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A Mediterranean Feast: The Story of the Birth of the Celebrated Cuisines of the Mediterranean from the Merchants of Venice to the Barbary Corsairs, with More than 500 Recipes Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 840 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Cookbooks (October 20, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688153054
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688153052
  • Product Dimensions: 10.3 x 8.4 x 2.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #126,875 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

To answer the question, "What does Mediterranean mean and what is Mediterranean food" in The Mediterranean Feast, Clifford Wright delves into not merely history, but also agronomy, economics, geography, and more. He dedicates this monumental synthesis of the influences that eventually produced Mediterranean food as we know it to "the philosophers and the cooks." Fortunately, when it seems the intellectuals have taken over completely, one comes on Wright's lyrical description of eating a cassoulet, the golden-crusted, complex French bean stew, and other passages proving that Wright's intense quest for knowledge is based on a cook's culinary passion.

Illustrated with maps and brimming with more than 500 recipes, A Mediterranean Feast is Wright's way of leading the reader beyond the popular, romantic image of this region as an eternally bountiful land. He explains how the complex web of influences between the fall of the Roman Empire in the 6th century and the Age of Reason in the 17th century transformed the Mediterranean from a harsh place where poverty and famine made "dying of hunger ... a defining occurrence," to one we could romanticize, seeing it as ever lush with citrus, sun-ripe tomatoes, laden vines, exquisite cheeses, artisanal breads, and simple but well-fed folk. Those who rise to absorb the encyclopedic knowledge and engage with the ideas set forth in this dense work, such as the peasants' willingness to accept new, unfamiliar foods to relieve the boredom and scarcity of subsistence eating, will receive a profound education about Mediterranean life as it historically relates to food.

While A Mediterranean Feast feeds the mind, it also offers a wealth of authentic and intriguing dishes from the entire region, from France to Algeria and Spain to the Near East. Readers primarily interested in cooking can flip through this massive book, picking out remarkable recipes such as the pine nut omelet of southern France, Umm Ali, a creamy Egyptian pudding containing phyllo, nuts, coconut, and raisins, and Nohutlu Pilavi, the buttery Turkish pilaf of rice simmered with chickpeas. --Dana Jacobi

From Library Journal

Wright's first cookbook was Cucina Paradiso, a fascinating exploration of the Arab influences on Sicilian cuisine. Since then he has published several collections of quick and easy Italian food, but now he has returned to the culinary history and anthropology that is obviously his true love. Originally a Middle Eastern scholar, Wright has devoted an enormous amount of research to answering the question, "What is Mediterranean cuisine?" He debunks the common view of the region as one of historical culinary bounty, and he traces the influences and interconnections among the food and cooking of the diverse cultures that ring the Mediterranean Sea. Along the way, he considers such topics as "The History of the Fork" and provides dozens of what he refers to as "heirloom recipes"Athey have a history to them, but they are contemporary rather than re-creations of medieval or other early dishes. A unique work, this is recommended for history as well as cookery collections.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Clifford A. Wright is a cook, food writer, and independent research scholar who won the James Beard/KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year award and the James Beard Award for the Best Writing on Food in 2000 for A Mediterranean Feast. His book A Mediterranean Feast was also a finalist for the cookbook of the year award given by the International Association of Culinary Professionals. He is the author of 16 books, fourteen of which are cookbooks, including his latest One-Pot Wonders. Colman Andrews, former editor of Saveur magazine called Wright 'the reigning English-speaking expert on the cuisines and culinary culture of the Mediterranean--the real Mediterranean, the whole Mediterranean.' Clifford writes regularly for Saveur, Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Fine Cooking, and Food and Wine and wrote all the food entries for Columbia University's Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and the entry for tiramisu and other sweets in the Oxford Companion to Sweets. Clifford has also lectured on food at the Center for European Studies, Harvard University, Georgetown University, and the Culinary Institute of America among other universities and venues. As a cooking teacher he has taught cooking classes at the Rhode Island School of Design, Sur la Table, Central Market in Texas and other cooking schools around the United States and Italy.
Before writing about food, Clifford was a foreign policy researcher at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C., a Staff Fellow at the Institute of Arab Studies, Belmont, MA, the Executive Director of the American Middle East Peace Research Institute, Cambridge, MA and the publisher of Raising Kids, a child development newsletter for parents. He was written two books on the politics and history in the Middle East.
You can visit him at www.cliffordawright.com and his blog www.Cook-Coquus.com and read his food writing at www.zesterdaily.com

