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Cookery – Origins

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The origins of cookery are uncertain, but in all probability it began in the Paleolithic period.  Cooked food is thought to have originated from the chance discovery of burned animal carcasses after a forest fire.  The meat would have been tastier and easier to chew than it was when raw.

French Cuisine

For the most of the twentieth century, French cuisine has been recognized as the most sophisticated in the West.  Its preeminence dates to 1533 when the Florentine Catherine de Medicis (1519-89), at the age of fourteen, married the Duc d’Orleans (1519-59), who was later to become Henry II of France.  Catherine brought her staff of Florentine chefs, who taught the French a thing or two about refining their, up until then, rather crude method of cooking.


The first recorded cookbook was written by Archestratus of Gela, a Sicilian Greek who lived around 350 BC.  He called his book Hedypatheia (The Life of Luxury).

Archestratus traveled throughout the Greek world of Sicily, Italy, Asia Minor, and Greece to record recipes.  He emphasized the use of fresh seasonal ingredients with sauces to enhance flavors.  He also recorded cooking techniques and combinations of flavors from around the empire.

In the second century BC, the Greek grammarian and author Athenaeus wrote the Deipnosophistae (The Learned Banquet).  The fifteen-volume book contained many wonderful recipes, but was not strictly speaking a cookbook since it was written in a style more like a novel.  In the book Athenaeus imagines learned men, including some real people from the past, meeting at a banquet and discussing food and other subjects.  The work covers most aspects of the ancient Greek and Roman world, and contains around eight hundred quotations from writers from antiquity.

The earliest and most important Latin cookbook De Re Coquinaria (On Cookery) was written by Marcus Gavius Apicius (14 BC – AD 37).  In his book, Apicius showed the changes in taste and style of the Roman upper class leading up to the fall of the Roman Empire.  Some of the dishes Apicius wrote about still feature in regional Italian food.  Pliny the Younger (ca. AD 62-113) claimed that Apicius force-fed geese to enlarge their livers to produce the best pate, the forerunner of pate de foie gras.

Recipes in De Re Coquinaria included a casserole of flamingo and nightingale tongues.  Apicius entertained lavishly but lived beyond his means and found himself in financial difficulties.  Sad to say, he decided to poison himself rather than face the consequences.

In the thirteenth century Kublai Khan’s (1215-94) personal chef, Huou, wrote The Important Things to Know About Eating and Drinking.  The majority of the book was dedicated to a collection of soup recipes, with household advice thrown in.

The first American cookbook was the delightfully titled American Cookery, or the Art of Dressing written by Amelia Simmons and first published in 1796.


12/26/2009 - Posted by | Food Origins


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