“All which circumstances I must willingly prosecute to the full, because as Bread is the best nourrishment of all other, being well made, so it is simply the worst being marred in the ill handling”.
To those lost souls who have not yet read Elizabet David, I urge you to plunge into 592 pages of enlightening goodness.
I myself was completely oblivious to her writing, a few months ago she was just a “to look up” note on my notebook.
Mrs David is not just another accomplished young woman that happened to travel a lot in her youth and then went ahead and wrote recipe books based on her gastronomic adventures and life experiences… OK, she is that, but there’s more, so much more.
She went from writing recipe books to really taking upon researching historical, sociological and cultural aspects of food, such is the case of “Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen” published in 1977.
Such was the impact of this erudite, but incredibly agile work that she was awarded with the Glendidch Writer of the Year and was awarded the O.B.E. and was made a Chevalier du Merite Agricole, furthermore she was made an honorary doctor of the University of Essex and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
But let’s get on with the book.
As the great story teller and journalist she was, she goes all the way back to the origins of agriculture and the domestication of grains in Mesopotamia, she then moves to milling and the technological evolution of the activity as well as the the transformation of the activity throughout history in Britain, addressing legal social and economical aspects of it.
She begins with the bread’s components and dedicates entire sections to analyze them them individually, flour, yeast, salt, liquids, eggs, etc.
And then the baking process. which oven is best? how does each work? how baking has changed in rural Britain and the byzantine discussion around iron vs brick ovens.
She then moves forwards (in time) and talks about the way the food industry has changed to fulfill the needs of an ever growing (and hungry) population, and how the pullman sliced loaf became the modern staple food.
But that *of course* is just the first part of the book, the second half is dedicated to tackle recipes for bread, pastries and a many different doughs.
She wraps up the second part with a selection of recipes and suggestions for the best enjoyment of sweet and savoury toasts.
I’ve spent almost a year (so far) researching various aspects of bread and flour production and after reading this masterpiece I can only say that THIS is the kind of book I’d like to write.
Mrs. David had the rare talent of producing erudite works but delivering them with grace and agility, appealing to all kinds of readers, from the curious foodie, to academics, bakers, cooks, historians and anyone who wants to know a little more of what had to happen for us to enjoy a humble sandwich.