Sunday, February 22, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Medieval Tastes. Food, Cooking, and the Table by Massimo Montanari

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

Medieval Tastes. Food, Cooking, and the Table by Massimo Montanari is an interesting exploration of food in the Middle Ages from a cultural perspective. It’s a very academic book, looking at food both figuratively and literally, discussing theories of taste and medieval attitudes about mixing types of food for optimal balance (fat and lean, sweet and sour, etc.)

This was not the book I thought it would be–my fault, not the book’s–and so I was a bit disgruntled as I set forth reading what seemed to be a lot of theoretical discussion that wasn’t giving me a lot of "actual" information. I was hoping for something more straightforwardly encyclopedic (for research for my own historical novel writing): these foods were available here, during these time periods, prepared in this fashion, eaten like this. This is not that book. There are some sweeping generalizations about what was eaten, but that information was nothing new. The focus is mostly on the later Middle Ages. And the author concentrates largely on regions in Italy. He’s using medieval cookbooks from these times and regions to build his case.

But, once I let go of what it was I wanted from a book about medieval food and read the book the author had actually written, I was able to appreciate that this is an interesting text. I particularly liked the central portion of the book where he talks about different categories of food: meat, fish, milk/cheese, bread, water, and wine and elaborates on the evolution of each in the diet–availability and symbolism. There is also a section on the fork versus eating with hands and a discussion of medieval manners.

So, overall, this book is an interesting look at culinary history, or perhaps, historical food theory, but be aware going in that it is not a narrative history of medieval food.

This is my second nonfiction book for the nonfiction challenge.

1 comment:

  1. I think I would have expected more along the lines of what you were thinking, but it does sound interesting to some extent but probably not something I'll pick up.