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Books on the History of Food

Anyone have a recommendation for a book on the history of food (i.e. different ways in which it has been consumed and prepared over the centuries and across cultures)? Something that is also fun to read and not too esoteric. Thanks!

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  1. Food in History by Reay Tannahill -- You can search through the book at amazon.com http://tinyurl.com/o2b9f

    I also like these fascinating websites:

    The Food Timeline


    Culinary History Timeline: social history, manners & menus

    1. Begin with some of James Trager's books (THE BELLYBOOK, THE FOOD BOOK), Carson Ritchie's FOOD IN CIVILIZATION, Martin Elkort's THE SECRET LIFE OF FOOD, Reay Tannahill's FOOD IN HISTORY, Vernon Pizer's EAT THE GRAPES DOWNWARD and Katie Stewart's THE JOY OF EATING. Any or all of these ought to get you started. None are dry academic tomes and a couple are outright funny.

      These are all general "Food History" books. Other titles have a more limited scope - both chronologically and geographically. You may find an era or region that fascinates you. Check out the bibliographies of these books for more specific suggestions.

      1. It's not a sequential history per se, but the Oxford Companion to Food is excellent. The tome is packed full of anecdotes.

        They've just released a new edition too:


        1. James Trager's The Food Chronology is great. Unfortunately also out of print and expensive.

          1. Baron's Food Lovers Companion is great. Consise, affordable and very complete

            1. concise...opinionated:

              Near A Thousand Tables-Felipe Fernandez-Armesto

              1 Reply
              1. re: aelph


                Margaret Visser's books, especially *Much Depends on Dinner*, are also worthwhile, if not exactly page-turners.

              2. One of the first cookbooks I bought was "The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines: China, Greece, and Rome" It's a cookbook and not a food history book, but he does get a bit into the history of each of these cultures.

                1. One of the best ones I've come across -- I read it cover-to-cover, like a novel -- is "The Book of World Cuisines," Howard Hillman (Penguin, 1979).

                  It's very informative, broken down by region. Highly recommended.

                  1. I'd recommend Salt, by Mark Kurlansky (he also has Cod and his most recent, The Big Oyster, neither of which I've read, but I've heard they're both good).

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: JasmineG

                      I have a question on The Big Oyster, has anyone read it? I had a transcendant experience in Seattle last year involving some pacific oysters and I wanted to learn more about them, what makes them taste so different, where they came from etc. I had hoped that The Big Oyster was about oysters but I had read that it was more about the history of NYC and how the oyster trade affected the city. Any comments?

                      1. re: Phaedrus

                        I have not read The Big Oyster, but yes, everything that I've read about it says that it's specifically related to NYC.

                    2. I read one in the spring call "Spice: A History of Temptation"

                      It is all about the spice trades and how they shaped nations...literally!


                      1. RE: The Big Oyster...a great read, and does focus mostly on the impact of the oyster trade in NYC and enrirons. "Salt" is an amazing read, I found more interesting than "The Big Oyster." Read a fabulous book recently on the history of curry..."Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors" by Lizzie Collingham, simply fabulous read! Bought it in India, but it is published in the US and available on amazon.com. Don't truly know a single book that takes in the entire history of food, but an interesting topic, as the ingredients of food, many cuisines, have fueled history through the ages.