What’s on my bookshelves, what I’m coveting, what I’m reading…and what I thought when I’d finished. Click on the covers to be taken to the Amazon UK site, and do drop me a line with your thoughts on these publications, or suggestions of any others…
Medieval Food and Recipes
Peter Brears, Cooking and Dining in Medieval England (Prospect Books: Totnes, 2012). First published 2008. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Peter Brears on a couple of occasions, and his knowledge of cooking and dining in a large household in the high and later Middle Ages in England is encyclopaedic; this is the go-to book for details of how the dresser hatches opened out to serve dishes from the kitchens, or the carving verbs for the various meats and fish. Drawing on his experience as a museum curator, Peter deals with accountancy, procurement, etiquette and organisation with wonderful detail, and his accompanying line drawings are a lovely touch. A central section modernises a number of English medieval recipes (pottages, leaches, roasts, sauces, confectionery) with easy-to-follow- instructions.
Terrence Scully, The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages (Boydell & Brewer: Woodbridge, 1995). An authoritative, scholarly treatment of western medieval cookery in the later Middle Ages, Scully’s wide-ranging work covers everything from medieval food’s theoretical underpinning (Galenic humours, balance of flavours, preservation) to documentary evidence, aesthetic concerns, and the training of the medieval cook. Scully’s training and expertise as a scholar of medieval France comes to the fore in his treatment of French culinary collections such as the Viandier de Taillevent and Maître Chiquart’s Du fait de cuisine: this book places medieval cookery sensitively within its historical context with excellent footnotes!
Constance B. Hieatt, Brenda Hosington, and Sharon Butler, Pleyn Delit: Medieval Cookery for Modern Cooks, second edition (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996). First published in 1976. A classic text for medieval food historians and re-enactors alike, Hieatt’s Pleyn Delit provides both transcriptions of the Middle English manuscripts as well as their modern recipe interpretations (often with ingredient substitutions where the original is too difficult to obtain). Personally, I find Pleyn Delit a tricky one to follow: measurements are in US/ CAN cups and don’t always translate easily. But the sample menus make feasting a cake, so to speak!
Odile Redon, Françoise Sabban & Silvano Serventi, The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy, trans. Edward Schneider (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1998). First published as La gastronomic au Moyen Age: 150 recettes de France et d’Italie, 1991. This is one of those books you read and wish you’d written. The introduction includes practical advice such as what equipment and utensils to use, which modern fats and oils to buy, as well as guidance on breads, cheeses, flours, and spices), and the recipes are drawn from wide-ranging sources from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Redon et al. provide medieval transcriptions as well as modern recipes and instructions, and include all manuscript details: perfect, if that’s the kind of detail that you’re after (and I am!).
(Food) Start-up and Business Guides
Tessa Stuart, Packed: The Food Entrepreneur’s Guide: How to Get Noticed and How to Be Loved (Stamford Book Press, 2013). Packed is a great read: a pithy, no-nonsense, and jargon-free introduction to launching a food product in today’s crowded marketplace. Tessa writes with a clear sense of strategy, organising her material around a series of key themes: product, retail outlet, brand identity, and packaging, along with shorter sections on shelf life and market research. The book breaks what can seem difficult or abstract questions down (such as deciding which outlets to aim for, or deciphering the brand’s ‘message’) into practical bullet points, with a focus on realistic targets and achievable goals. What sets Packed apart from other similar publications, however, is Tessa’s personal approach. She draws on first-hand knowledge and experience in the food retail world, and in doing so, helps to make her guidance even more targeted and relevant, relating everything she writes to current food trends and the British brands and products that have enjoyed recent successes in the supermarkets and independent food stores. Packed doesn’t cover the administrative or regulatory aspects of setting up a food business, but this isn’t a weakness: this is a book about understanding what makes outlets stock a product and drives their customers to buy it.