I'm rather a late-comer to the charms of Anna Del Conte but I absolutely loved this book. Whether describing her rather privileged childhood, her family's life during the Second World War in Italy, life in post-war Britain, her career or just family holidays, Del Conte writes beautifully and evocatively about the places she has lived in and loved, and naturally about the food she has cooked or eaten along the way.
Each chapter ends with a small selection of recipes related to the foods, place or period described within it, be it the celebratory feast at the end of the war in Italy or just the polenta biscuits favoured by the children. The recipes are easy to follow and those that I have already tried have been very successful and delicious - and I intend to try many more. My plans include the Baked Tagliatelle with Mushrooms (putting my newly-learned pasta-making skills to good use), Risotto al Limone and the Polentine biscuits - and that may just be for this week!
I highly recommend this book, even for those who, like me, don't already have a collection of Anna's recipe books. Her food is enticing, but her life has certainly been eventful and she writes about her fascinating experiences brilliantly in an account that is sometimes moving, sometimes humorous and self-effacing (e.g. her self-confessed 'failures') but always frank and honest.
My first Folio Society book and a fascinating one detailing the changes in diet, hunting/gathering/farming of food and its preparation and cooking fro...moreMy first Folio Society book and a fascinating one detailing the changes in diet, hunting/gathering/farming of food and its preparation and cooking from pre-history to the beginning of the 21st century. Tannahill not only describes these changes and, for example, regional differences in diet but also explains them, e.g. in hot climates people eat spicy foods which make them perspire which cools them down (and prompts them to drink more fluids).
The book also demonstrates the wide-ranging impact of food-related issues on civilization. Thus science and technology are important (e.g. the effects of the Industrial Revolution on mechanised farming, or indeed simply the invention of the plough, let alone 20th century and later concerns such as GMOs and food additives) as are socio-economic issues - e.g. cookery books are only of general use when literacy is widespread, when people have enough disposable income to be able to afford the books and the ingredients and when they have some knowledge or curiosity about foods from outside the immediate vicinity (itself in practical terms necessitating improvements in transportation).
Changes in food can have long-lasting impacts. This doesn't just refer to the change from hunting and gathering to domestication and farming but also, e.g., in colonization - today's taste for refine sugars (and thus the West's obesity crisis) came from the New World plantations worked by African slave labour.
Sri Lanka's ethnic tensions similarly stem from plantations in the colonies. It was not the tea that the country (formerly Ceylon) is famous for, but instead for coffee, produced by Dutch colonists, that the Tamil workforce was brought to the plantations from India.
A fascinating book tracing food from pre-cooking-with-fire beginnings to modern day preoccupations with obesity vs famine, food buzzwords like 'natural' 'healthy' 'organic', diseases such as BSE and Foot and Mouth, additives and genetic modification.(less)
An entertaining read. Though Fisher sticks to a familiar A-to-Z formula, the choices are not the obvious ones of 'A for Apple', rather she strays from...moreAn entertaining read. Though Fisher sticks to a familiar A-to-Z formula, the choices are not the obvious ones of 'A for Apple', rather she strays from cliché with essays on such such subjects as O for 'Ostentation', N for 'Nautical', Q for 'Quantity', and so on.
Some recipes are very much of their time (such quantities of meat, butter and cream are uncommon in modern cookery books, as are the various tinned vegetable or fruit concoctions) as are some of the opinions (that a woman's nagging is what is most likely to ruin any meal is the most obvious example, but some are all the more relevant now.
On 'Gluttony' Fisher writes, "Probably this country will never again see so many fat, rich men as were prevalent at the end of the last century ... literally stuffing themselves to death". Yet at the beginning of the century after she was writing, the oversized coffins she mentions are again in demand during the current epidemic of obesity in the western world. Plus ça change...(less)