This series brings together cooks, food writers and others not particularly known for their interest in food. There are recipes and context from people as diverse as Samuel Pepys and (of course) Mrs Beeton, as well as more modern writers. Of the twenty, I reviewed “Murder in the kitchen” by Alice B Toklas, known primarily for her association with Gertrude Stein and her Paris Salon, “Eating with the Pilgrims” by Calvin Trillin, an American humorist (sic) and “A Middle Eastern Feast” by Claudia Roden.
“Murder in the kitchen” is a journey around early 20th century France, with recipes from some of the great restaurants, a little name dropping (Toklas prepared fish for Picasso) and a glimpse into a time – not so long ago – when it was possible to lead a life which sounds to have been almost entirely work-free. Caution: this is not a book for vegetarians – the murder in the title being all too descriptive.
What I really liked about these books was the contrast – of styles, food preferences, place and time. And “Eating with the Pilgrims”, was certainly a contrast, positing the theory that not only did the Pilgrims not eat turkey, but that Spaghetti Carbonara should be the Thanksgiving dish of choice. Completing my education, I now know the history of Buffalo wings and the secret of a good bagel.
Claudia Roden’s book of family recipes and Middle Eastern regional dishes was different again. Lots of recipes, of a sort you feel you could actually cook at home. Reading it, I wanted to rush out and buy industrial quantities of chickpeas, almonds and cinnamon, and possibly book a trip to Egypt. Linking the wonderful food, Ms Roden writes of the history of the area and how it impacted on her family and led to their desire to recreate “a little bit of home” wherever they were.
Verdict: A fascinating series of books – pick one to suit your taste and Enjoy!