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It's been a while since I've given you a look my cookbook collection. Today I'm talking about four books that have a historical bent: Two from the New World and and two from the Old.
Thomas Jefferson's Cook Book by Marie Kimball (University Press of Virgina, 1976) is a slim volume that contains not only an assessment of Jefferson's tastes but a reproduction of a small family cookbook. Apparently there were a number of Jefferson recipe collections made by different family members and in both Europe and at Monticello. Kimball has reprinted a Monticello collection made by Virginia Randolph in the early 1800s and a French collection likely compiled by Jefferson himself.
Although I doubt I'd ever cook from this book, the text is informative and the recipes are fun to read. Kimball notes that Jefferson was the first to introduce vanilla to America and that he imported both olive oil and wine. When he returned to Washington after his time abroad, he particularly missed figs, mustard, anchovies, good vinegar, and Parmesan cheese.
Jane Carson's Colonial Virginia Cookery (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1985) is a well-researched look at recipes, equipment, ingredients and cooking methods. It's beautifully illustrated with pencil drawings by Linda Funk. What makes this book a little different from other historical cookbooks is that Carson did not rework the recipes for a modern kitchen. Instead they are presented as she found them, including spelling and punctuation.
Each cooking method (baking, roasting, stewing, etc.) is explained in terms of what it meant for the colonial cook; for example, baking over a wood fire requires different knowledge and skills than baking in a modern oven. The recipes are accompanied by explanations of the ingredients and vocabulary. Carson includes many delightful contemporary opinions about cooking methods and foodstuffs, including one cook's "distrust of French chefs, who 'beggared' the great families they served"; she believed in more moderately priced substitutions.
Interested in ancient Mediterranean food? Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger's The Classical Cookbook (J. Paul Getty Museum, 1996) explores the dining tables of the ancient Greeks and of the Roman Empire. The book includes color photos of paintings and pottery that have a food theme.
The recipes in this book are translations of a variety of texts dating from roughly 700 B.C.E. to 450 C.E. and have been adapted for the modern cook. Each chapter has a theme; for example, the first chapter is titled "The Homecoming of Odysseus." Dalby and Grainger describe typical foods and cooking methods and then present several period recipes, including (for Odysseus) roast lamb and an olive relish. Another chapter focuses on a Macedonian wedding feast, and another on the food of the upper classes. Hours of great reading!
For food in the Middle Ages, take a look at Maggie Black's The Medieval Cookbook (Thames and Hudson, 1992). Black researched historic recipes, literature, and primary sources when putting together her book, which includes accounts of medieval cooking, farming, and customs. The text is generously illustrated with color plates of paintings, drawings, and wood block prints.
Each chapter has a specific focus, such as Chaucer, the clergy, the court, and Christmas. Recipes begin with a reproduction of the original, which is followed by the modern adaptation. Black includes notes about unusual ingredients and tips, when necessary. The last chapter contains herbal remedies for such common ailments as migraines and colic.