Simon Majumdar Interviews the Creator & Host of "Tasting History,"

Max Miller

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Max Miller Interview Notes

In this episode of Eat My Globe, our host, Simon Majumdar, interviews Max Miller, a fellow food history enthusiast, who has created the excellent YouTube series “Tasting History,” which looks at recreating recipes from some well-known (and not so well-known) cookbooks from history. Simon challenges Max to come up with five cookbooks that need to be brought back in to the culinary cookbook pantheon. It’s a really fun discussion. So don’t miss this episode of Eat My Globe.

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TRANSCRIPT

EAT MY GLOBE: THINGS YOU DIDN'T KNOW YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT FOOD

Simon Majumdar Interviews the Creator and Host of "Tasting History,"

MAX MILLER

on Historical Cookbooks

SIMON MAJUMDAR (SM):

Hi everybody. And welcome to Eat My Globe, a podcast about things you didn't know, you didn't know about food.

 

Now, before we go into today's interview, which I know is going to be a fantastic one, I do want to put a little kind of warning on this because I'm at home under COVID situations, uh, here because we're not able to travel. So I'm using a well-known recording facility to do this. And so it won't be up to the usual kind of glistening quality that we get when April, our wonderful producer, puts this together. Although I know she'll do her best to kind of rectify any problems or the noise of LA outside.

 

So, I did want to just give you that warning.

 

Now, as you know, I'm constantly looking for people who, like me, are fascinated in food history. And, the other day, I was on YouTube. Now, rather than going down the usual rabbit holes and ending up believing some odd conspiracy, I found a fantastic video series called, “Tasting History.” And I ended up watching all of them. And by the end of this series -- and I really recommend you go and check it out on YouTube -- I knew I had to get in touch with the gentleman who put this together. So I'm really, really thrilled to introduce to you on Eat My Globe, Max Miller.

 

Max, hi. How are you?

 

MAX MILLER (MM):

I'm well, hi, Simon. How are you?

 

SM:

I am very well. And I really appreciate you joining us under these odd circumstances to talk about what I, I really think is one of the best series I've seen on YouTube. But before we go on to talk about that -- and I sent you one of my Eat My Globe challenges that I like to send people every now and again, which I hope you had fun putting together -- uh, maybe you can just. . . maybe just tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to do this because, uh, you know, this wonderful series, “Tasting History,” and, and, and the reaction you've had to it, which I know has been pretty spectacular.

 

MM:

Yeah. Um, you know, I kind of fell into it. Um, I've, I've always been fascinated with history of, of all kinds, um, particularly British history, um, since I was a little kid. But I didn't, I didn't really care much about food other than eating it. I loved eating it, but I never cooked. I never, you know, there was nothing there that interested me until I watched “The Great British Bake Off.”

 

SM:

[Laughter]

 

MM:

And I, we were, I was actually at Walt Disney World with a friend and she got sick. So we ended up spending almost our entire vacation at Disney World in the bedroom, uh, of the hotel watching an entire season of “The Great British Bake Off.” And I was so captivated, uh, by the charm of the show and by the ease with which Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood kind of gave pointers and tips on baking. And I was like, you know what, I can do this. I've never boiled water, but I can make this, you know . . .

 

[Laughter]

 

. . . these cream puffs or whatever. Um, and so I went home and just started baking and, and didn't stop. And I just loved it.

 

And my favorite part of the Great British Bake Off, though, was always these little, two minute segments that they had, where the two hosts at the time, uh, Mel and Sue, would kind of dive into the history of one of the dishes they were making.

 

SM:

Yes.

 

MM:

And they would go, you know, they would talk about the history of the Sally Lunn Bun or, or meat pies or something. And I loved that. And then when the BBC, um, or when, when the show left the BBC and went over to Channel Four, they kind of discontinued that. Um, I don't know if they thought Americans just wouldn't like it or what it was, but I missed it so, so much that it kind of popped into my head, well, how do I bring this back? How do I bring this back to life?

 

And then a friend at work who was, I'm sure sick of hearing me talk about food history, um, last, last Christmas said, why don't you put this together on, on YouTube and talk food history. So I, you know, I kind of started that. And then when, when COVID hit, all I had was time. Cause I, I was furloughed from my job. So, that's what I'm doing now.

 

SM:

I, well, I think what you've done, given that you don't come from a historical background, is really remarkable because I think one of the things about “Tasting History” that I really love is the history is a bit like this podcast. It's meant to be accessible, but accurate. And I think that's one of the things that you've really achieved with that.

 

Now, what I wanted to ask is there’s a huge amount of research that goes on before you can actually ever start talking to camera just before I ever start talking to the microphone. I know I do a lot of research for each episode here.

 

Tell me a bit about the research that you've been doing. What are the best  sources? Because I know a lot of people I talk to who listened to Eat My Globe go, well, where should I go? And look, where should I go look to find out what a meal is like in ancient Rome? Or I know you've just done a terrific episode on making a Civil War dish, which I thought was really, really fantastic. So where do you go to do your research?

 

MM:

So I don't really have a, a definite method of research, which, um, is, is kind of frustrating sometimes. I wish, I wish I did. I would probably go a lot faster. But lately I've been starting with the dish typically. So I, I, you know, I have a great deal of historical cookbooks, but then the web is just filled with historical cookbooks that have been turned into, you know, PDFs because all of these things are public domain. So there are libraries and universities and museums that have, that have put their rare books up on the internet. And so I just scour them and find things that . . . part of it is finding a recipe that I think is interesting. And part of it is finding a recipe that I think I could recreate in some, in some manner.

 

Um, cause sometimes it's just impossible obviously, or next to impossible. But, um, so once I find the recipe, then it's . . . I go to my research books, but mainly it's Google. Google is a wonderful, wonderful tool. You know, if you, you can find anything on the internet. What's not always easy is discerning what's real and what's not, what's factual and what's not, especially because with history, there are a lot of misconceptions that very reputable historians still pass along because they've been part of this zeitgeists for years, if not centuries, especially a lot of misinformation seems to have come out of the Victorian age.

