Book review: A History of Food in 100 Recipes

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A History of Food in 100 Recipes
William Sitwell (Collins, £20, *£18)

This is not a recipe book, but a history. As William Sitwell (grandson of Sacheverell) says, some of the recipes are not reci-pes and others are not easily cooked. He starts with one for bread found on the wall of a tomb of the Ancient Egypt Middle Kingdom, about 1958bc, which, if followed, would result in a kind of pitta bread. And he ends with Heston Blumenthal creating Meat Fruit, inspired by a medieval recipe. The former is easier made than the latter.

My favourite entry, of 1916, is for chocolate cake, but is really about Clarence Saunders, who invented the self-service store. He called his store Piggly Wiggly, having seen a sow suckling her piglets. One service till, many customers; in seven years, there were 1,268 Piggly Wiggly stores and, said Saunders: ‘One day Memphis will be proud.’ Sadly, he lost all his money, but then invented the supermarket under the title Sole Owner, followed by Keedoozle, an automated shop with mechanical arms and conveyor belts. It didn’t work and he died when working on the Foodelectric store, where customers wrapped and paid for goods unassisted.

This is a beautifully written book, and great fun. One illustration shows a woman and child in 1927, gazing in awe at a New World Gas cooker that looks identical to the one I had in my first flat in Co Durham-an old dinosaur by the 1960s; awful rather than awesome.

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