"To dine is not merely to eat," says Carolin C. Young, whose Apples of Gold in Settings of Silver
explores dinner as social document--the ambiance, manners, diners, settings, and cooking of 12 feasts spanning 900 years of European history. These meals, which Young dubs art, range from Peter the Venerable's 11th-century Clunic feast in Burgundy to a 20th-century surrealistic picnic, and include dinners populated by the likes of Casanova, Titian, George Bernard Shaw, and Salvador Dali.
The premise is a fascinating one--who wouldn't be interested in the introduction of the fork, for example, or the arrival of turkeys in the Old World from the New? Unfortunately, Young seems compelled to tell everything she's learned. This results in meandering scene setting and lengthy digressions (for example, a chapter on Count Heinrich von Brüel's 18th-century feast halts over an investigation of Meissen porcelain) that drain her narratives of interest. The book's contextual "wealth" also makes some of the dinners, sometimes insufficiently documented by history anyway, seem more ghostly than they otherwise might. (Lacking specifics, the menus themselves are also sometimes evoked in terms of typical period fare.) In addition, Young is given to observations that are suspect ("But once the idea of hell reached its creative zenith with Dante's Inferno, fascination with gluttony began to wane," for example) or risible (such as, "When the yearning to obtain a desirable flavor incites theft, gourmandizing has execrably devolved into gluttony"). These objections stated, the book still gives readers a chance to acquaint themselves with something of the sweep of social history while providing the opportunity to meet figures made immediate through a discussion of their tables. With black-and-white and color illustrations. --Arthur Boehm
From Publishers Weekly
Feasting on history, Young, a lecturer in culinary history at Sotheby's, draws on a range of sources to provide 12 historic dinner parties. Ranging from the Abbey at Cluny in 1132 to the Surrealist environment in 1932, she encompasses historic events and personalities from the last millennium. Based on the concept of a book of hours, the text finds Young dividing the meals into 12 reasons why we dine; the author selects historical occasions to showcase these motives from "Cementing a Bond," as exemplified by the wedding banquet of Maria de'Medici and Henry IV in Florence on October 5, 1600, to "Seduction at the Table," as illustrated by Casanova's Souper Intime, Venice, November 1753. Carefully drawing together the music, literature and personalities from contemporary descriptions, she paints vivid pictures of life as it was lived in these varying eras. Differentiating between dining and eating, Young evocatively presents the food as part of a whole experience; while she discusses certain foods and their preparations, she also references cookbooks of that period, emphasizing the settings both historical and physical, including the development of eating utensils. By the end, each chapter becomes a wonderful, individual snapshot of the past, each linked to the other by the common theme of food and dining.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.