SAVORING THE PAST: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789 by Barbara Ketcham Wheaten

SAVORING THE PAST: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789

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It's good to see the history of cooking become a field of study. Not the least attraction of a work like this--an intelligently written chronology of the culinary arts in France from pre-Taillevent to the eve of the Revolution--is the sense it conveys of books-to-come from the material made available, through clear exposition and generous documentation, to other would-be researchers. Wheaten sets forth what is known or guessed of early culinary contexts--for example, the medieval use of spices or changing ideas of what constituted a display of elegance at grand festivities--without the condescending bromides of most popularizers. She lucidly ""places"" often-dropped, seldom-explored names like the MÉnagier de Paris or La Varenne, discusses the history of particular foods (for example, tea or turkey) on the French table, and combs the pages of diarists, cookery writers, and philosophes for insight into the actual materials used in cooking utensils, into technical innovations (such as the use of beaten egg whites), into attitudes toward diet, the development of cooking as a profession, and the manner in which Voltaire actually did cultivate his garden. Wheaten is the sort of straightforward expositor of scattered materials who makes all trains of thought appear effortlessly self-evident. Unlike Jean-Francois Revel (who covered some of the same ground in Culture and Cuisine, 1982), she has no grandiose generalities to splash throughout every chapter and no aversion to scrupulous and sensible footnotes. There are a great many illustrations, from 15th-century woodcuts to engravings from the Encyclopedie; matters are rounded off with about 40 recipes culled from various manuals and given first in the original French, then in plausible modern adaptations. Needless to say, there is a splendid bibliography. This belongs in any serious culinary collection.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1983
Publisher: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press