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3.5 out of 5 stars6
3.5 out of 5 stars
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 3 March 2005
This book is a suprisingly comprehensive and coherent discourse on the foods of the British isles, with interesting information from a wide range of disciplines - including analysis of the diet of the Serf, society gossip columns and legal statutes about food and food production through the ages. The author's style is very accessible, and the book is only let down by the fact that it contains quite a lot of typographical errors.
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on 20 February 2014
This must have been a very difficult book to write. The target readership, for example, is not confined to those interested in academic history; but will include large numbers who couldn't care less which monarch followed Henry II, yet have a passionate interest in the origins of the suet pudding. In many respects, and contrary to some reviews, the book has considerable appeal to both groups. This is a book with a fascinating story to tell which succeeds admirably in the telling - it is an enjoyable and interesting read. The account of the last three hundred years is particularly good - largely because this covers the period when people really started to write about food and the historical and social circumstances are known in considerable detail. It is surprising how many of the old cookbooks are now back in print - often without modern "improvements". Inspired by this excellent book, I have started to look at cookbooks from the early part of the last century with a fairly good idea which authors will interest me.

The book is well-researched, but there is an understandable shortage of references for the days before cookbooks. The author then resorts to a mixture of references to food in books about something else, and logical inference. On balance, this works pretty well and his arguments about the quality of British food in the Middle Ages are quite convincing. Could you recreate some dishes from 800 years ago using this book? - if you are an experienced cook, yes. Would you want to? - again, yes - you will be pleasantly surprised how modern some of those dishes are. The main thing that has changed in food is not so much what we eat - successful flavour combinations are cast in stone - but accessibility of great food for the ordinary person. When Normans strutted their stuff in Britain, I suspect my ancestors were hard-pressed to avoid starvation from one year to the next. Now, I can cook, in my own home, a meal fit for a great king. It won't be cheap, easy, or quick - but I can do it. That is the message of this book. British food has always been very good - apart from a very odd 100 year period from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s - but not for everyone. Now, with a bit of effort, and considerable skill, we can have our cake and eat it!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 3 October 2009
This should be a definitive work but actually it is a big let down and seriously not worth the money.

Without doubt this is badly written and even more badly edited, if it ever was edited. There are for example whole sentences and indeed paragraphs duplicated and printed hundreds of pages apart.

A seriously sloppy piece of work; reminds me of a student dissertation in progress.
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on 30 January 2014
This book gives a lucid and fascinating account of British food, diet and cooking for the last one thousand years.
It is meticulously researched but also highly readable and entertaining. It is an invaluable addition to the social history of GB.
It gives accounts of old receipes and the quantities of various foods eaten down the ages. I couldn't put it down!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 13 June 2011
I was looking forward to chomping down this 'comprehensive' history of British food as a reader with an avid interest in historical Britain, and as previously critiqued, Spencer is shockingly sloppy with his English - he lacks any system of logical organisation - but my main 'beef' with this award-winning piece is his research. I simply cannot trust what he says (the end footnotes are permanently bookmarked, one simply cannot stop checking his sources).

He relies heavily on select sources and fails to appreciate the wider arguments. How this won a prestigious award I cannot fathom. You're suspicious from the start, I only had to peruse the Appendices to find a list of national 'dishes'. I do not see how listing, for example, a load of vegetables constitutes a 'dish' (see respective sub-heading). As far as I'm aware, a leek is a leek, it's not quite a culinary dish put together with some craft. This endless rehashing of ingredients available continues in the main, entire paragraphs resemble shopping lists, and it's grating. The first chapter is like an ode to his mainstay source, Aelfric's Colloquy, you may as well go read the original and consider the contemporary evidence. I had to put it down.

As noted, this is an amateur work, not even to a dissertation standard.

Very disappointing, and it never fails to amaze me how shoddy the standards are of some publishers for they'll still publish any old manuscript-in-working without endless polishing. This needs some desperate work, and I dare say, I could do a better job. I daresay, you yourself, could do a better job.
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 30 October 2011
Wonderful. I had been looking for this book and found it, or so I thought, I ordered it and waited with great excitement. It arrived and I tore off the cardboard, only to find a book of recipes by Jill Dupleix, but stuck on the back of the book was the title and ISB of the book I'd ordered. I phoned Amazon who issued the paperwork for me to return it and ordered the book from another supplier.
Eventually it was all OK and I now have the book. Superb, a great insight into the history of British Food.
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