 

Um, I don't know why the Victorian historians just didn't really care about being accurate. Um, I think they were trying to create stories and sometimes it was like, well, look what fudge this to, to make a good story, which, you know, I get, but, but it does make it difficult sometimes to, to find out what's, what's real and what's not. And, and I'm, I know that sometimes even I have ended up promoting one of these false narratives, um, from history simply because that's, that's what everyone out there is promoting. And, and, uh, so that's happened a couple of times. Luckily my patrons and, or my viewers rather, luckily my viewers have, uh, let me know when I make those mistakes. And so I'm able to rectify them in the notes at least.

 

SM:

Oh yes. I mean, as I find with the listeners of Eat My Globe, if you make errors there, they're very quick to let you know.

 

MM:

Yes.

 

SM:

. . . um, what are the things we do here. . . And I'm very fortunate, and it's worth giving a shout out both to my wife -- who checks all my sites and goes, uh, that doesn't make any sense because the site is horrible -- or the people at the Department of History at UCLA, with whom we produce this podcast. And they are very quick at pointing out if I've used one of those kind of urban or historical myths about food. You know, whether I say that, you know, prisoners in New England rioted because they were fed too much lobster and things like this, they are, they'll always come back and tell me how wrong I am.

 

[Laughter]

 

Before we go onto the challenge, which is what I really wanted to get you on here to do too, because I know you just have this absolute love of old historical wonderful, fantastic old cookbooks is if people want you to go and look at “Tasting History” -- we'll give everyone the links at the end of this episode -- if they wanted to find one episode that really kind of summed up what you were trying to do, which one would you think it would be?

 

MM:

Um, I think the, the Garum video is. . . that's where a lot of people ended up finding me. Uh, that was the first video that really took off. And it's interesting though, the lighting is horrible. I look like I've been crying.

 

SM:

[Laughter]

 

MM:

I don't know what I was doing with the lighting. Um, on that day, it's, it's been a learning curve learning how to do all the technical side. But, the information in it is, is really fantastic, I think. And it's an interesting, it's an interesting ingredient, uh, that, that really has a modern equivalent and yet is still very, very foreign to us. It's from ancient Rome. So I think that's a good one to start off with.

 

SM:

Okay, so we'll make sure that at the end of the episode, we give everyone all the links. But, you're here for a reason. There is a challenge, the Eat My Globe challenge. Are you up for it?

 

MM:

I hope so.

 

SM:

[Laughter]

 

We will. So what we like to do when we have some people on, and we did one recently with Alton Brown, which is a really, really fun one where I asked him to select five people from food history who deserve to be kind of reassessed. And I'm going to ask you the same.

 

I know you've actually sent me a list through of the cookbooks that you'd like to include in this challenge. One of the things that I noticed before we actually go into them is they all more or less stem from the period that we know as the Renaissance. And I wondered if that was just a particular favorite period, or do you think there's some element of that time that prompted both the kind of creativity or even the distribution of cookbooks?

 

MM:

So Simon, I reject your premise.

 

SM:

[Laughter]

 

MM:

I, I would not say that. Because, you know, the Renaissance is a, it's kind of a term that can mean different things because it was happening in different areas at different times in different, uh, in different arts. And when it came to food, it, it happened a little bit later, I feel, than, than say in architecture or in literature. So I feel that the first cookbook that I choose is extremely medieval. And the last cookbook that I chose is actually modern.

 

SM:

So this is going to be fun, I think. One of the things I wanted to talk about as we go through are things like the arrival of printing as opposed to handwritten parchment. So, which was obviously a big thing in terms of distribution, certainly, even though they were still probably only going to the wealthier of society. But certainly they were going out in their thousands rather than in their tens of books going out. And I think we might have a few questions about that as we go through.

 

So why don't we start and I'll definitely have some questions for each book, uh, but why don't you tell me your first choice, the one that you believe, although strictly speaking is when you might count in the Renaissance period, but I think you've got a good argument for telling me about that. Why don't you tell us what your first book is?

 

MM:

Yeah, so the first one is the “Ménagier de Paris” or the Household Book of Paris. It was, um, published, uh, in the way that books were published then in 1393. So this is before the printing press. And it gives us such a glimpse into the medieval mind. Um, you know, Italy was starting to play with the Renaissance at this point, but France and England were still, you know, this is the time of Chaucer. And, uh, I, I feel like he's extremely medieval, um, in his, in his work and this whole time period. Uh, so what we get with this cookbook is a wonderful glimpse into the medieval world at the time, because it's not just a book of recipes.

 

There are other more famous books of recipes from the time period, “The Forme of Cury,” uh. . .

 

SM:

Uh-huh.

 

MM:

. . . the, um, you know, “Le Viandier de Taillevent.”

 

 

But, but those are only, only recipes.

 

This one includes things like information on how to run a household. It's, it's actually written from the point of view of an older man talking to his young 15 year old, new wife. And he's telling her not only how to cook things, to make him happy, but how to clean the house, how to make, uh, fleas stay out of the bedroom, gardening tips, even relationship advice, and medicinal remedies in case someone in the household gets sick.

 

So it gives us a much broader picture of how people were living at the time. Now it's, it's for a housewife, but not for a housewife like we would. . . like we would consider a housewife. It's, uh, the term housewife back then referred to the lady of the house. So she probably had servants. But, um, she, you know, so they're on the wealthier side of middle-class, but they don't have an entire team of servants making everything. She would have actually likely been in the kitchen as well, or at least needed to know how to, uh, to conduct the cooks, um, in making dishes and whatnot.

 

SM:

I mean, this is one of my favorite books from that period. And I've looked at it many, many times just as reference because I just think it's, it's really interesting, I think, cause you said as a review of the kind of medieval period, because it isn't just a cookbook. So it really gives you a scene of a certain element of life because it's definitely, as you said, talking about people who are wealthier.

 

But my question is that, how would you define it as a cookbook? Because it's, it's more of a household guide with some recipes. I might, I kind of challenged my light challenge here is do you think it's a cookbook when a lot of it is actually about how to choose a horse, I mean, I think they say the horse about, the horse that you shouldn't choose if it's wounded in the withers. And as a 56 year old man, being wounded in the withers is something I definitely associate with.

