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4.2 out of 5 stars22
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 3 July 2012
Haven't finished the book yet, as it is the kind you can dip in and out of (which is perfect for my Kindle).
There have been some fascinating insights into how our food and cooking of it has evolved.
Certainly worth a read if you like food.
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on 5 June 2013
I bought this book for my husband and he has loved it and recommended it to a friend.
A great history and factual information about British cuisine.
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on 10 March 2008
With its fine illustrations, this volume promises much food for thought, but lacks enough clear historical analysis to add much to the existing literature. You'd be better off buying Reay Tannahill's History of Food.
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on 14 November 2013
This is a very interesting and informative read and it is highly recommended for anyone who has an interest in history and food.
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on 11 January 2013
Would have been better if recipies or even quantities were included so people could have a go at making the food themselves
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on 12 December 2007
Though it is beautifully illustrated and the cookery texts which are its main basis are carefully considered and explained, the usefulness and value of this book are terribly undermined by the limits of its author's grasp of British history.

There's a hint of the nature of the difficulty in the oddly separated bibliography. The books used by the author are separated into so-called primary and secondary sources, a fashionable thing for a historian to do. But the primary sources quoted are, for the most part, not so much primary as modern editions of primary sources, and a good number of the secondary sources are so out of date that they are better treated as primary sources for their own period than as reliable interpretative sources for a new history.

The weakness in historical interpretation is clearest in the first part of the book, where an old-fashioned and out-of-date account of Britain's early history--apparently rooted in fairly random dips into Romano-British archaeology--encourages the author to guess and make judgements about her subject when a better informed writer might have been more cautious and less judgemental.

There is no evidence here that Ms Colquhoun has come across Colin Renfrew's revolutionary redrawing of Europe's (and Britain's) ethnic and linguistic map ('Archaeology and Language', London, 1987) or Julian Richards' 'Blood of the Vikings' (2001). Between them, these advances in our understanding of the origins of English and the people who spoke it draw a very different picture of southern Britain before 1066, one in which the speakers of early English (including the Angles, Saxons and Jutes who arrived from the European coast from Denmark's Jutland peninsula and south) were by no means the caricature barbarians she represents.

The usual old clichés about the words for cooked food being French, as opposed to the `old English' (that is, Scandinavian-related) words for live animals, are trotted out--but Ms Colquhoun doesn't recognise that the Normans themselves were Scandinavians--Norse-men--settled in France for only a relatively short time, even less that the battle for control of England was something of a family feud between Scandinavian cousins.

It would appear that Ms Colquhoun has been encouraged to stray beyond the safety of more recent times, where she knows and understands more, in order to provide her publisher with a book which has been written to order, to fill a niche in the market which Bloomsbury hope to address with the cash they've acquired so magically in recent years.

But good cookery books come from committed, dedicated authors writing about subjects they know and love, not from commissioned writers, however conscientious and well-meaning. Much of this book may be better than some of it--but I don't trust it at all.
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on 5 September 2010
This book is handsomely produced and Colquhoun's prose is serviceable. Unfortunately she is totally lost as soon as she leaves the kitchen or the dining hall. There is a difference between the poor and the indigent. If this were acknowledged, we might have been told more about the diet of the poor. The discovery of America is mentioned, but the effects (the Columbian exchange) are not. You'd think potatoes, maize, tomatoes and turkeys came over on the boat. She thinks the Civil War and the Restoration were more important (she devotes two chapters to this and one line to Columbus). Yet within a few years of his coronation Charles II followed Cromwell into war with the Dutch. Could this have anything to do with the spice trade? We're not told, and nowhere is imported food mentioned, unless it comes from France. Maybe Colquhoun thinks nutmeg grows on trees.

Again and again the author alludes to something which I would find fascinating if she had anything to say about it. John Evelyn is said to have eaten salad. I'm pretty dubious about his priority, but a wider point: who? what leaves? And why, given that cellulose cannot be broken down by the human gut so salad's nutritional value is nugatory. Was the trend towards eating vegetables the result of the plant hobbyist raising new world varieties? Or was it a class transfer, just as cheese was once eaten only by the rural poor?

Drinking water, you might think, is a pretty basic part of nutrition. It was rightly considered dangerous so our ancestors were probably unfit to operate machinery from breakfast time. But it became quite the thing well before reliable purification was invented. We're told nothing about it. The author mentions a medieval "bacteriological theory". This is a nonsense when noone could see a bacterium, and the word wasn't invented before 1847.

The author's grasp of history is so feeble that the subtitle of this book is a misnomer. Read Reay Tannahill (still in print)Food in History or, for the columbian exchange, Hobhouse's brilliant (and out of print) Seeds of Change Seeds of Wealth: Five Plants That Made Men Rich instead.

Food history is a newish discipline, so I can understand that some will consider this review harsh. I think there is no excuse. The author has stirred up some old cookbooks into "history" while totally ignoring the main primary source: hotels and restaurants. Hotels were the first international banks, and their account books are sometimes so detailed it might even be possible to infer spice quantities from the purchase ledgers. Economic historians have been mining these sources for years. Restaurant food is both comforting (a reminder of home) and innovative (a vector of fashion). Falstaff spent most of his time at the tavern, and Dr Johnson a good part of his. English Hospitality was widely admired. And not imitated: everyone on the Grand Tour complained about the filth and the lice. The story of the rise and decline of the hospitality industry (datable to August 1954 as a nadir, as the seaside B&B and Forte-style portion control conquered Britain) would make a book on its own. Colquhoun, needless to say, has nothing to say.

I'd give this book one star, but there are two interesting points in it. The account of the invention of ice cream (before refrigeration!) is fascinating. I'm going to try it out. This makes the book worth the remainder price. The description of how sugary desserts reached a peak of complication and sometimes even refinement in the Tudor age might give some imaginative entrepreneur some useful steer to a new industrial food business. That would make the book worth the cover price.
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on 11 September 2015
Lots of detail about cooking and menus through the ages. A little dense in places, but interesting
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on 18 January 2016
A must for anyone interested in the history of our nations food.
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on 2 October 2014
Just a fantastic read. Packed full of food history.
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