Book Review: A History of Food in 100 Recipes

history-of-food-in-100-recipesThis book is an exception. The vast majority of what I read comes straight from my Best Books lists, even if I have to find a reason to put it there myself. At the library one day, my husband walked up to me and handed me the book, A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell. It was such a sweet gesture–thinking that I would enjoy reading a thick tome of essays on food history–that I couldn’t put it back. I had to read it.

Of course, my husband knows me enough to understand a happy coupling when he saw it: I would enjoy reading a thick tome of essays on food history. So, it is no surprise that I enjoyed this book. Of course, it could have been poorly done. Many books are. But while this book is niche-y, it is well done.

The cover is simple, which is both attractive and distracting. The illustrations inside serve to enhance the history, but I would have liked more, and as a foodie I would have loved food photos. You are left up to your own imagination or food experience to see the foods in your head, while perusing bits of ancient text and biographical photos. At times, I questioned the foods that are included in the limited 100, but I just decided to trust Sitwell’s process: no two people would have chosen the same 100.

I can be a very critical reader, but I always had the sense that I was safe in Sitwell’s capable hands. The information he provides appears to be accurate and in order, even though much of it is obscure enough not to be too easily cross-referenced. Overall, his writing style was my favorite part of the read. He is charming, interesting, and even drily humorous. I mean, the book is basically just a whole lot of information, but Sitwell uses a sort of one-two side-step to insert more anecdotal experience and wry observations, linking the articles together.

And that is what this book is: a series of articles or essays. I would have preferred more narrative, but the essay style just makes for a different sort of read. The best way to enjoy it is in small spurts, as you might read a (really long) magazine. A bathroom reader?

One complaint: the title promised 100 recipes, but there are not. There aren’t really any recipes. You can not use this book as a cookbook. The “recipe” of the title refers to recipes in the historical sense, but I think Sitwell missed out on an opportunity to make this both a history and a cookbook, because what foodie doesn’t want another cookbook?

If you are obsessed with food, this is a book you will want to slide into the magazine rack by the loo. Enjoy.

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