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Fabulous Feasts was the best that there was twenty five years ago. However, Cosmer fudged the redactions and made undocumented substitutions. Maggie Black's the Medieval Cookbook is very good. So is Cindy Renfrow's Take a Thousand Eggs or More. There has been a great deal of research done by both historians and foodies is available on line and in print.
Having said that, my favorite is Peter Brear's All the King's Cooks. It is more about the organization of a royal kitchen than just recipes. But I am an Anglophile and his study of Hampton Court is outstanding.
Judy, I have his shilling cookery for the people...What an amazing insight to the life of of an incredible man. Chef at the Reform club
My book starts as letters to his friends, describing his dealings with the "labouring classes" in the 1850's. and continues as a kind of narrative all the way through.
He wanted to teach the working classes and ignorant poor to cook.(his words not mine) And had a bloody good go at it.
A lovely chapter is where Soyer introduces the latest in vogue utensil for todays batchelor...The frying pan.
He is both informative, patronising and condescending, often within one paragraph, but mostly entertaining wouldnt you say?
Food in History by Reay Tanahill is an awesome read - it tracks the history of cooking from prehistoric man and the times of boiling animals in their skins up to when it was published in the seventies, with more of a focus on what food can tell you about the changing habits of people and the growth of civilization. If you want an in-depth study of the evolution of cooking styles and tastes, this might not be for you - but I learned a lot about how farming has evolved and shaped the history of man. Readable enough to open at any page and get immediately immersed.
Will be trying out some titles in this thread (:
Please be aware that Fabulous Feasts does not provide any documentation for the recipes in the book. It was written over 30 years ago and the corpus of doumented dishes and period practices has exploded since then. There are several good on-line souces as well. I recommend www.godecookery.com as a start.
I have been recreating medieval feasts for over 30 years for the Society for Creative Anachronism, an educational/recreational organization that researches the medieval and renaissance eras.
The professional food historian has also acheived a much higher level of respect in the academic community in the last two decades.
Culinary Historian by Avocation
Nicko, what an awesome topic!
Mind you, I might be somewhat biased as this is what I study (currently completing my MA in Culinary History before moving on to the PhD)
I'm surprised no one has brought up Sydney Mintz's "Sweetness and Power" stellar book about the growth of the sugar trade and imperialism, absolute must read! There's a fantastic theoretical backing to it which extends to defining cuisine and haute cuisine vs. simple food distinguishing the culture of food from the need to eat. Auguste Escoffier's memoirs are also lovely, Judy (and all the other Soyer fans) you might want to check out "Relish: The Extraordinary Life of Alexis Soyer, Victorian Celebrity Chef" by Ruth Cowen. Otherwise "Short Life And Long Times Of Mrs Beeton" by Kathryn Hughes it's also pretty fantastic! For those of you interested in the luxury aspect too, there are still a few copies of Marie Ritz (Cesar Ritz's wife) biography of her husband published in 1938 floating around. Super interesting and discusses the rise of French-style fine dining in Britain based on Escoffier, though I caution that her stories should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt!
I'd best stop now before I flood the thread but should anyone be interested, I had to acquire and read about forty secondary historical sources on my period (late 19th, early 20th century) for my MA thesis and I have the booklist floating around!