A Culinary Curiosity
review by Maryom
The Curious Cookbook is an amazing little book that gives a fascinating glimpse into Britain's culinary past.
The recipes date from 1390 to as recently as 1940, all taken from cookbooks of the time and have accompanying notes about their context. The food ranges from the mildly different - a flower strewn omelette or fruit pudding stuffed turnip - to the wildly extravagant - a mythical beast created by joining a cockerel and a pig - to the plain obnoxious - artificial milk made with bruised snail.
Many of the earlier dishes were obviously intended for display at the tables of the rich - the time taken to prepare stuffed and gilded meat dishes or create sculptures from marzipan or sugar would be beyond the means of anyone without kitchen staff - but what struck me most throughout was the use of strange ingredients. Viper soup, badger ham and stewed sparrows are mentioned on the cover but there are also recipes including porpoise, peacock, otter, tortoise, larks and squirrels - none of which we'd dream of eating these days! I was certainly surprised to discover sparrows and starlings being recommended in a ration cookbook from the 1940s. Other recipes seemed only a little out of the ordinary and there are quite a few I feel inclined to try.
Mostly these are not recipes as we expect today - no careful measuring of ingredients or detailed instructions. The authors of these cookbooks expected their readers to know how to gut a fish, skin a rabbit or make a batch of pastry, and were more concerned with sharing ideas than giving how-to guides.
An intriguing book for anyone with an interest in history, cooking or both.
Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - British Library
Genre - Non-Fiction, Cookery, History
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