25 February, 2014

A curious history of food and drink by Ian Crofton [Ana, Central Library]

A curious history of food and drink by Ian Crofton is an interesting little book that looks old, but was in fact published in 2013. It presents curious facts and snippets chronologically, starting with prehistory and ending with Lady Gaga. Each is a little story in itself: facts, fables, menus, and customs – the interesting, the curious, and at times the grotesque.

We have the tale from circa 850 of an Arabian goatherd who noted his flock seemed to thrive on berries from a certain bush; he took the berries to a holy man who disapproved and threw them into the fire. They were later retrieved, ground up and made into a drink. And so is the origin (or the legend) of roasting coffee beans. 

In the early 16th century the Tour de Buerre was added to the Rouen Cathedral. The tower was named this way because it was funded by donations from those who wanted dispensation from the church so they could continue to eat butter during Lent; such was the importance of butter to the Norman population. It continues to be known as the Butter Tower.

A form of Cornish pasty appears in a recipe from 1510, and we are told that in 2001 the European Union awarded Protected Geographical  Indication (PGI) status to the Cornish pasty - meaning the true item (like Champagne) could only be made in Cornwall, with specific features and ingredients.  Ian Crofton notes also that the 19th century miners in Cornwall took the pasties for their lunch; they used the thick crust as a handle, because of dirty hands, and they would throw away the crust afterwards.

In the 16th century the Queen of Poland, who was an Italian noblewoman, created the Slavic speciality ‘baba’ which was like panettone; the dough had to rest on an eiderdown in a ‘male-free’ kitchen, and no-one could speak above a whisper during its preparation and baking.

In 1644 the Puritan Parliament during the English Civil War banned the celebration of Christmas, and there was a specific prohibition on mince pies and plum pudding. With the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, the celebration of Christmas was once more permitted, but the ban on mince pies and plum pudding was apparently never repealed – so they are still technically illegal in England and Wales!

It was noted during the Great Plague of 1665, that onion-sellers appeared to be immune to the disease. The same phenomenon was apparent during the cholera epidemic of 1849. What better recommendation for a health food?

So are just some of the many stories in this book.  I think you will find it interesting, amusing … and it will give you food for thought.


Title: A curious history of food and drink
Author: Ian Crofton
Publisher: Quercus, 2013
ISBN: 9781782069409 (hbk.)

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