What am I reading these days? I brought a few books along with me. Food and Feast in Medieval England is an engrossing if dry read. One interesting fact: bakeries in England made white bread, brown bread, paindemaigne, and tourte loaves, among others. All these were breads of different qualities. The law stated that all loaves had to be the same price, thus the fancier the bread, that is to say, the less husk it contained or the more spices it had, the smaller it was. The aristocracy would buy little buns, the lower classes had huge loaves they ate over several days, but all were the same price. Is this the origin of dinner rolls? The River Cottage Cookbook is a present I got for my mother and also an old friend. This guy, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who is a celebrity in England, lives a very hedonistic life on his farm, raising pigs, cows, goats, and hunting game. He's also a gardener, but it seems that he looks at all vegetable life as merely an accompaniment to meat. Chapter headings run: Sheep and lambs... shearing; organic pasture management; maintaining health; slaughter; the cuts; recipes. Recipes include: Tail and tongue of beef with rich red wine sauce; leg of mutton baked in hay; rabbit burgers. My old friend is a sort of homesteader, she has cows and eats them, she has chickens, she manages a huge garden. I'm looking forward to seeing her in a few days.
My cousin gave me for christmas a book called Tastes of Paradise written by a German academic, Wolfgang Schivelbusch. I've only just started it. He's talking about how this Medieval penchant for spices, as we can read about in astounding recipes, was a sort of upper class affectation. For me this is an astounding idea. I've always been intriged by the strange spices used in medieval food and have occationally tried to cook these old recipes. But it's neccesary to reduce considerably the spice proportions in them, and Schivelbush says that these spices were not used because they tasted good but because they were expensive luxuries which elevated those who ate them into a refined and distinct class. Very strange, especially from a culinary perspective. Why would someone eat what doesn't taste good? Are we eating food now which doesn't taste good but which we feel an urge to eat? It makes ones head spin.