Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

History in a Stew; Meals on the Move: Geoffrey Chaucer's Swarthy Cook Hodge, from the Canterbury Tales

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

History in a Stew; Meals on the Move: Geoffrey Chaucer's Swarthy Cook Hodge, from the Canterbury Tales

Article excerpt

Byline: PHILIPPA STOCKLEY

Taste: The Story of Britain Through its Cooking by Kate Colquhoun(Bloomsbury, [pounds sterling]..)

FROM its opening observation that the word companionship means "with bread",Kate Colquhoun's chronological, sociological and often etymological account ofBritain's eating, Taste, is full of facts.

Here are some: that Romans brought herbs, napkins and folding spoons toBritain, as well as a love of roasted cows' vulvas as street food and that,under the Lex Aemilia, stuffed dormice were banned; that Queen Elizabeth I'sphysician, Caius, invented a dog-powered spit in which the dog raced round in awheel, like a hamster; and that, according to 16thcentury writer GervaseMarkham, "a cook knew if a spitted pig was donethe moment when its eyes fell out and its body stopped whistling".

Only 370 pages long, Colquhoun's book is ambitious, and scholarly without everbeing dull. From the pre- Romans until now she keeps up the pace of what, whyand how we ate, packing in a great deal of information.

There is a degree of listing, but that works with a subject where listsas recipesare inevitable. Besides, the unknown words are poetic, stimulating to ear andimagination and comforting. Lists of herbs, such as mandeline, bloodworte,langdebeef, blites, smallage, or of medieval techniques: to hack, hew, stamp,smyte, grynde, sethe, bray, and 'do'. …

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