Nutrition and historical food books

These books about all things gastronomical offer plenty of food for thought

Taste: The Story of Britain Through Its Cooking

Kate Colquhoun

, Bloomsbury, £20

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‘Taste’ is a history of Britain’s relationship with food. The author starts with a thumbnail sketch of prehistoric Britain before considering Roman Britain at table, moving swiftly through Anglo-Saxon Britain, then pausing to fill in some lovely detail on the delights and eccentricities of medieval British cuisine.

Author Kate Colquhoun’s scholarship is equally authoritative on the Tudor, Stuart, Restoration, Regency and Victorian periods, before taking reader straight up to the present day, with our ‘need for reassurance’ from the likes of Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson.

Don’t let the word ‘scholarship’ put you off, however; this is no dry-as-dust anthology. It’s scholarly in that it’s well researched, but it reads as well as any of the many novels to which the author refers and never feels overworthy. This is largely because Colquhoun looks at food from numerous perspectives: through literature, through the changing roles of science as it develops and, importantly (from a modern sociological perspective), summing up the state of play at the close of the first quarter of the nineteenth century as being about ‘the extremes of the inordinately overfed and the distressingly underfed’, a theme that she returns to at the end of the Victorian era, when the hunger of 6 million people defined the politics of the day.

Lighter themes cover food fashion, the rise of the cookery book and the roots of the modern-day celebrity chef. And if you've ever wondered why Americans call their main courses ‘entrées’ or why offal is called offal, there’s plenty more here to enlighten.

Susan Low, Time Out London Issue 1945: Nov 28-Dec 4 2007

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