Wst-Nt-Wnt-Nt-rev - 5/6/07
Waste-Not-Want-Not-Review. A review by Mistress Jadwiga Zajaczkowa of "Waste Not, Want Not: Food Preservation from Early Times to the Present Day", edited by C. Anne Wilson.
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Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
Date: Thu, 12 Apr 2007 21:22:17 -0400
From: Jadwiga Zajaczkowa / Jenne Heise <jenne at fiedlerfamily.net>
Subject: [Sca-cooks] Leeds Symposium review-- yet another one
To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>, East Kingdom Cooks
Guild <EKCooksGuild at yahoogroups.com>
Waste Not, Want Not: Food Preservation from Early Times to the Present
Day, edited by C. Anne Wilson. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press,
Those who have grown bored and fretful at this stream of reviews will be
pleased to know that this volume, papers from the Fourth Leeds Symposium
on Food History and Traditions, is the last in my possession. This
volume is of particular interest because most modern Americans have
little idea of the preservation techniques used before the 20th, or at
best the 19th, century. I certainly had only a hazy idea of drying,
pickling, and the 19th century innovation of canning.
Table of Contents:
* Introduction, C. Anne Wilson
* Preserving Food to Preserve Live: The Response to Glut and Famine
from Early times to the End of the Middle Ages, C. Anne Wilson
* Pots for Potting: English Pottery and its Role in Food
Preservation in the Post-mediaeval Period, Peter Brears
* Necessities and Luxuries: Food Preservation from the Elizabethan
to the Georgian Era, Jennifer Stead
* Industrial Food Preservation in the Nineteenth and Twentieth
Centuries, H.G. Muller
* Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Trends in Food Preserving:
Frugality, Nutrition, or Luxury.
Wilson's work in the introduction is reassuringly solid, if dwelling a
bit on the famine threat. Methods she covers include air-drying, burial
(one that we usually eschew, but which did indeed work well for cereal
grains under appropriate circumstances), including bog butter, salting,
parching, smoking, preservation of milk and cream (we seldom think of
butter and cheese as preservation methods, but they are), brine
preserving, etc. There is not an in-depth description of pickling here,
and lactic acid fermentation is not given much space. One thing she does
highlight is that the changes wrought by 'decay,' such as lactic acid
fermentation in bog butter, could turn something into what was
considered a delicacy. She also points out that medieval dried fruits
were considerably drier and harder than our modern jarred or
plastic-containered versions and therefore could be stored in a moister
environment. Wilson also places food preservation in the seasonal cycle
of foods, both for peasants and the well-off.
At first glance, Brear's "Pots for Potting" sounds rather narrow in
scope, but the light he sheds on potting or preserving fruits, pickled
meats, fish, lard, vegetables and even grains is invaluable. It's hard
for me to remember that preserves, i.e. jams, are uncommon in the
medieval and Renaissance record, still more to realize that the 'more
period' stoneware crock (compared to the glass jar) is not necessarily
as time-honored a tradition as we may think. Brears traces the use of
pots for 'potting' things back to the covered coffyns or pies of the
middle ages, which were often topped up with fat after baking and used
as preservation media for the fish, meat or other items inside. (I've
even found references to baking herbs in a dough coffin for
preservation). Admittedly, this Pots article is focusing more on the
post 1600 than the pre-1600 era, but knowing what developed after our
time period, at least in England, is a useful mark. Furthermore, what
foodie could resist hearing about the origins of meat- and fish-paste and
their pots, or the nineteenth-century bread-storage pot?
This volume catapults Jennifer Stead firmly into the company of Wilson
and Brears as food history writers for me. The only weakness in her
essay is a tendency to confuse the reader as to which period is under
discussion, but a reference to her footnotes, which generally are to
primary sources, is all that is needed to set one straight. Again, the
primary period under discussion is post-1600. Here, not only the
discussions of the introduction of techniques but the scientific
background and results of those techniques (such as the widespreadness
of rancid butter in the 18th c.) are invaluable. In particular, I have
always wondered about 15th-16th century references to gunpowder being
rubbed on meat. Stead's explanation of the use of saltpetre (and its
connection to nitre), salprunella and even gunpowder clears this up. She
also traces the precursors to airtight 'bottling' (ie: canning) of fruit
from recipes in the 1600s onward.
The last two articles are definitely out of our period, but are
fascinating as they remind us about the changes in the nature of food
preservation even in the last century and a half. That a cake of
portable soup (boiled-down broth, the precursor to the boullion cube)
made in 1771 remained substantially unchanged in 1938 is one of Muller's
fascinating tid-bits, as is an explanation of the spray-drying process
used for dry milk and instant coffee. Hunter's article is rather harder
going, especially for the reader who knows something of American
cookbook/cooking history or who has wandered the pages of Cornell's
HEARTH collection (http://hearth.library.cornell.edu/) The history of
preserving information in Britain is much different than America's! But
Hunter's analysis of when and to what class home preserving methods were
advocated is enlightening for the Britophile.
All in all, perusing this collection left me with a much improved
understanding of the diversity and development of food preservation.
Today, in the days of the sealed can, the deep freeze, and the
refrigerator, older techniques have been left behind, only revived in
Camping Without a Cooler. For Food service purposes, we are wise to
adhere to the 4 hours between 40 and 140 degrees rule. But it is worth
knowing how those who literally could not achieve such a standard worked
to preserve their food and protect it from spoilage.
-- Jadwiga Zajaczkowa, Knowledge Pika jenne at fiedlerfamily.net