Sophie Schneideman Rare Books has issued a catalogue of Food & Drink. Finally, a catalogue about a topic everyone enjoys. Actually, you might not enjoy some of the older recipes. Standard fare in the 18th century might not always be pleasing to 21st century palates. Nonetheless, most of these dishes would have been quite pleasing in their day, some exquisite as many of these books were written by fine chefs for people of more than average means. Additionally, there are books about where to eat when traveling, a section on wine and spirits, and books pertaining to Derek Cooper and Alan Davidson, a couple of 20th century British food writers. Here, now, are some samples to taste.
Item 3 is one of those wonderful early recipe books with a title long enough to be a book itself. We will abbreviate: The Cook's and Confectioner's Dictionary: or, the Accomplish'd Housewife's Companion. Containing... Bisks, Farces, forc'd Meats, Marinades, Olio's, Puptons, Ragoos, Sauces, Soops, Potages... and so on. I'm not sure whether farces, forc'd meats, and puptons are some antiquarian foods or stuff popular in England today. Author John Nott was the cook for the Duke of Bolton, who certainly must have had a great variety of meals to try as there are thousands of recipes in here, including 31 for preparing pigeon alone (including pickling them). It even includes “practical joke dishes such as pies with false tops which contain live birds and frogs.” Hopefully, the Duke had a sense of humor as I would have sent Nott to the Tower. Priced at £1,900 (British pounds, or roughly U.S. $3,068).
This next piece comes from the pen of “Ignotus,” also known as Dr. Alexander Hunter: Culina Famulatrix Medicinae: Or Receipts in Modern Cookery; with a Medical Commentary, Written by Ignotus. These recipes come with medical advice and the author's sometimes biting opinions. He writes of mock turtle soup, “This a most diabolical dish, and only fit for the Sunday dinner of a rustic, who is to work the following six days in a ditch bottom.” Of course, in 1804, that would have covered about 90% of the population. The appendix also provides some timely advice on men and manners, 267 sayings such as, “Do not blame a man for hard drinking, if he belongs to a thirsty family.” Item 12. £550 (US $888).
This book is worth picking up if for no other reason then the name of the author: The Dinner Question: or, How to Dine Well and Economically, by Tabitha Tickletooth. Some might question the authenticity of that name, despite a picture of the plump, matronly looking Mrs. Tickletooth on the cover. Actually, Tabitha was one Charles Selby, a comic actor of the time when this book was published (1860). Reportedly, it is even Mr. Selby dressed as Mrs. Tickletooth in the portrait. Selby/Tickletooth provides recipes appropriate for the era along with a dose of tongue-in-cheek humor. Much of it pokes fun of the gastronomical snobbery of the time. As he says, the book provides “plain instructions for the preparation of plain dishes at the least possible expense.” “Tickletooth” also provides advice on other items of domestic life, including, appropriately enough, care of the teeth. Restaurants in London and Paris are reviewed, and he quotes an older gentleman's warning about eating rabbit in certain French establishments: “the hares cooked in these cheap establishments have in general short ears, and are apt to mew.” Item 30. £500 (US $807).
This next items also has a co-author with an interesting name, though this one appears real: The Gourmet's Guide to Europe, by Lt. Col. Newnham-Davis and Algernon Bastard. This is the book you see pictured on the cover of the catalogue. The guide provides information about eating out in restaurants all across Europe, as far as Scandinavia, Russia, Turkey and Greece. For Greece, not a favorite, “beastly” applies to almost all establishments. For Berlin, the guide notes, “go to the Bauernschanke, which has obtained a celebrity for the violence and rudeness of its proprietor, who...insults his customers to the uttermost and turns out anyone who objects.” Item 41. £125 (US $201).