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The cookbook has an illustrious past, yet for many centuries such cookbooks were not ordinarily in the reach of the common person. Today cookbooks can act as a historical guide, showing changing culinary tastes and even the migration of different cultures. It is a lot more than just a collection of recipes.

This book is truly a work of love, reflecting the authors love and passion for cookbooks, looking at four centuries of European and early American cuisine through the eyes of the printed word. In more recent times the cookbook has become more democratised, more personalised, more stylised, a transformation from a book of learning and education to often a more coffee-table, lifestyle affair, accessible by the masses rather than just by the master classes.

Technological advances today mean that cookbooks can be something that nobody could have imagined even 100 years ago. Full colour photographs, adventurous layouts and even online resources. Yet the dependence on seasonal produce and the need to preserve ingredients has fallen away thanks to the same technological improvements. The world has became a lot smaller, tastes have changed and on the whole we have a more harmonised, international diet than perhaps people could have ever imagined. Old cookbooks help show the same changes in society, in attitudes, in ingredients and of course in the preparation of food.

This is a heavy-going book due to the sheer mass of information being presented. Yet the authors have done well to make it relatively accessible to the reader. It is a fascinating walk through history and you can really immerse yourself in the book and soon wonder where the time has gone! Many images and reproductions are taken from these old works to help set the scene and provide further illumination. There are even some old recipes, in their original form, should you wish to try and recreate an old recipe or two.

As befitting an academic work, there is a mass of notes and an extensive bibliography at the end of the book. That said, a great balancing act has been reached in making this a comprehensive academic work and a book that the interested amateur can read without any compromise being a necessary evil. Sadly the price of this book will make it unaffordable for many potential interested readers, yet the book does not feel expensive when you consider its unique, quality, informative nature. A lover of history, food and cookery books will find this a treasured, different, valuable addition to their collection. If you are just looking for old recipes or a guide to recreating older dishes then this book is not for you, yet for those interested in food, cooking, history and even sociological change this would be worthy of consideration.
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on 13 July 2014
This is a suburb book. But not a cookery book per se. Sit in a comfortable chair with a glass of wine at hand and enjoy it. It will having different attributes for all who buy this wonderful book - well you wouldn't buy it if it didn't attract you. It will probably take me a good few months to read it, but I am sure it will fulfill a gap in your knowledge. Anne Willan has done a labor of love on this production. Thank you Anne.
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