 

[Laughter]

 

MM:

[Laughter]

 

SM:

There's even things about how a 15 year old. . . . And I think it definitely brings that element of the differential in age between a young woman and the person that they married. You must never question her husband's decision. I remember this because it says, it rests on him alone to know all. And I've certainly tried to say that with my wife here, and that's never gone down too well.

 

MM:

Good luck.

 

[Laughter]

 

SM:

[Laughter]

 

I, I, yes, good luck, indeed.

 

Um, but I wonder is, is there a challenge to say that there's not really, this isn't really a cookbook, is it?

 

MM:

I, you know what? It’s, it. . . What is the definition of a cookbook? Is it only recipes? Then, then yes, it's not. But with the history of the cookbook, and there there's an evolution of what is a cookbook, because even if you go back to Roman times with “De Re Coquinaria,” yes, it has a lot of recipes, but it also has information on how to run a household and remedies and medicines.

 

I mean, medicine and cooking were, were almost synonymous back then because that's all they had was, was herbs and, and, you know, food remedies. Otherwise it was magic, uh, was, was how you got better. So, no, we wouldn't consider it a cookbook now, but I think back then, if you would use the term cookbook, it would have, it would have fit the bill. It, it gives enough information about cooking and, and methods of choosing the best mushrooms and the best fish that it counts as a cookbook.

 

I say, yes, Simon, it does.

 

SM:

[Laughter]

 

Well, I, I'm going to accept that also just because I think it's a fantastic book to read. So if people go out and check out this. . . . First of all, let me ask you, if you have a recipe from the book that you particularly like, and you said, well, this is one that someone could try at home. What would you point them in the direction of?

 

MM:

Uh.

 

[Laughter]

 

SM:

There's so many there.

 

MM:

There are. There's actually one that I've tried something similar. Though you have to replace one of the ingredients, if you're going to do this at home. But it's a wonderfully medieval, um, dish. Just everything about it, including the name. It's called “Saracen broth.” You know, the Saracens were, who they were fighting during the crusades. Um, not really PC now, but it says skin the eel -- this is the ingredient that you'll probably want to switch out for fish -- uh, skin the eel and cut into little chunks, then sprinkle with ground salt and fry in oil. Then grind ginger, cinnamon, clove, grain, galangal, long pepper, and saffron to give color and verjuice, and boil altogether with the eels or the fish, which will make the liaison of themselves.

 

And I, I feel like it's such an interesting dish because you see all of the spices that are used, which we do not use many of those spices today, and definitely not in such quantities. And that's kind of a hallmark of medieval and early Renaissance cooking is this huge quantity of spices, at least for the upper echelon of society. Cause that's how they showed off their money. And then another thing that they used is saffron to give color. It's not for the flavor. It's to give color and they loved to color their food and make the food look like things that it was not. That was always a big thing. Um, making, you know, turning a duck and a pig or a Capon and a pig into some horrific beast.

 

SM:

[Laughter]

 

MM:

That was, that was something that excited them. So I, I think it's an. . . . But all of those flavors, except maybe the eel, all of those flavors are things that we would enjoy today, but in a very different way. So, I encourage you to try to make that one.

 

SM:

I actually rather like eel, but then it's hard to get to these days. But, uh, it is rather wonderful.

 

Well, I, I definitely think we should accept this one in. Partly, I have to say, because I'm going to say this again, making. . . turning around, making sure my wife’s not too close that. . . they said there are only three things, it tells us, that cause a man to leave his home: a roofless house, a smokey chimney and a quarrelsome woman. So they say. I, uh, this is a quote. To keep her wo. . . husband satisfied, the wife need only quote, protect him from holes in the roof, make certain that in winter, he has a good fire without smoke and let him slumber warmly wrapped, cozy between your breasts and in this way, bewitch him.

 

So there you go. So I think any. . .

 

[Laughter]

 

. . . any book that has that piece of advice at the end is one that we need to be returning to, I think. I'm about to get whacked by my wife. . . but there you go.

 

MM:

[Laughter]

 

SM:

Anyway, so definitely good first, fantastic first choice. I hope this is fun for you, Max.

 

MM:

Very much so. I love it. I love it.

 

SM:

Right.

 

Well, let's go on. Let's go on to your second one. And I, I don't think we're going to have too much argument about this one.

 

MM:

So this one is the Opera di Bartolomeo Scappi. 

 

[Ed. Note: For more on Bartolomeo Scappi, we also talked about him on our episodes on "The History of Garlic," "The History of Cheese," and "The History of Caviar."]

 

It's an Italian cookbook from 1570 published in Venice, um, by Scappi. And one thing that makes this cookbook so interesting is that it's the first cookbook really to be done by one person and who got the credit. There were other cookbooks, um, earlier on where they gave credit to one person, but they were actually always compiled by many chefs throughout decades.

 

Whereas this one was written in a few short years by one person. Uh, so, and he actually ended up kind of becoming the first international celebrity chef, um, of the day, which, which was pretty interesting.

 

And it's the first cookbook of true Italian Renaissance cuisine. Um, it's . . . . And it took advantage of the printing press, which I think makes it very, as you were talking earlier, very much of the Renaissance. And they. . . it took advantage of the printing press and not only in the written word, but in pictures. It's the first cookbook to have pictures. Uh, it includes the first picture of a fork, uh, that we know of. It also has pictures of not just food and other utensils, but of full kitchens. So you can look back and see what the kitchen in 16th century Italy would have looked like.

 

But again, he is writing for the very, very top of society. He was a personal chef to two Popes and the head chef of all the Vatican. So, you're getting these, these dishes that not everyone's going to necessarily be able to make at home.

