© 2009-2011 Quality Eating and Drinking London Ltd

 

© 2009-2011 Quality Eating and Drinking London Ltd

Newer: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled musakkas

Is it dinner in Pinner or gluttony in Putney?

Tames, Richard (2003). Feeding London.
Historical Publications, £16.95

Having to pronounce on London food at various events a few years ago, I added Feeding London, by Richard Tames, to my library. It served its purpose well by teaching me lots that I didn't know about Londoners' fare through the ages, and my audiences stayed mainly awake during my talks. Since then, there have been many other books in the same general area (though on a UK-wide scale). Feeding London is still to be found in the shops, so six years after its publication, it seems worthwhile to give it another test-drive. A lot of water has been flowing under London Bridge since then (carrying some salmon): does the book stand up to the change?

The book is in the same vein (and from the same stable) as the histories of our districts and towns, such as Covent Garden or Ruislip and Ickenham, and this makes for accessible history. As well as a general sweep of Londoners' diets over the past two millennia, there are concise histories of cookbooks, food shops, and other topics, plus a review of the evolution of dining in and dining out in the Capital. The timeline at the end of the book runs through to Tesco's "breaching the billion" in profits. There are jewels on nearly every page, such as diarist John Evelyn's plea in 1699 that a light touch of a clove of garlic on a serving-bowl would be all that is necessary (though Tames misses the counter that it took over 250 years for Elizabeth David to retort that it all depends whether one plans to eat the bowl or its contents). Now that I have read through the book without a lecturing deadline, I can confirm that it is worth a read by anyone who eats in London.

And yet ...

I was surprised to find some of the text had dated rather quickly, especially in the patterns of buying, cooking and eating out — this is not aided by the somewhat jaded look of the typography, which reminds me of early brochures for a stereo unit or a Robbins university. The subject cries out for a second edition for the era of farmers' markets, foodie TV, Ocado ... and — dare we say? — of groups like QED.

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