Dubai LitFest: A History of Food in 100 Recipes (by William Sitwell)

Food writer and editor of Waitrose Kitchen magazine William Sitwell had much to relate to us about the history of food while discussing his book, A History of Food in 100 Recipes at the Emirates LitFest (Festival of Literature). Able to summarize 4000 years in 3000 seconds, the author presented an amusing overview on some of the earliest depictions of some popular foods today (along with some dishes he renders unedible). Among the highlights of his book are his writings on the first visual accounts of bread-making (featuring the inner walls in a tomb of an ancient Egyptian woman)–which is probably the first recipe on a wall, as it reveals the ancient method of dough making, and the cooking methods that tell us how bread used to either be grilled or baked in an oven.


Another interesting food recipe Sitwell traces back in time is the original mentioning of Tiger Nuts sweets, which is mentioned in the Old Testament’s story of Joseph (Genesis 43:11):



“If it must be so, then do this: take some of the best products of the land in your bags, and carry down to the man as a present, a little balm and a little honey, aromatic gum and myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds.”¬†Interestingly, the Bible lists the ingredients without listing the recipe, but Sitwell somehow manages to find a way to form such ingredients into a healthy, delectable dessert.

bayeux tapestry breadSitwell also relates the graphical details in the Bayeaux Tapestry of 1077, which show one of the earliest depictions of bread, revealing a picture of early, unleavened loaves. It also shows the earliest picture of manchet bread, which Sitwell marvels in his saying that “bread encapsulates the magic–the alchemy of food”, as he explains how the world knew the first versions of soft, fluffy breads after 1066, which is when they were allowed to refine their grains. The author also explains how soft bread was something that only the nobles were able to brandish, sort of like the latest cars are brandished today!

Sitwell also relates some funny stories behind recipes, like the 1465 recipe for “Ravioli during non-lenten days”, in which the cooking duration was timed according to the time it takes to “say the Lord’s Prayer twice”.



And of course, noteworthy to mention was the history of chocolate, brought to Europe from the Aztecs by none other than Hernan Cortes during the Spanish conquest–the food being considered evil by one of the priests, who asserted that it could be “addictive”. Of course, he couldn’t be all wrong!


Generally speaking, A History of Food in 100 Recipes is a great reference book for foodies, entertaining and informing at the same time. What makes the book fun to read is not only the fun, good-to-know stories behind certain foods, but Sitwell’s tone is also humorous, light, and at the same time passionate about food (an essential factor he would share with his foodie fans!).

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