Food Books With Historical and Informational Value

Discussion in 'Cookbook Reviews' started by chefbazookas, Nov 5, 2010.

  1. chefbazookas

    chefbazookas

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    KYHeirloomer recently answered a post regarding 'Must Have Cookbooks'.  He mentioned that Cajun and Creole Cooking with Miss Edie & The Colonel provided the historical and cultural background of the cuisines.

    What are some other known cookbooks (or food books in general) that provide the same historical context and information about different foods, cuisines and/or recipes?  I find these much more interesting than cookbooks which list recipes only.

    Thanks in advance!
     
  2. ishbel

    ishbel

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    The Scots Kitchen by F Marion McNeill.  I have my Granny's first edition (well spotted by the use of 3 generations!) - and my husband bought me a reprint about 5 years ago,
     
  3. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    As a general rule, the older the cookbook the more likely it is to provide historical and instructional material. For instance, Amelia Simmons' American Cookery (1796) actually includes instructions for things like choosing meat and produce.

    Usually, however, culinary books with a good deal of historical and cultural information are written from that point of view. Recipes are used more for examples than as the typical cookbook. One exception, if you can find it, is The Horizon Cookbook and Illustrated History of Eating and Dining. Yeah, that really is the title, not the first chapter. /img/vbsmilies/smilies/tongue.gif

    But the fact remains, food history is percieved as a separate discipline from cookbooks per se. So wonderful books such as Mark Kurlansky's Salt  and Joe Dabney's Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread, & Scuppernong Wine might not be found with the cookbooks, even though the library or bookstore has it. So, if you're a browser, they'd be easy to overlook. Salt might be in the history section, rather than cooking, and Smokehouse Ham.... with Appalachian regional stuff.

    There's this question, too: when does a book stop being a cookbook and become a biography? Case in point: Edna Lewis's great volumes, such as The Taste of Country Cooking. Is it a cookbook? Or a memoir with recipes?

    With more modern books, the greater the degree of ethnicity the more likely there is to be background and cultural material as well as recipes. See, for instance, my upcoming review of The Turkish Cookbook. Reasons for this should be obvious, a primary one being that the authors, justifiably, assume we are, if not unfamiliar with the cuisine, at least less familiar with it. While most publishers have some titles of that nature, Hippocrene Books specializes in them, and you might check out their list.

    Cumberland House (publishers of the aforementioned Cajun & Creole Etc.) had several such titles, until closing its doors last year. You might keep your eyes open from that orientation.

    Gosh, ain't you glad you asked. /img/vbsmilies/smilies/biggrin.gif
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2010
  4. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

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    Grandma Grace's Southern Favorites by Marty Davidson.

    This is based on a collection of OLD family recipes. The concept is to offer the original fireplace recipe, then it's modern parlance version. As someone who does some small level of primitive cooking, the insights are interesting as well as the language and ingredient variation. Plenty of hommade remedy type things as well.

    I picked it up cheap at a TuesdayMorning discounted store.
     
  5. chefbazookas

    chefbazookas

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    Thanks so much, all.  This gives me a great start for a winter reading series.  <3
     
  6. christaylor

    christaylor

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    Larousse Gastronomique.

    Howard Mitcham's Creole Gumbo & All That Jazz.

    Escoffier's tome has all kinds of quaint, very dated value judgements about different ingredients, techniques and dining in general.
     
  7. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    This gives me a great start for a winter reading series. 

    Most libraries, nowdays, have fantastic food and cooking sections. So that's the best place to start looking.

    If you should buy any of them, though, don't forget to order them using the direct links to Amazon, found on each books page.
     
  8. chefross

    chefross

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    Thomas Jefferson's wife Martha penned a recipe cookbook called "The Virginia Housewife" The original is in the Smithsonian but you can go online and download it. For the Bicentennial I lead a brigade of 25 cooks to re-create a lavish dinner from recipes in this book. Way cool!!!
     
