Sunday, October 30, 2005

How it all began.

It began with a problem. I became a Food History Information Junkie.

It began innocently enough, many years ago when my children were quite small ….. It was one of the regular post-party whinges of “But WHY cant we have Christmas pudding/ Easter eggs/ Birthday cake/ Anzac biscuits/ EVERY day?” that triggered it. I couldn’t answer the question immediately (I was too tired from the party cooking), but something was set in motion.

The idea that evolved was along the lines of: “Well, just as surely as the sun is always over the yardarm somewhere in the world, it is just as surely rising somewhere else on a feast or a festival.” It seemed like a good idea at the time - a single project with a dual purpose: educational fun for my children, and culinary fun for me.

Well, my children are grown up now, and I don’t know if the first goal was ever achieved, but the second one certainly was. I started with national days, and saints’ days (only the ones with a foodie relevance of course), and then I could not stop. It grew like yeast on steroids. I collected all sorts of food history events, menus, recipes, biographies, articles, quotations – anything at all, as long as it applied to a specific day of the year.
Before I realised it I had thousands of entries to what my head was now calling my “Food History Almanac”. Things were clearly getting out of control when I started to have a fantasy of it all being published one day. However, a mass of data does not a published volume make. Bridging the gap between the two requires (apart from talent), a lot of time and an interested publisher – which are several fantasies in themselves. And I do also have several “real” jobs.

So, I decided to shrink the project down, and just concentrate on finding a historic menu for each day of the year. I did this. But I did not stop collecting. I now have information on well over 4000 menus, not including the Christmas ones which are in a separate file. I also confess that I could not quite, exactly, stop “finding” bits for the Almanac. It was crying out for a glossary too, and contemporary recipes to add interest to the menus. And if there is to be a menu for each day, why not a historic recipe published for each day of the year?

I made one problem into two problems.

So what did I do about my problem? Being a pragmatic person, I thought that some redemption, or at least relief, might be obtained by putting this pile of “stuff” to use. Fun is useful, right? Not to sound too kinky though, I thought some discipline was in order, so I decided to write 400 words every weekday on a food history topic related to the actual day, and ending with a historic recipe - because ultimately eating is what it is all about, isn’t it?

I began writing these little stories on October 31, 2005. I emailed them to friends, who passed them on, and it seemed that they were enjoyed. One of the YoungFoodies (son) nagged and nagged at me to “blog” them, and eventually I gave in – fully expecting that (a) I could not manage the technology and (b) no-one would read it.

To my astonishment and delight, it all worked and I am as addicted to keeping up with my blog as are many of my loyal readers. I think I have proven that food history can be accessible and interesting to “the general reader.”

UPDATE: December 2008.
Along the way this Food History Information Junkie became a Food Historian, and the blogger became a Food History Writer.
The most amazing thing is that the discipline of regular writing, and the great exposure have meant that although the Food History Almanac itself remains unpublished, I have indeed graduated formally, I think, as a food history writer. I write a regular column in a bakery trade magazine, have been on radio talking about food history, and now have two books about to be published, and a third in the pipeline.
The books are The Pie: a Global History, by Reaktion Press in the UK – to be released about mid-March 2009, and Menus from History: menus and recipes for every day of the year, by Greenwood Publishing in the USA – to be published in May 2009.
The book that is pending is also part of Reaktion Press’ Edible series, and is on Soup.


The Old Man said...

Young lady, I am a recent convert to the pleasures of eating and cooking. I'd like to think I'm not one of those despised/trendy types-(but that's always up for debate). However, I have found your blog to be very interesting wrt recipes and techniques/descriptions of cooking lore that are no longer well-known or fashionable. Thanks for throwing info out to those of us who "came late to the table". Good job.

The Old Foodie said...

Why thankyou Old Man; it is a pleasure to serve tidbits such as these to a discerning person such as yourself. I hope you continue to enjoy my little stories.

Anonymous said...

I just discovered this blog! I am so excited---I love history and food and the two together are just so much fun. This site looks great and I look forward to poring over it.