 

What I love about this is, and this is my own personal theory, so it may be completely, uh, completely out of, out of reality, but I, you know, there are so many people that want to write a book and they just never have time because they're always working and everything. And I feel like that's kind of what happened to, to Scappi, you know. When he started working for Pope Pius, the fifth, who was kind of a reformer and stopped having these huge lavish dinners at the Vatican that Scappi didn't have a lot of stuff to do because he wasn't making these banquets. So he had time to go write his tome of a cookbook. And it is a tome. It's, it's over a thousand recipes. Uh, so. . . impressive.

 

SM:

It is. And I think this is actually a really interesting one in the sense that we've got the very first book that you mentioned, that's written, in effect, for one person to show them how to run one household, even if it's a wealthy household. But this was really written for the wider kind of chef population in general, wasn't it?

 

And I think it's one of the first. . . . I mean, obviously Apicius was partly to be used in households way back in, you know, the times of ancient Rome. But this is one of the first of the books, I think, where it's for other chefs in other great households to be using. And I think that's one of the things that I find really remarkable about it. But he also . . . he came in for a bit of criticism as well, didn't he? I know people criticized him for using far too much spices and sugar and things. I think it was, uh [inaudible] who criticized him for having too many spices and sugar.

 

Do you think that, as a book that was so elevated, that it still was useful at the time? Or was it really just for that very, very higher echelons of society?

 

MM:

I think it was fairly, I mean. . . . For the, for the majority of the population, no, it wasn't useful. But frankly, most, most people probably couldn't have read it anyway. Um, so. . . But the flavors are so Renaissance, Italy. The massive amount of spices and the sugar in almost everything, no matter what the dish was, it's just very typical of the time. And he just, he just kind of plussed it, you know, a lot of cookbooks leading up to this had those spices and sugar, but he just kind of put everything in.

 

So, I mean, if you, if you think that's going overboard, then that's your taste, but Scappi didn't, didn't agree, obviously. And the cookbook ended up being wildly popular. It went into multiple printings. Went all over Europe. Catherine de’ Medici, when she went to become a queen of France, she took it and it ended up, it ended up really influencing French cuisine until, until our last cookbook, which we'll get to in a little bit. Um, it, it, it dominated European flavors for 150 years, 200 years.

 

Uh, so whether you agree with the flavors or not, that's kind of what's happened at least in the, in the upper echelon. But that's who we know about from the time. Unfortunately, we know so little about the, the people like, like me, um, you know, eating our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We don't really know what people were, were able to, to cook with back then that weren't written about the peasants.

 

SM:

I think I definitely agree. I think we have that great men philosophy and history where it tends to be the rich and the famous who could afford to have books written about them or could afford to buy books or who were literate, who get talked about. But often the people who made up the majority of the population don't get written about, unless it's in taxes or it's about accounts and people are talking about what's going on and the lands that they own or things like that.

 

And I think this book definitely kind of fits into that higher echelon.

 

The other thing that I think -- this is interesting when I looked at it and it goes to your argument at the very beginning -- I think this is where we see the very beginning of the breakthrough from the medieval period into the kind of the modern period.

 

MM:

Yes.

 

SM:

And you really begin to see that with the things that are coming over from the New World. Particularly, things through the spice roads or things that are coming from the very beginnings of early colonialism, you begin to see those things.

 

And to be honest, I would include this for the simple fact that it has the first image of a fork. . .

 

[Laughter]

 

. . . because, I think, it changed life. You know, the, the, the, just that one thing.

 

Okay. So let's choose a recipe from this book. I don't think there's any argument that it goes into our Culinary Pantheon. So another great choice.

 

Uh, but if someone wants you to go look at a recipe from this that you thought was possible to make now and really delicious and something that people could try at home -- because I know that's what you want to do on “Tasting History” is to get people to try some of these things at home – what would you get them to do?

 

MM:

So, it's actually a recipe for -- and it's the first European recipe that uses this, uh, this animal. It's a recipe for Turkey with a pomegranate sauce. And again, the flavors are going to be very interesting. But, I think that it would also be a little reminiscent of what we eat for Thanksgiving here in the U.S. So, it's, it's, it's going to kind of straddle both worlds, which, which was, which is very interesting, I think.

 

SM:

Fantastic. Well, we'll get people to go look. And as you said, if you go online, so many of these books are available, whether it's through the Gutenberg Project or things like that, you'll find examples of them or through lots of, like, university libraries. So do go and check them out.

 

Okay, let's go on to number three.

 

This is an interesting one, because I know a little bit about this person, but very little else so I'm really in your hands.

 

MM:

Yeah. So this is “Ein Köstlich New Kochbuch” or A Delightful New Cookbook by Anna Wecker, uh, from 1597.

 

[Ed. Note: For more on Anna Wecker, we also talked about her on our episode on “The History of the Cookbook.”]

She was living in a town called Colmar in the Alsace Lorraine. So it was the German speaking, um, part of the Alsace Lorraine.

 

And what's interesting about this book is. . . . So in all previous cookbooks, as I mentioned, medicine and food, they were very much, um, one thing. In fact, in the Scappi, uh, cookbook, the entire last section is just medicinal foods. Foods for, uh, convalescing. With Anna Wecker, she says, all of my dishes are for the sick, the pregnant, the healthy, the young, it doesn't matter. Everyone is going to benefit from these dishes. And she was the wife of a very well-known doctor at the time, Johann Jacob Wecker. And it's funny because, so the book was actually published after she had died, uh, by her daughter and son in law.

 

And to give the book some credence, because it was also the first book cookbook to have a woman's name on the, on the title page, which is a huge thing. Honestly, it can, it could be in the Pantheon just for that, um, the first printed book to have a woman's name. But they included widow of the famous physician, Johann Jacob Wecker. So even though it's her recipes and she's on the cover, they still had to say, Oh, but this was her husband, you know, so we're, we're giving women, women their due, but it's still only in the, uh, in the matter of who they were married to that's important.

 

SM:

One of the interesting things I think about this book is that it was a book that was sponsored. It was actually dedicated to a Luise Juliana von Oranien-Nassau. So it shows you that, even at that time, to try and get a book out there, was actually quite a rare thing. They'd have had to pay the printer. They'd have had to pay the people who were setting it. All of those, uh, kind of difficult things to try and get a book out to the wider public.

