"A History of Food in 100 Recipes" by William Sitwell is a great combination of history and historical recipes. Each recipe (many in the traditional, long-winded, non-specific style of the Medieval world) comes with its own commentary, history, background and often pictures.

I love that you can easily browse through the recipes, reading one that catches your fancy at random. It’s a great foodie coffee-style book. Here are three examples from the book to show the diversity.

The Scotch Barley Broth is featured from the pamphlet, A Course of Meals Given to Necessitous Children. This basic recipe featured beef, vegetables and barley and was one of 17 menus developed for the poor and literally starving children in Britain during the early 1900s. Malnourished children grew up to be “unfit” for army duty, and so nutrition became a national security issue. This pamphlet by Marian Cuff was just one example of the solutions people suggested at the time.

A modern recipe, Fairy Cakes, is shared from Nigella Lawson’s "How to be a Domestic Goddess." Here, Sitwell tells us of the far-reaching impact of Lawson’s philosophy of baking and eating that I found intriguing. He shares how her recipes and cookbooks bumped into what our society thinks about women’s roles. Her words of finding comfort and “protection from life” in the form of potatoes, butter, and cream (or fairy cakes), grated against those who felt she was pulling women back to a former world of inequality. But despite her critics, her books have sold amazingly well.

Another contrasting recipe would be the recipe for Prince-Biskets or Prince biscuits from the book, "Delightes for Ladies" by Sir Hugh Plat. We learn from Sitwell that Plat was a virtuoso and the epitome of a Renaissance man who lived in Tudor England. He wrote about everything from garden design, munitions manufacture, agriculture, children’s education, needlework, brewing, and recipes. His recipe for biscuits is one of the earliest recorded ones, and is more like a macaroon than our modern biscuits. This sweet recipe not only “delighted the ladies” but was also thought to be healthy because at that time, sugar was considered medicinal.

There is no doubt that our food and recipes reflect our social and philosophical limits and advantages. These 100 recipes take you to 100 people throughout history, and help you see the topic of food through their eyes. This, in turn, helps you see your own food through different eyes. 

Related on MNN:

A History of Food in 100 Recipes (a book review)
This book helps you look at food through the eyes of 100 historical viewpoints.