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Trina - I hope you keep coming back for the fun.

firefoodie said...

Impressive blog. Prolific to say the least. I found you when googling 'aussie damper bread' to check on an article I'd just posted myself. I'm now a devoted follower and will visit often!

Srivalli said...

wow, this is so becomes more interesting when history is intervened..thanks for your good work!

Angie said...

I love to cook and combine all of those wonderful spices.  It relaxes me and also gives me a sense of control.  I have recently become interested in old cookbooks.Did you know that the book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", is going for $169 on Amazon, Julia you rock!! Thanks for listening. Keep on cookin:)


Lynda Lerner - Inn Caring said...

Came across your blog via a Google Alert for Innkeepers. Very interesting. I look forward to reading your further postings.

Anonymous said...

Well a writer that I absolutely adore, "scrumptious chef", posted a link to your blog so here I am. Impressive. This is a very nice, well organized collection of a LOT of research. Well done! I can't wait to dig in (Austin, Tx, USA)

Patrick Goss said...


Just ran across your blog while looking up a recipe for Riz l'imperatrice and now I'm HOOKED. I too LOVE the stories behind food.

I have been recently working on writing a menu for a dinner party to honor Louis XIV by having every dish served be one connected to a particular mistress...I feel sure I will find some GREAT inspiration here! Thanks!!!

Sidsel Munkholm - Author said...

Just wanted to say, Thank You. I collect older cookbooks, won't buy anything published after 1960 (helps keep my addiction in check, and love to read the stories behind the recipes. I find that the older cookbooks have a wealth of information that the new books don't have and I love trying to figure out some of the cooking descriptions. If you keep blogging, I'll keep reading.

The Old Foodie said...

Thankyou Se Palm Treasures: I intend to keep blogging - almost six years of it now - so it looks like you gotta keep reading!

Lynn said...

What a fun blog, and a fun project! It seems that food history has really caught hold of you :) I love reading about food, too. Thank you for sharing what you're learning.

Lost in Time said...

Brilliant, absolutely brilliant...

Born originally sometime in the 16th century, born again mid 1960's(actual birth). I yearn for 'antiquity' (trying to make my way back home to the 16th century).

Thank you for reminiscing the good ol days and modern times.

Never stop what your doing ... brilliant

PS, your are 2 yrs older than my mum and your birthday is a couple of doors down from my cousin's 30/12/....

Lost in Time said...


How I found you

I am the great-niece of a small food manufacture here in Hobart, TAS.

I began this day ... Sat 24th, researching 'Christmas Pudding's'.

Came across numerous modern recipe sites but want 'Traditional'

So, I continued to search, walked past the fruit shops, past the potato sacks and the Suet butcher shops and found YOU and your brilliant website

Thanks again for your brilliant efforts.

Lost in Time said...

Me Again - Last post for today (I think, I am still looking through your site).

Want to share something with you...

The Oldest Culinary Book I posses
'The Gourmet's Companion' by Ross Leckie, 1993. ISBN: 1 872401 17 X

My favorite page - 18
QUOTE: "To invite someone to be our guest is to undertake responsibility for his happiness all the time he under our roof".
Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, 1755 - 1826

I apply this quote when we have simple La d' T's (high tea's), dinner parties or when we have our grand Christmas gatherings(28 guests).

It is also on the cover of my Hospitality based Resume.

Retail outlets, Department stores and or Customer Service attendants could gain a lot if they were to apply the principle of the quote.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Lost in Time. My apologies for not responding sooner, I have been a bit snowed under lately, and it is hard (but a privilege) to keep up with comments. I am delighted that you are enjoying my stories, and I promise that I am not about to give up anytime soon!

MadameSnippet said...

I ran across your blog while researching salted/preserved eggs recipes. Salted eggs are cheap and easily found here in Vietnam but that will not be the case once I return to the States.

Food + History = My 2 Great Loves. Thank you for the enjoyable hours of reading!