 

There are two things about this book that I think are really important apart from the fact that there's some really interesting recipes in there. One is that it's a woman who was named, so it's an acceptance of women's place in that part of the culinary world as a, an informer, as it were, as an educator. And the second is, I think, this is one of the first books where they really talk about food as being delicious, as being joyful as being, you know, there are other recipes that other cookbooks that do this, but she was really like, here's a useful book, that'll make really delicious food. And I think before that, a lot of it was to do with showing off their wealth. It was to be doing with running a household. It was a lot wider than just that. And this is, to me, it strikes me as one of the first true cookbooks.

 

Would you agree with that?

 

MM:

Yeah, I absolutely would. Especially, true printed cookbooks, because there were, there were a lot of manuscripts before this. In fact there were two German manuscripts that were done by women, uh, Sabina Welser and Philippine Velser. But again, they were manuscripts, so they weren't, they weren't published widely, you know, a lot of people couldn't get them. And so this, this one really is that first, as you said, true cookbook, that a normal person would have been able to pick up and made a recipe for frogs and snails from, you know. . .

 

SM:

[Laughter]

 

MM:

. . . some of the recipes in there, a little questionable, but, uh, but you could have at least made it.

 

SM:

Well, let's talk about a recipe. If you had a recipe from this book that you thought people should try at home. And as you said, there are so many unusual ones in there, for sure. But if you had one that you thought that people should try home, which would it be?

 

MM:

I think it's going to be the gingerbread recipe. Again, something very accessible to our modern palate. But this gingerbread recipe has wine in it as, as kind of the, the liquid ingredient. So, it's going to be a little bit different and then it's going to be served alongside fish. You can leave that out, but that's how she, she says to do it. Because again, it was as a medicinal, um, food. So, you were having to mix different flavors to kind of balance the humors, which were still very popular at the time. Um, so, you know, gingerbread and fish, maybe not, but definitely the gingerbread would be good.

 

SM:

I think this notion of the humors is a really interesting one in a lot of these cookbooks. Uh, perhaps you could just tell us a little bit about that because I think it, it relates to this book particularly.

 

MM:

So the theory of the humors, which was very, very popular at this time and had been since the early medieval ages, was that your body was controlled. Your health was controlled by the four humors, which were blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm. And, those different humors needed to be in balance to be healthy. And if they were out of balance, you would become choleric or sanguine, if you had too much blood. And to fix that, the best thing to do was either a bloodletting, but we don't want that. But you could also fix it with foods. So you had hot and dry foods, and cold and wet foods, and cold and dry foods. And it was this incredibly complex system of matching all of these different foods together to get the perfect balance, but in doing so sometimes you came up with some flavors that were just not great. . .

 

SM:

[Laughter]

 

MM:

. . . but you know, so I'm glad that's gone.

 

SM:

Well, I, I'm really pleased that you put this book on the list because it made me go and look at it again, uh, in more depth. But it is one that I kind of flipped over, which is, I think shame on me and I went to have a look at it. And I just think it's a really fascinating book. So tell everyone again, because it's got obviously that, uh, German name that could be a little confusing if you don't, if you're German is as bad as mine. Uh, just remind us of the name of that one.

 

MM:

“Ein Köstlich New Kochbuch” or A Delightful New Cookbook.

 

SM:

And it is certainly a delightful new cookbook. You're doing well, so far. I think all of these, to be honest, looking at your list, deserve to be in the pantheon.

 

So, let's go on to one where, I think, there's another challenge to come in on this book.

 

MM:

Alright.

 

SM:

I'm sure you have a great answer for it, but why don't you tell us about number four?

 

MM:

So number four is Elinor Fettiplace’s Recipe Book, or Receipt Book, and it's from 1604. Uh, Elinor Fettiplace was living in Elizabethan, England. She was well-to-do. She, she married well, but she wasn't, you know, she wasn't royalty, but she was definitely in the upper echelon of society.

 

And what's interesting about this cookbook is that it was not published until 1986 because women back then, uh, ladies of the household would keep these books of recipes and little household management tools at home. Just like we keep our own recipe books today. And the book was passed down through the Fettiplace family until finally it got to Hilary Spurling's husband who gave it to her. And she read it and said, I want to put this out. You know, I want to, um, publish this. And so she did a wonderful biography of Elinor Fettiplace and, uh, and ended up publishing the book.

 

And I think that it belongs in the Pantheon because it is, uh, just as the, the, the first cookbook that we talked about was a picture of medieval society, this is a picture of Renaissance, England, or Elizabethan England society from the first person of someone who was actually living it.

 

This, this wasn't written for other people, this was written for herself. And some of the, some of the information in the book is, is very, very different from what you see before. Like she would take recipes from other people and then obviously actually put them into practice and would change them because of that. There was a recipe from Thomas Dawson's, . . . There was a recipe from Hugh Platt's Delight for Ladies in 1602. So just a couple of years before for Prince biscuits, which are kind of like a, ma. . ., uh, a former version of madeleines, um, the little cakes, a little bit denser. But in his book, he talks about putting everything together, including the flour, and then mixing it for an hour. And Elinor obviously tried this and said, well, that turns the, you know, it's going to be very chewy and, and gross. So she ends up changing the recipe just slightly to say, mix everything together for an hour, and then add in the flour and mix that in, which is what we would do now. So seeing how this, this person by actually using these recipes herself, was able to write them better for, for other people or for herself rather. Um, I think, it's just so interesting.

 

SM:

I think it is. And I, yeah, I'm going to have a question about this book, I think, but I have to share with you and with our listeners, uh, a kind of personal story here.

 

So, in 1986, I actually worked for Penguin Books, who published this book. And I worked in one of their bookstores at this point, although I went on to go into the office and do some publishing stuff for the next kind of 20 years for different people. But I actually worked there when this book came out and Hilary Spurling, if I remember rightly, came in to the very smart book shop that I worked in to sign copies of this book, and I still have a copy signed by her at home.

