A rich compendium of history and lore tracing the evolution of food preservation.
Part popular history, part travel narrative, Shephard’s study explores the interesting question of how innovations in food preparation and preservation shaped civilization’s growth. Most of the chapters tackle preservative methods such as drying, salting, canning, and freezing, and highlight formative moments in their implementation. Shephard, who created several food programs for British television, presents chemical processes in layman’s terms while offering copious historical anecdotes designed to illustrate the importance of diet or food preservation as well as to engage a diverse readership. Those who assume Germany to be the originator of sauerkraut, for example, are quickly informed that builders of the Great Wall were fed on a diet of sauerkraut fermented in wine in sixth-century China. Similarly, in the chapter on salting we learn how Attila and the Huns sustained themselves by placing fresh cuts of meat beneath their saddles. As they rode, the combination of the horse’s sweat and the action of the rider pummeling the saddle removed the meat’s liquids, producing a nicely tenderized and preserved hunk of what Shephard calls “gallop-cured meat.” Perhaps just as impressive is the 19th-century tale of John Ross and the crew of the Victory, who survived for four and a half years in the Arctic on a store of tinned meat and vegetables, briefly supplemented by the Inuit diet of fox, salmon, and seal blubber. While the author succeeds in the daunting task of noting food types and preserving trends from around the globe, her British perspective occasionally skews the text; this is most noticeable in the virtual omission of France from a chapter on milk products and in the striking amount of space devoted to the creation of marmalade.
A convincing argument and an appetizing look at a rarely discussed topic.