variety of foods that are inescapably British—and the thousand years of history behind them.

Colin Spencer's masterful and witty account of Britain's culinary heritage explores what has influenced and changed eating in Britain—from the Black Death, the Enclosures, the Reformation, the Age of Exploration, the Industrial Revolution, and the rise of capitalism to present-day threats posed by globalization, including factory farming, corporate control of food supplies, and the pervasiveness of prepackaged and fast foods. He situates the beginning of the decline in British cuisine in the Victorian age, when various social, historical, and economic factors—an emphasis on appearances, a worship of French

cuisine, the rise of Nonconformism, which saw any pleasure as a sin, the alienation from rural life found in burgeoning towns, the rise and affluence of the new bourgeoisie, and much else—created a fear that simple cooking was vulgar. The Victorians also harbored suspicions that raw foods were harmful, encouraged by the publication of a key cookbook of the period, Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management.

However, twenty-first century British cooking is experiencing a glorious resurgence, fueled by television gurus and innovative restaurants with firm roots in the British tradition. This new interest in and respect for good food is showing the whole world, as Spencer puts it, "that the old horror stories about British food are no longer true."

Editorial Reviews

Times Literary Supplement
A stimulating work.... What did the Brontës dine on at Haworth Parsonage? How did Jane Austen's family cook prepare the sauce? Colin Spencer will tell you. His book is a joyous, lively mine of information.

London Times
A book so absorbing it may even stop the reader from falling asleep after Christmas dinner.

Scotland on Sunday
One of the most fascinating and riveting reads this year. Go buy.

Daily Mail
Never has there been such a breathtakingly comprehensive, wide-ranging and fascinating food history as this stonking great tome by Colin Spencer. The amount of research involved makes the brain boggle.

The Independent Magazine
Sure to become a classic.

Washington Times
[Spencer] ably covers a millennium and more, reflecting intelligently on the dramatic, and often sudden, dietary developments wrought by political and economic change... Spencer's rich lode of information about British food justifies his subtitle's claim that its present vigor caps off 'an extraordinary thousand years of history.'

— Claire Hopley

Choice

Spencer's interesting book is a worthwhile addition to the food history literature. Recommended [for] all levels.

Waitrose Food Illustrated
Ten reference books every food loer should own...#10 British Food

Time Magazines Literary Supplement
A stimulating work.... What did the Brontës dine on at Haworth Parsonage? How did Jane Austen's family cook prepare the sauce? Colin Spencer will tell you. His book is a joyous, lively mine of information.
The IndependentMagazine
Sure to become a classic.
Washington Times - Claire Hopley
[Spencer] ably covers a millennium and more, reflecting intelligently on the dramatic, and often sudden, dietary developments wrought by political and economic change... Spencer's rich lode of information about British food justifies his subtitle's claim that its present vigor caps off 'an extraordinary thousand years of history.'

Library Journal
British food, renowned for its lack of appeal, provokes gentle chortles of derision when mentioned in juxtaposition with a word like extraordinary. These two books disabuse readers of the notion that this has always been the case. British Food describes the glories-and the decline-of the nation's cuisine over the centuries, while Shakespeare's Kitchen translates a particular era for modern cooks. Spencer, former food editor of the Guardian and author of several cookbooks, intriguingly suggests that early modern British cooking was more influenced by Mediterranean and Arab fare than French. For example, the technique of cooking with almonds to create white dishes was the gift of returning Crusaders. Spencer traces the country's lamentable decline in cuisine through the Reformation, Puritanism, and the Industrial Revolution, noting that Britons gradually lost a knowledge of wild foodstuffs and the time in their day to gather and cook more than the most convenient foods. Modern Britons would not recognize the impressive lists of ingredients their ancestors used. Readers may, thus, find the glossary and appendixes of British edible flora and traditional dishes to be particularly valuable. Segan, a food historian and contributor to the New York Food Museum, offers a lavishly illustrated cookbook that goes beyond the usual ingredients and step-by-step instructions. Drawn in by a photograph, readers will not only encounter a tempting recipe but also an accompanying text on the provenance of the dish and how it was modernized. Better still, Segan frequently offers the original recipe from Elizabethan texts, allowing one to compare the styles of written recipes. Name-dropping Shakespeare is a marketing gimmick, perhaps, for while the recipes include quotations from the Bard, the book is about Elizabethan cooking, not food from Shakespearean works. The reader who has first enjoyed Spencer's book will recognize much found in Segan's book and likely appreciate it all the more. British Food would fit well in academic and public libraries for its unique view of British history, while Shakespeare's Kitchen is recommended for public libraries.-Peter Hepburn, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago Lib. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231131100
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
10/29/2003
Series:
Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History Series
Pages:
416
Product dimensions:
7.25(w) x 10.30(h) x 1.12(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Colin Spencer is an author and playwright and was food editor for The Guardian for thirteen years. He is the author of Vegetarianism: A History and co-author of The Faber Book of Food.

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