 

MM:

[Inaudible]

 

SM:

Yeah. It was really interesting signed by Hilary Spurling. And I really love this book and, you know, during my lunch hours and various breaks, I would often sit and read this. And I think it's one of the books that really started my love of food history.

 

Um, but it does raise a question for me that this book, not only do we only know about it through someone else, which is fine, I think. But it was only really for that household. And it makes me wonder, you know, if you have your book of recipes from your granny who passed away, as I do, or you have recipes from the family that have been passed down on cards or whatever, is that a cookbook or is that really just a kind of family memoir?

 

Because it wasn't really. . . . Is part of being a cookbook, its dissipation to a wider audience. And I, it may not be, but I'd love to know your thought on that.

 

When I read this, I was like, yeah, but do I count the kind of assorted recipes from various members of my family, which are wonderful and delicious that I still cook from a lot of them every day, but does that a cookbook make?

 

MM:

Fair enough. I would, I would come back and say, do you consider “The Forme of Cury” a cookbook?

 

SM:

Well, I, that would have been an interesting one if you'd have put it in as well, because I challenged that one, I think for a similar reason. For two reasons, really, with that one. One, because so much of it was plagiarized from other sources, which I think was fairly typical then anyway.

 

MM:

I think it still is, Simon.

 

[Laughter]

 

SM:

Yes. Yeah. Trust me. I'm sure it is. Well, I know you can't. . . it's hard to copyright recipes even now, even just the processes of what you can try and get away with.

 

Uh, but I would have, I would have challenged that one and I may be wrong, you know, I often am. Uh, but I just wondered what you thought, whether you would, whether you would think that this makes it a cookbook, or if it's just a series of notes that someone much later has put together into a cookbook. So is it Hilary Spurling we should be talking about more than Elinor?

 

MM:

I mean, I think that's fair. I do think that's fair. I think it kind of depends on your definition of cookbook. I do want to elevate it a little past just a collection of notes because Elinor Fettiplace had it written on to fine paper, fine parchment and bound, uh, in, in some nice bindings. So, she put some work into compiling it in a way that was going to be saved for posterity.

 

Um, so it, it is a little bit more of a cookbook than, you know, just kind of a notebook full of kind of a hodgepodge of recipes. There was some thought into, into how it was put together. But I could also, you know, I could say, okay, maybe not a cookbook.

 

On the other hand, I look at things because history is what I love. I look at things, is this important from a historical context, context? And yes, it absolutely is because of some of the things that we find in here that we will not see in any other cookbooks. And it's because of Elinor's, um, place in society. So she has a recipe that Sir Walter Raleigh either gave her or someone she knew, uh, for tobacco syrup that was ironically used to sooth lung troubles. . .

 

SM:

[Laughter]

 

MM:

. . . or a persistent cough. But, but I mean, that is the kind of glimpse into the time period that you're not going to find from a lot of cookbooks from the time because it's Sir Walter Raleigh's recipe. And I just think that, I think for that alone, it's so cool. Um, and, and worth being in the Pantheon. I'm sticking to my guns on this one, Simon.

 

SM:

I, I would tend to agree with you. I'm definitely playing devil's advocate. I think, partly the fact that she actually puts some serious effort into creating something that would have a life both physically in terms of having it bound, to beautifully written out and in what she put in there in terms of recipes, I think, it definitely deserves to be in the Pantheon because of that. And, I think, also the fact that it is a real view into the, that period, as you mentioned, Walter Raleigh. And because of that, you're talking about the New World and being, having recipes and they're using things like sweet potatoes and all kinds of things that were brand new then shows what that house -- and it was a very wealthy house -- would be eating, I think, is really important. And I, as I say, I played devil's advocate just because I'm not sure that just having a kind of assortment of recipes coming from all kinds of places would necessarily be a cookbook. But I think you've definitely won me over on that one.

 

So if someone wanted to go, uh, do, uh, make a recipe from this book, where would you send them?

 

MM:

I would send them to something called, White Biscuit Bread. Uh, it's done with aniseed, but essentially it is a meringue. And it's one of the very first recipes for meringue, though by a different name, uh, that we see. And again, very accessible to our modern tastes. But the fact that it's done with aniseed makes it something that you're not going to find in your, in your typical bakery today.

 

SM:

Fantastic.

 

Well, you, I think all of your choices are remarkable ones and I think all will probably end up being in the Pantheon. Which is, which is great. Makes you one up on Alton Brown. Cause I had to throw out Kellogg.

 

MM:

[Laughter]

 

SM:

I had to throw out Mr. Kellogg in his episode.

 

MM:

Oh, yes. Pretty horrible, wasn’t he?

 

SM:

Pretty horrible man.

 

But anyway, um, take us out to your fifth one because this is one of my absolute favorites. And often when I get asked, who's the very first celebrity chef. It's not a great term at the best of time, but there is an argument. Usually I say people like Antoine Carême, for me. But if there's an argument about this fellow as well.

 

MM:

Yes. So I don't think there's going to be an argument on whether this belongs in the Pantheon. It is Le Cuisinier François from 1651 by François Pierre de la Varenne. And it is, as I said, I believe the first modern cookbook. And I say that not because of the style, but because of the actual cuisine. It rejected the. . . it rejected Scappi. The, the unbelievable amount of spices and sugar that were used in Italian and thus, English and French and Spanish cuisine all through the middle ages and Renaissance. This totally threw that out and said, no, we don't need these expensive spices from across the world. You have wonderful ingredients in your garden. He was all about, um, finding not only local ingredients, but things that were in season. So he wrote things, uh, he, he describes, this is the time of year to eat this because this is going to taste good here. And, uh, and whatnot.

 

And, you know, he kind of reminds me of Thomas Keller in that way, that it's just all about using the freshest ingredients from your, from your local, your local ingredient places, uh, local farms and whatnot. He also was the first one to say, okay, the meal is savory and should not have sugar in it. And then the dessert, which we will eat after the meal, can have sugar in it. Sugar is no longer a spice after this book, sugar is sugar because it is a spice, technically, but he makes a delineation. And I say that it's modern because that is still what we go by. That's, that is our, our palate today. He really influenced our modern day, uh, eating methods.

