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Taste: The Story of Britain Through Its Cooking Hardcover – October 30, 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition edition (October 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596914106
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596914100
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #669,544 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A history of British cooking may sound like the setup for a joke, but what Colquhoun has written is an invaluable work of social history and one of the more fascinating kitchen-related books to cross the Atlantic since the Oxford Companion to Food. Colquhoun (The Busiest Man in England) begins her march through culinary Britain in the pre-Roman era, sifting through archeological evidence on the Orkney coast, and moves steadily toward the present day. Yet what could have been as dry and stale as a biscuit soon yields one interesting fact or minihistory after another. The Roman conquest brought liquamen, a fermented fish condiment and forerunner of Worcestershire sauce. The Middle Ages contributed pastry crusts, and in the court of Elizabeth I there was a total of 13 forks. Spoons, ale, fish, sugar, each makes its appearance in the kitchen or at table, and so, at various times and through various personages, did manners, morals, affectations and decadence. As the pace of innovation and progress accelerates, Colquhoun slows to take in the information, allowing the reader to linger over the provenance of sticky puddings and damask napkins. Her supple BBC-Four-meets-Julia-Child voice is just one of the book's pleasures; another is her interest in etymology. This is a triumph to savor. (Nov.)
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Review

“[A]n invaluable work of social history and one of the more fascinating kitchen-related books to cross the Atlantic since the Oxford Companion to Food...one interesting fact or minihistory after another. [Colquhoun's] supple BBC-Four-meets-Julia-Child voice is just one of the book's pleasures...This is a triumph to savor.”  —Publishers Weekly (starred)

“Refreshingly free of jokes about British cooking, her text uses cookery through the ages to explain everything from the British Isles’ waves of invaders and immigrants to class conflict and consciousness, patriotism and terror during World War II rationing…[a] fascinating history of an empire…Colquhoun can reach passionate heights...A thoughtful and detailed book to be savored—but not on an empty stomach.”   —Kirkus Reviews


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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jon Hunt on January 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Victorian England may have started a downward trend in culinary preferences, (lasting well into the twentieth century) but one would never know it after reading Kate Colquhoun's fact-filled new book, "Taste", a compilation of everything digestible from the Middle Ages onward. Colquhoun will have the reader scrambling for his or her dictionary at almost every turn of the page as she sorts out the foodstuffs, cooking, dining and their historical analogies. It's an exhaustive and compelling offering.

The author is consistent in her reminders that in earlier centuries the Brits were really onto something in terms of what they ate. The Tudors and the Stuarts were no slacks when it came to fine dining...indeed they gave gluttony its headstart. But the masses, too, enjoyed a growing identity with their own comestibles as Britain lurched between rulers and conquests. The French make more than a cameo appearance throughout "Taste", much to the liking or the chagrin of their Channel counterparts. (depending on the season, so to speak) Colquhoun is very good at connecting the dots of history and food and she brightens the chapters by telling us how certain phrases like "done to a turn" or "making ends meet" actually came out of kitchen connections.

"Taste" often gets buried under its own encyclopaedic weight. There's almost too much information of every table listing... so much so that a certain somnolence becomes the reader. A heavier editing and a lighter narrative would have helped this book, but nonetheless, "Taste" is a welcome addition to a growing number of food histories. Colquhoun has researched her material thoroughly and that is very much to her credit. To that end, "Taste" is worth the read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Thomas M. Sullivan on July 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Though being terribly fond of food, I have absolutely no interest in its preparation. Having said that, I do have an abiding, indeed, insatiable, ahem, appetite for "social history," particularly that of Great Britain. [Indeed, what is more "social" than food and the consumption thereof?] And if you share this particular passion, then you will undoubtedly savor "Taste." Ms. Colquhoun is sufficiently comfortable with her subject matter that she is able to move from hand to mouth, hearth to table, plate to plate, and century to century with the same lighthearted yet authoritative dexterity displayed by the author of one of my favorite books of the last several years, Judith Flanders in "Inside the Victorian Home." One need not pay much attention to the ingredients of every dish described to get the gist of what the food represented in the particular period under discussion, but one can't help marvel at the research undoubtedly required to produce the book and the author's enviable writing abilities which make what could have been a humdrum tale such a terrific read. Ms. Colquhoun (somewhat audaciously) undertook to tell the story of Britain through its cooking, and that is exactly what she's done, to the delight and edification of her readers. Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By anonymous on October 27, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is an excellent review and explanation of British food and cooking methods through the ages. I find it absolutely fascinating reading. Anybody who things British cooking is dull and boring only ate from takeaway shops. There is nothing so good as a well-cooked British sunday roast dinner. This books explains cooking methods and foods, kitchen set-up, dining room set ups, how foods were eaten, what was expected..........and so on, in a time-progressive fashion, from the hearths of the poor to the kitchens of the super-wealthy. It's the nerd in me coming out again - I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on April 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
From table-groaning Roman feasts (for men only!) to today's packaged foods and ethnic varieties, journalist Colquhoun takes the reader on a fascinating and comprehensive culinary tour of Britain through the centuries.

While she herself never refers to the term "British cuisine" as an oxymoron, she quotes plenty of travelers - lots of them French - who bemoan the lack of anything good to eat. An exception, however, is the 17th century visitor Henri Misson who exclaims, "BLESSED BE HE THAT INVENTED PUDDING."

Delving into diaries, letters and cookbooks galore, Colquhoun describes the tables of the rich, the poor and those in between, the fads, imports, techniques and equipment that transformed British kitchens through the centuries. From the vantage point of the kitchen, she explores manners, morals and politics, giving us a lively, taste- and scent-infused social history.

Moving chronologically, she organizes her chapters by era, i.e., Roman, Medieval, Tudor, etc. She describes the influences on cooking, from the craze for sugaring everything (increased availability) in Elizabethan times to Cromwell's Puritan parsimony.

Coffee was a novelty in the 1600s and during Cromwell's reign "Coffee houses appealed to a society in which ale houses and taverns were frowned on." Trade routes naturally affected the availability and influx of new foods and ingredients and Colquhoun shows the influences of new ingredients, from the spices of the East to the New World's tomato and chocolate.

There are lots of entertaining descriptions of the excess and extravagance of the rich and powerful, but Colquhoun also takes us into the more intimate and practical kitchens of the aspiring middle class.
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