Inspiration From The Distant Past

Inspiration From The Distant Past
Found note in an old book... warms the cockles of my bookish heart...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Eating with Emperors and Mandela

As I have said before, we are a book-giving family. Books are always a good gift, in general, but it can be difficult to narrow down to which book. Here is a comparison of a recent exchange between Hubby and me.

The last book he gave me is Eating with Emperors by Jake Smith. It is an amazing book which traces 150 years of the banquets, feasts and pig-outs of rulers. The author started out collecting printed menus from royal meals and ended up with an exhaustive body of research presented in a cloth-bound, gold foiled tome. It even has a satin ribbon to keep your place.

It’s an incredible read, and talk about fantasy DIY! Thought you might whip up some sauteed young partridges or a truffle salad or maybe some Champagne sorbet? Well, here’s how! You can eat venison roasted just like Emperor Nicholas II of Russia liked it, or prepare a chicken dish from the wedding menu of Prince George and Princess Mary (soon to be King George V and Queen Mary).

There is so much about the history of food; the caviar trade in the early 1900’s, the illicit eating of the Ortolan, and Rasputin’s last meal. You can read about the China in the White House or how the Maharajahs discovered French cuisine.

There are photos of Hitler and Mussolini dining, the Hindenburg dining room, and descriptions of the Khedive’s table.

Some of the text really puts you off your food, to be honest. Times and tastes have changed, thank goodness. There is no moderation, no low-fat, no portion control here. Mr Woodhouse would be horrified.

And to Hubby I gave this gorgeous, weighty book about one of our generation’s most important people. My neighbor said she had a biography of Mandiba that was dry and hard going. This book doesn’t look like it will be at all boring. The text appears to be comprehensive and well-researched, with no detail left out, and might have been boring on its own.

However, the pages of text are interspersed with stark black and white photos and full-page quotes. It’s the kind of book that could rest on your coffee table for months, being opened and enjoyed at random.

Neither of us has had a chance to read it yet, but the book has captured me nonetheless. I love looking at the photos and even the graphics that are watermarked on many of the pages.

It’s a funny juxtaposition-- research about royalty, excess, indulgence and waste next to inequality, deprivation, hardship and injustice. Either book would be a welcome addition to a reader’s library.

What is the best book you were ever given?


  1. Both of those books look lovely. I have Mandela's autobiography, and it was such a fascinating read. The Mandela book you have looks a lot more visually appealing though!

    And the first book looks like pure escapism, which is sometimes just what you need.

  2. Oh, and I totally forgot to answer your question! The best book I have ever been given is a bound 1863 version of Arabian Nights. It's beautiful :)

  3. a well used,slightly abused 30 year old Petite LaRousse and it wasn't so much given to me as it was commandeered from the person whose name is written in it with a fountain pen.

  4. Sam, I would love to see a post about that book. Sounds very special.

    Tracy, Book Thief, stolen books don't count. really

  5. what if you live in a community property state? that oughta count for something! All right, fine. If it has to be gainfully gotten, The Ultimate Fake Book.

  6. Would you believe I still own every book I've received as a gift? It is true. Every book gift is a sentimental treasure but the most recent would be the fancy bound editions of the Hobbit and LOTR trilogy that Jim gave me for a bday gift a couple of years ago. Too fancy to read-- oh I pull them out to look up favorite passages but for rereading I still go to my threadbare paperbacks. do you guys ever keep reading the fall apart over the pristine?

  7. that food book is gorgeous-- I do love to read about food!


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