 

SM:

And he definitely, I think, is interesting just, personally, because he was one of those people who started as a commoner, you know, as an apprentice in the kitchen, so the great and the good. But rose up through the ranks. So we begin to see this kind of real meritocracy happening, particularly in the world of cuisine. I think for some of the first times in history. Do you think that's a fair comment on his kind of rise?

 

MM:

Absolutely. And I think that there's another argument why it's modern because that story is a modern story from, you know, from the bottom rises the cream because of, of their, their talents rather than who their father was.

 

SM:

I have to say, I also liked the fact that his name, his given name – de la Varenne – I'm told to mean something like lord of the game or lord of the game preserve or something. So he was obviously into his wild meats while he was cooking. . .

 

MM:

[Laughter]

 

Love it.

 

SM:

. . . which I thought was fantastic. But, um, what I also like is just the breadth of how he cooks. I mean, you're talking about 800 recipes and they go all the way across from soups to, you know, entrees or which confused as a lot of Americans, because I mean, entrees in the sense of appetizers as they were in France. . .

 

MM:

Right.

 

SM:

. . .not the main course that we think here, which confuses a lot of people, but they’re these rather big kind of, really kind of vibrant main dishes. And then as you've said, things like desserts using sugar. So to me, it's one of the first really great cookbooks that you could read now with one or two exceptions and it would make absolute sense.

 

MM:

Yes. Even Escoffier, some of his recipes are not lifted from, from this book, but almost he, he, he, and he admits that he read this book and it really influenced his, uh, his own recipes. And you can see it in a lot of things, which I think is very cool to see, you know, 250 years later, uh, it influencing one of the great French chefs.

 

SM:

Absolutely. It’s the same with Carême I know was influenced by this.

 

[Ed Note: We also talked about Marie-Antoine Carême on our episode on "King of Chefs and the Chef of Kings: The Story and Impact of Georges Auguste Escoffier."]

 

And he's one of my kind of real heroes when I read about food. He worked in kind of very harsh circumstances in some of those Parisian kitchens. In fact, it probably what killed him, uh, with Carême because he got so much smoke in his lungs. He died quite young. But he used, for example, a lot of, uh, bouillon, which is the first thing I think that you think about, when I say to people, I said, well, if you want nothing else, this gentleman invented, you know, bouillon in that terms of stock and reducing things. So I think that would definitely put him into the Pantheon, lots of reductions and thickeners and things like that feature.

 

If you had to point someone towards one recipe here and you said, okay, not only let's set another slight challenge within that. Not only something that, um, they could make at home, but would really sum up that period of France, you know, in one of its great periods where you were having great indulgence, but also really wonderful food with ingredients brought from all over the world. What would you point them towards?

 

MM:

There's, uh, there it's really an entire section on these, uh, ragouts, which it not only is it the first time that you're seeing a lot of vegetables used, because most recipes, if they did have vegetables, it was a compliment to the meat. Whereas these are just vegetables, but copious amounts of butter, um, and, and whatnot are in these dishes. So you'd get a very, very rich, rich flavor.

 

I'm going to, I have to say, it's not exactly the question that you asked, but I would point people to. . . simply because it's so interesting, um, a dish called, “Pets de Putain” and it's a dessert. So it's, it's very sugared. It's almost like a precursor to the modern beignet.

 

SM:

Oh, okay.

 

MM:

So it's a, it's a dessert it's, it's similar to the modern day beignet. It's a little ball of dough that's fried and puffed up with hot air inside and it has sugar, uh, and a little bit of spice on it. But what's so interesting about it is the name. It's “Pets de Putain,” which means, and I'm sorry for the kids, parts of a whore.

 

SM:

[Laughter]

 

MM:

And I just love that because, uh, it, it, you know, it, it makes it, so it's not such a lofty, uh, French cookbook. It has a little, a little humor to it, which I love.

 

SM:

I love that. My. . . . I have to say, to add to that, one of my favorites doesn't have quite as good a name. He does a wonderful, uh, mushroom dish. It's just very simple with chives and butter, a little bit of le. . . like a lemon sauce, wine sauce that is really delicious as well. So, uh, I, I mean, there's no argument with this book. I think probably this would be number one in my list to go and read and sit down. And definitely, if you can get a copy online or you could buy wonderful translations on Amazon, if you want to have a hard copy at home, definitely go find out.

 

Well you, congratulations. You are, you are five for five. Those are, we had. . .

 

MM:

Thank you.

 

SM:

. . . we had a couple of arguments, uh, throughout, but nothing too severe, nothing too questionable, I don't think.

 

But I think they, there's definitely some questions. I think about what a cookbook is, how much it needs to be distributed when it stops being a medicinal, but when it starts becoming a book about deliciousness. And I think those are really kind of important conversations to have when one looks at the history of cookbooks.

 

BREAK MUSIC

 

SM:

Hi everybody, this is Simon Majumdar, the creator and host of the Eat My Globe food history podcast. Now, those of you have been listening to the podcast since we began almost two years ago – nearly 50 episodes so far – will know that we have never sought out sponsorship for the podcast. It’s very much been a labor of love. However, along the way, a large number of people have approached us suggesting they would like to support the podcast. And so, we have opened up a page on Patreon dot com to allow those of you who listen regularly to do just that. Any support we will get will allow us to purchase research materials, buy ingredients for recipes, and maybe, when we can, get out and about to bring you some very special in-the-field reporting. But, this is not just a one-way street. For varying levels of membership of our Patreon club, there will be access to fantastic Eat My Globe swag, including that incredible chopping board that so many of you have written to me about, recipes based on the historical periods about which we chat each week, video shout outs, signed pictures, and even along the way, some very special episodes just for members. So, if you have enjoyed the podcast of Eat My Globe you’ve listened to so far, and would like us to make many, many more into the future, do head over to www dot Patreon dot com slash Eat My Globe and consider taking out a membership. Any support will be much appreciated. Remember, that’s www dot Patreon dot com slash Eat My Globe. So thank you very much, and keep on listening.

