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Westerly Sun Column

Food and History

Food tells a story. The memories I have from my childhood and, in fact, throughout my life, more often than not involve food. Some of my fondest and funniest (though perhaps not at the time) memories involve my mother’s failed attempts at various recipes. She was a fabulous baker, but if a recipe called for more than salt and pepper, it was a mystery! I vividly remember her first attempt at chili and the unnatural color my brother’s face turned to after the first bite (there is, in fact, such a thing as too much cumin). Not only is it an integral part of our personal story, it is also intertwined with world history.

“A History of Food in 100 Recipes” by William Sitwell is a book that contains recipes, but it is not really a how-to book. The author’s purpose is “to simply read and enjoy the recipes as they were written down.” For instance, there is a picture of a clay tablet from about 1700 BC that has the recipe for something called Kanasu broth (meat and vegetable stew). The final recipe is a 2011 recipe for meat fruits (foie gras and chicken liver parfait). I think I’ll stick with the stew!

“Consider the Fork” by Bee Wilson, who is a food writer and historian, investigates how our eating and cooking tools came to be, as well as those that never quite took off. Did you know that forks were mocked and considered quite scandalous for many years? The author relates the story of a princess in 1004 who, at her wedding, uses a fork at a time when most people used their fingers. When she died of plague years later, clergy viewed it as divine punishment due to her “excessive delicacy” for eating with a fork.

In a recent issue of the magazine Saveur there was a very moving short article about a lemon tree that only bloomed after the author’s father, who had tended to it for years, died of cancer. One could feel the excitement and connection to family when the tree they had named Marilyn bore its fruit. The library also subscribes to magazines like “Bon Appetit”, among many others. If you’re looking for a new recipe or just like to look at photos of beautiful food (like me) stop in the library to peruse our collection of cookbooks.

By the way! This is also the time of year when we begin to see baskets filled with food and treats in many of the stores. If you would like to fill your child's spring basket with something more nourishing that candy, the Friends of Westerly Library are selling nearly-new children's books that would be a lovely addition to any child's library. Check out their basket display next to the Circulation desk the next time you are in!


By Caroline Badowski, Reference Librarian