Food Historians Also Cook

Food being ‘prepared’ on Downton Abby

Food historians uncover, record, and reproduce recipes. Their words invite readers to sit together at tables of long ago kitchens. They help us see, hear and smell the aromas of the food bubbling in the pots, frying in the pans, roasting or baking in the ovens.

Historians forage for unique nuggets of knowledge in ancient cookbooks, literary texts, and treasured diaries. They examine records of the daily diets and the culinary customs of our near and distant ancestors. They enable us to get a clearer picture of what the average person, not just the wealthy and privileged, ate at any given time and place.

Food historians are sleuths. They study everything from ancient cave carvings to manor house kitchen inventories. They explore the origins of labor-saving inventions. They delve into trade and taxation records; and analyze hotel and restaurant menus to gain greater understanding of changing fads and trends.

And then, they look around for ways to use their knowledge. Their information may be combined with a job in travel, teaching, writing — even food styling.

Culinary libraries need the help of historians to answer questions, undertake research for special projects, and curate culinary exhibits. Their writings are published in  academic journals and the popular press. Their expertise is sought by modern movie makers and producers of TV series.

Directors must make sure characters, whether they are: gladiators, The Titanic ocean liner passengers, even When Harry Met Sally are provided with the authentic food of their time in history.

 Some Sources To Check Out For Inspiration:

Drinking History: Fifteen Turning Points in the Making of American Beverages (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History) by Andrew F. Smith

The Literary Gourmet: Menus from Masterpieces by Linda Wolfe

Food Stylist: The Art of Preparing Food for the Camera by Dolores Custer

Culinary Historians of New York

3 thoughts on “Food Historians Also Cook

  1. Thanks for providing the list of historians – I was recently on the set for a period film (they’re trying to copy Downton Abby) and there was a “food stylist” there that clearly knew what she was doing – pretty weird to find out she travels the world doing exactly this ALL the time.

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