Friday, 27 January 2017

Cookbook Review: Big Buttes Book by Michelle Enzinas

Pros: photos of many of the recipes, supplementary recipes, footnotes

Cons: some photos are dark or blurry

This is a translation of Dyets Dry Dinner (1599) by Mr. Henry Buttes, with a fair amount of added content by the author, Michelle Enzinas. Enzinas is a historical re-enactor and at the very end of the book gives a short description of the dinner party she threw following Buttes’ dinner plan. The introduction gives information about Buttes and why he wrote the book, the manuscript itself, the breakdown and organization of the recipes, humour theory, etc. Each menu item has 7 pieces of information: choice (how to pick good/ripe ones), use (it’s positive qualities), hurt (it’s negative qualities), preparation and correction (how to eat the item, which is sometimes the only ‘recipe’ given), degree (where it falls with regard to humour theory), season, age and constitution (when to eat the item and who benefits best from it), and finally story for table-talk (etymology, often with some sexual humour, designed to entertain the guests during the feast). At the bottom of most pages are the footnotes, with translation and vocabulary aids. At the back of the book are references, a glossary, and two appendixes, one with foods sorted by humour and degree, and one with supplementary pie crust recipes.

Buttes doesn’t always have many recipes included (or any in a few cases), and some of his ‘recipes’ are really just advice on cooking/preparation methods, rather than something we’d consider a recipe, so the author decided to supplement his recipes with some taken from eleven other cookbooks from the same period. It was a great decision and enhances the book. 

I couldn’t find a photography credit, which leads me to believe that the author also did the photography. It was great seeing what a lot of the recipes look like and the photographer had an artistic bent. However, some of the photos are quite dark (like the lemony mutton steaks photo on pg 306), and some are blurry due to camera jiggle and low light conditions. It’s a real shame that this is the case, but on the whole the photographs are helpful.

I loved that there were some comfort food recipes, like warm milk & honey. 

As with other historical cookbooks, there were a lot of … unique flavour combinations (note, these might taste great, but sound unusual to modern readers). Buttes also uses interesting categorizations: salt for example is categorized as a sauce, rather than a spice, and the herbs category includes vegetables.

While the author did a great job with the footnotes, giving translations and vocabulary definitions, there were a few instances when Latin was left untranslated (as with the first line of the prayer on pg 41).

I tried the stewed leeks in honey recipe and there are several others I wouldn’t mind attempting when the fruits or vegetables required are in season. On the whole though, the book is more of a historical curiosity than full of recipes I’d want to prepare and eat.

I’ve looked through a few historical cookbooks and thought this one was well put together. There are a good number of recipes included. If you’re interested in what people ate in Elizabethan England, this is a great volume.

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