When I have engaged in conversation about this project lately, I’ve noticed that a lot of folks are timid about trying older recipes because they are uncomfortable with the techniques. I tend to just go full boar into a recipe and see what happens (and to be honest, the vast majority of the time it does actually work out), but I’m also more accustomed to doing things like baking bread/pastry, making jam, and other things that I think are really easy once you learn how to do them, but can feel really intimidating if you’ve never tried it.
So with that in mind, I went through my bookshelves and pulled out a few texts that I thought were really useful for helping me expand my culinary horizons, and hopefully will serve as a good reference for a few readers as well!
Ken Albala and Rosanna Nafziger. The Lost Art of Real Cooking. New York: Penguin, 2010.
This book is incredibly useful. It just came out quite recently, and every review I have seen so far has been nothing but positive. It’s a great way to learn more about food preparation done by hand (rather than by, say, chucking everything in the food processor), and a great text to help get you into the mindset of cooking food the way it used to be cooked. Best of all, the authors’ style is approachable and not at all intimidating (great for those who are feeling a bit nervous about their abilities), and there are illustrations for some of the steps that you might not be familiar with (i.e. making a lattice pie crust). Ken Albala is a food historian, which means there are plenty of useful tidbits in there about how these foods were prepared historically (and how some of the ingredients or techniques have changed). It’s been such a valuable resource for me when I want to double-check my technique before plunging in to making a pie or pasta or most anything else I care to cook.
Gillian Riley, Renaissance Recipes. San Francisco: Pomegranate Artbooks, 1993.
This book is a good introduction to Renaissance Italian food. It includes recipes that are simple to prepare, along with paintings and historical background. I received it as a gift, and it’s a beautiful book to look at as well as fun to cook from.
Maxine McKendry, Seven Hundred Years of English Cooking. Ed. By Arabella Boxer. New York: Exeter Books, 1983.
Nell Heaton, Traditional Recipes of the British Isles. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1951.
I learned about both these books through some excerpted recipes that are included in David Schoonover’s (ed.) Ladie Borlase’s Receiptes Booke, which I’ve mentioned before. For a project like this, these books are useful because they allow me to see other modernized recipes in order to get a better sense of how older recipes translate into use with the ingredients and equipment we have today. Although most of the recipes are not directly contemporary to Markham’s time, they are still a good resource.
Mollie Katzen, The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2000.
Mollie Katzen’s books will always have a special place in my heart after receiving The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest as a birthday gift from one of my dearest friends. Beyond sentimental reasons, Katzen prepares dishes far beyond what I’ve found in most other cookbooks (vegetarian or otherwise). She’s great at combining ingredients you might not think to combine, and explaining the techniques she uses in a way that’s easy to follow. I also love that the entire book is lettered and illustrated by her (and is actually a part of my inspiration for illustrating and lettering my modernized recipes from this project).
Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Scribner: New York, 2004.
This is another great reference to have on hand for any type of food. McGee is wonderful at going through a dizzying number of foods and explaining how they’re made, the chemistry behind the technique/combination of ingredients that creates the finished product, and the history of the food (he puts some great historical tidbits in little boxes underneath the text—in one he mentions Markham’s puff paste, which I’m hoping to make soon). I am hoping to make a pie from Markham soon, so going through here I have learned a lot about different types of crust and pastry, which will help me when it comes time to recreate the recipe!
If anyone has any other good resources to share, I would love to hear them! I am especially interested in learning about new web resources, as I suspect a lot of readers will want to be able to look up recipes on the internet as well as in books!
As an aside, a friend from Indiana brought me a big stash of quinces, and I just snagged some little apples from the last farmer’s market of the season, so keep your eyes peeled for some good recipes in the coming weeks!