 

 

So, Max, are you ready to answer some fun questions now we've gone through some of the more challenging ones.

 

MM:

I am ready.

 

SM:

Right. Let's do it. Okay.

 

So these are the ones we ask. We ask lots of people this, whenever they'd come on. And so, Max, if you were a meal, what would it be?

 

MM:

You know what, I'm going to go so simple with a lobster roll. Uh, and I think it's because I'm casual, you know, I'm fun. Uh, but on the inside, there's, there's a little bit of fancy refinedness, uh, to me. And I think lobster is fancy and refined, especially when served with butter and mayonnaise.

 

SM:

Oh, so, okay. So you're going Maine style, not Connecticut style.

 

MM:

Right. Yes. Maine style.

 

SM:

Lots of Mayo, which I'd kinda like to as well. I like all lobster rolls.

 

Well, that's a great choice.

 

But let's go on for the second of these fun questions, hopefully, fun questions.

 

MM:

Yes.

 

SM:

If you could select any single meal or a period in history in which to experience a meal, what would it be?

 

MM:

I think it would be, um, from Edwardian England, or, uh, you know, around the time of, of George the Fifth's coronation. Maybe if there was a coronation meal. These, you know, just unbelievable 12-course, running for five and six hour long meals, with, um, you know, they were often French chefs coming over. Um, I think that that would be fantastic. The pomp and circumstance, and I just, I would love to partake in something like that.

 

SM:

I think that would be remarkable. I often look at menus from some of the coronations, some of the Royal weddings to see what they were serving. And some of them are very heavy. I don't think I'd have eaten much, uh, but, but really, really remarkable. And they definitely show the period at which they were written because you see, when you go from looking at Queen Victoria's coronation menu to Edward the Seventh’s coronation menu to one of the Georges, you know, or to even our own Queen Elizabeth, God bless her, you can see the differences in the menu and they get progressively more simple, I think, ‘cause they, you get in. . . particularly, Elizabeth the Second, I mean, compared to Victoria, her menu was much more simple and much more light.

 

MM:

Yeah.

 

SM:

Um, but with, but with lots of booze, I think the Royal family nowadays love their booze. So, you know, I believe the Queen drinks four cocktails a day. So that would be, uh, definitely be up for me.

 

MM:

I think that she drinks gin, right? And that's my liquor of choice as well.

 

SM:

I think her mum used to be like, have a little heart starter in the morning of gin as well.

 

MM:

[Laughter]

 

SM:

I think she was one of the. . . The Queen Mother was well known for a love of was well known for a love of gin and that definitely fits me.

 

Uh, final of the fun questions, what would you consider to be the most important food invention in history?

 

MM:

Okay. So I lost sleep over this one, Simon. . .

 

SM:

[Laughter]

 

MM:

. . . you know, originally I wanted to say the plow, um, because of, of what it obviously did for, for food, but I have to go with the invention of smelting metals or the invention of pots and pans. Uh, because, really, before pots and pans, I mean, some people there, there's evidence of people cooking in holes in rocks and everything. But really if you were cooking over a fire and you didn't have a pot or pan, then you had to put it onto a spit. And so if you're going to have rabbit, it's going to taste like rabbit and that's it. Whereas if you have a pot or a pan, you can mix a lot of different ingredients together to come up with new flavors. And so I think that that was a big step forward from just, you know, our Hunter-Gatherer days.

 

SM:

I think that's a great answer. I really liked that.

 

And I have to say, and, uh, in this whole interview, despite your kind of profession at the beginning to be a gentleman enthusiast, which is what I like to consider myself, rather than an academic, your answers to all of these questions have been fantastic. This has been one of my favorite interviews.

 

MM:

Oh, thank you.

 

SM:

So I really, really want to thank you for joining me for this.

 

Uh, but before we leave and finally, finally let you go to go and make some more fantastic “Tasting History,” if people want to find you and find the show, uh, where will they find you on social media and on YouTube and various things? How can they get hold of you?

 

MM:

Yeah, I think, I mean the best way is YouTube dot com forward slash Tasting History [https://www.youtube.com/tastinghistory]. Uh, all the videos are up there, but then on Instagram, I'm @TastingHistoryWithMaxMiller and on Twitter, I'm @TastingHistory1, uh, and I'm, I'm pretty active on both of those.

 

So if you shoot me a question or, or something, I will get back to you as soon as I can.

 

SM:

Fantastic.

 

Well, Max, it has been a complete joy spending time with you. I think your enthusiasm towards the subject about which I am obsessed, which you could probably tell too is, is really fantastic. And I know that everybody listening at home, uh, is going to be going and seeking out “Tasting History.” I think it's a remarkable resource and the fact that you've done it coming from a non-historical background, shows everyone out there that there's room for us, all including me, as I said, as a gentleman enthusiast for these things. So thank you. Thank you so much.

 

MM:

Thank you, the honor has been all mine.

 

SM:

 

Do make sure to check out the website associated with this podcast at www dot Eat My Globe dot com where we will be posting the transcripts from each episode, along with the references and resources we used putting the episodes together, in case you want to delve deeper into each subject. There is also a contact button, so please do let us know if there are any subjects that you would like us to cover.

 

And, if you like what you hear, please don’t forget to subscribe, recommend us to your family and friends and give us a good rating on your favorite podcast provider.

 

Thank you and goodbye from me, Simon Majumdar, we’ll speak to you soon on the next episode of EAT MY GLOBE: Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know About Food.

 

 

CREDITS

 

The EAT MY GLOBE Podcast is a production of “It’s Not Much But It’s Ours” and “Producer Girl Productions”

 

[Pah-pah-pah-pah-pah sound]

 

and is created with the kind co-operation of the UCLA Department of History. We would especially like to thank Professor Carla Pestana, the Department Chair of the Department of History and Doctor Tawny Paul, Public History Initiative Director, for their notes on this episode. Also, a huge thank you to Sybil Villanueva for her help with the research and the preparations of the transcripts for this episode, which can be found on the website.

Published Date: October 26, 2020

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