Sunday, January 19, 2014

Book Review--Revolutionary Cooking

Elverson, Virginia T., Mary Ann McLanahan and Betty T. Duson. Revolutionary Cooking: Over 200 Recipes Inspired by Colonial Meals. New York: Skyhorse Publishing. 2013. Index, bibliography, glossary, color and b/w illustrations. 180 pages, 169 pages text, ISBN 9781626364165, $16.95.

Reprinted from the original printing done in 1975 this cookbook slash history book has both pros and cons. The authors stated goal is " entertain the reader with highlights of American culinary heritage and to provide a collection of recipes, adapted from early sources, which are both delicious and practical."

The book is divided into six chapters: The Way it Was, Breakfast, Dinner, Supper and Tea, Drinking, Entertainment. The last five all begin with some history and descriptions before showcasing a multitude of recipes. This history aspect is where I had my biggest issues. The terms "colonial" and "revolutionary" are not defined and the authors tend to use a broader time frame than I might have preferred with recipes being noted from as late as 1860. Also, while there is a bibliography, there are no notes so statements are made with little way to validate what has been written. For example in the chapters on Drinking and Entertainment a reader might be left with the impression that the colonies were one large drinking party. The idea of wealth and what might be considered the norm for the time is somewhat blurred as well. There is considerable mention of "niceties" that could lead a reader to think life was easier than it really was.

   I did however find some interesting history included. There is a nice discussion on the distinction between dinner and supper. The saying "mind your p's and q's" is also discussed and defined. For those wondering the authors claim it comes from closing time at local taverns. The patrons finished off their pint or quarts (p's and q's) and headed out into the night. The problem being there are no notes to see where the authors picked this story up from.

   The heart of the book however are the recipes. Most recipes are less than a full page with a full listing of ingredients and instructions. These recipes are adapted to more modern times (remember it's the mid 1970s so there are still some oddities here like using canned salmon rather than a fresh or frozen filet).  Some recipes contain limited information on where they came from and some do not. The directions appear to be pretty straightforward though it might have been interesting to see the original recipe as well as the adapted version.

This piece is stronger as a cookbook than a historical work on cooking of the era. If you are interested in trying adaptions of early American recipes this is a book you should consider. If you are interested in a true culinary history of colonial America you should look elsewhere.

Thank you to Skyhorse Publishing for providing a complimentary review copy.

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