Customer Reviews

Buy one while it is still in print.
Mark A. Hammond
While most cookbooks provide little anecdotes about their recipes, this one delves deeply into the history of the mediterranean and its cuisine.
A fascinating culinary history with recipes.
Nancy Gilson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Nancy Gilson on November 15, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the great cookbooks of all time. "A Mediterranean Feast" is just that, a rich stew that one could feast on for years. The recipes are woven into the history of the Mediterranean and its foods, from the history of macaroni, to the spice trade, and the economic and social forces behind the cuisine; this is an altogether new approach to the cook book. The book itself is beautifully done, and the recipes look mouth-watering...everything from complex ones to a simple pasta with homemade ricotta cheese, ground pistachios and almonds and how to make a proper couscous. A fascinating culinary history with recipes.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Alfred Caton on August 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This tour de force is not your usual cookbook. It is a story, a history, told through recipes, the recipes acting much the same way illustrations do in an art book. The recipes are authentic and some are difficult and some are very easy. I tried the bouillabaisse recipe and it was as good as what I've had in Marseilles. The organization of the book is also untraditional. It's not organized like a cookbook but like a history, so the recipes appear as illustrative of the various historical trends that the author is writing about. This book is simply the best cookbook I've ever seen, the singularly most informative, and a real treasure that seems endless in its depth and information. A library without this book is like a library without a dictionary.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By E. N. Anderson VINE VOICE on September 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an amazing resource, a thorough compendium of Mediterranean foodlore. Perhaps the most valuable aspect is the ethnographic research, with many unique folk recipes from the author's own observations. Almost equally valuable is the amazing bibliography, which lists all the significant historical works on food in the region, including medieval Arab titles. The author is far too modest on p. 567 when he claims to be a mere "food writer" and "consumer of scholarship." The scholarship here is superior and incredibly up-to-date on matters ranging from wheat taxonomy to Meccan trade. A few tiny errors have crept in (foxtail millet is NOT panic millet...). I disagree with the negative reviewer, above, on everything except one point: the organization of the recipes in the book is beyond rational analysis. But one can use the indexes, where everything is arranged for the cook.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on September 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The Mediterranean is its own country and most positively well known for its cuisine. But it wasn't always like that. At one time peasants would be routinely found dead, face down, their teeth stuck in the earth. Wright brilliantly traces the evolution of the Mediterranean gastronomic sensibility from the times of famine and shows how trade, politics, religion and technology influenced the creation of the cuisine so many of us revere and enjoy. He shows how the Mediterranean psyche finds food a deeply sensual experience, and how appreciation of History and Culture is to be savored in every bite of a dish. He explains also why it's never proper to look down your nose at meat dishes when travelling in these countries. Recipes, most modern, some old, grace the book generously with blurbs on the ingredients and their interactions. Many are just delicious. I tried my versions of the leek stew, the cabbage rolls, and the salted cabbage with mint dressing and simply adored them. I can't wait for what the next three quarters of the book have in store for me, over time. This isn't a volume to just check out of the library. This is one to have on hand for whenever the mood or the necessity strikes you.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In recent years there has been a growing hunger on the part of many readers for more informaton on the cultural and historical background of food. If you are such a reader, "A Mediterranean Feast" would be a welcome addition to your cookbook library. Along with traditional recipes from many countries, this massive volume offers extensive text on the history of Mediterranean food, including the influences of climate and geography. The book is handsomely produced, with maps and period illustrations adding their own interest to the narrative.
Also recommended: "Recipes and Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen," by Sonia Uvezian. Fascinating text and fabulous recipes make this definitive volume a must for anyone interested in the cooking and culture of the region.
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca of Amazon HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While the Mediterranean climate can give the impression of sea, sun, and fun.....Clifford Wright makes us aware that the climate can be ferocious. He also brings out the realities of the basic struggle for survival, what people ate in the past, and how government, agriculture, and religion determined what people ate.

I enjoyed the delicious descriptions of gardens, stories behind the recipes, vivid descriptions of Medieval life, and the historical aspects of cuisine. Yes, I did feel overwhelmed with information. If at birth we tried to imagine our entire life, we would be equally overwhelmed. So, I suggest taking this book by the spoonful. Even though I love to read an entire book in one sitting, this book was not one you could devour in one sitting. For the cook who's mind longs for cultural information and the historical background of food, this book contains a variety of interesting ideas and historical facts.

"The story told in this book is a complex one because the lives of people are complex." --Clifford A. Wright

This is a story of the birth of the celebrated cuisines of the Mediterranean. I have sat at an outdoor restaurant next to the Mediterranean and selected a freshly caught fish which the chef then cooked to perfection. I have never tasted fish so well prepared. Perhaps this is why I could relate to some of the recipes.

"This book is a history with recipes." --Clifford A. Wright

The goal of the authors writing was not to overwhelm, but to give the reader a memory of why a food came into existence.

"All cuisine is a reflection of the society from which it emanates." --Clifford A. Wright

So, with that said.....To say this is a cookbook is an understatement.
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