  9. chrisbelgium

    chrisbelgium

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    The best books on where ingredients are grown or made, how they are grown or made, history facts etc. and a few recipes;



    Look at the bottom of the webpage for other countries. I have the French, Spanish and Italian book. A real joy and many days of reading pleasure.
     
  10. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Chefross, I believe you're misremembering.

    The Virginia Housewife was written my Mary Randolph, one of Jefferson's distant cousins.

    It is, indeed, a wonderful volume that reflects her life as a hostess managing an 18th century plantation and an early 19th century lodging house. So, among other things, it transists changes in culinary fashion, ingredients, and techniques over about a 30 year period when American---or, more properly,

    Southern--- cuisine was in a state of flux.

    The Virginia Housewife has been reprinted numerous times, and is even available in facsimile form. So, if anyone want to own a copy, they're easy enough to come by. For instance, the copy I have was originally published in 1984 as a project of Oxmoor House. In includes 33 pages of historical notes, including biographical material on Mary Randolph, the relationships of the Jefferson's and Randolphs, and a number of "modernized" recipes.
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2010
  11. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Just as an historical aside, can you imagine family dinners when Jefferson ran the country.

    I mean to say, think of the awkward position that put the Randolphs. We're talking about the firstest of the FFVs, deeply conservative in all things. The most radical thing any Randolph ever did was agree with Ben Franklin.

    On one hand, it's a dinner invitation from the president of the United States. No way you can graciously refuse. But, on the other hand, it's dinner with Thom. You know, Thom, the crazy one. Thom the family shame. And he'll probably make us eat some of that Italian stuff as well. Wish he'd stick to plain old American food!
     
  12. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

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    I was vastly disappointed in the ones I have, Germany and South East Asia. Pretty but just awful for any real detailed content. The section on sausage in the German one was disappointing beyond belief.  No discussion of regional variation or flavors or even really the different types.
     
  13. chefbazookas

    chefbazookas

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    That is awesome!  How well did it turn out?  What were some of the favorite dishes among the guests?
     
  14. chefbazookas

    chefbazookas

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    Hilarious. 

    "If people let the government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny."  Bats in the belfry I tell ya.
     
  15. chefross

    chefross

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    Thanks for that. I was part of a brigade that re-created a dinner that might have been served at Jefferson's home as part of a Bicentennial dinner in 1976. The research for it lead us to this book. I guess I got the names messed up..........But the info was great for the research.
     
  16. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Yeah, it would be a perfect resource for such a meal, so long as the organizers realized that it dealt strictly with Southern foodways and Southern concepts of hospitality. 

    This is the opposite of the more usual problem, which is that the concepts "Early American," and "Colonial," most often are used as synonyms for "New England." This has, unfortunately, given us an erroneous view of how our culture developed, particularly when it comes to foodways. Most modern books on "colonial" cookery, for instance, totally ignore the influences that contributed to plantation life (such as the slave trade, and the Carribean orientation of many southern settlers), and the influences that came up from Spanish America. And, of course, the culinary melting pots of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast are virtually non-existent.

    Another problem is that popular writers, researching foodways, often overlook or ignore the rapidity with which things changed back then. A classic example: Compare The Virginia Housewife with Martha Washington's Book of Cookery. One of the most obvious things you'll note is the incredible difference in techniques, and the way ingredients are handled, etc. That's because, despite the titles, the books are not contemporaneous. MWBofC actually was a Custis/Less family heirloom by the time she got it, and actually dates back to the mid-1600s.
     
  17. homemadecook

    homemadecook

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    The Virginia housewife book is one of the good recipe to keep at. Just wondering if, what is the misinformation from the nineteenth century?
     
  18. dcarch

    dcarch

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    Dining at Monticello (Damon Fowler) is also a great book, with many recipes.

    dcarch
     
  19. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

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    I've liked most every one of Damon Fowler's books that I have read.  Very good food and info.