I love studying food history. I read a lot of books. I do a fair bit of travel. I interview experts. Happily, thanks to YouTube, I also have access to a wide range of wonderful videos that focus on different periods of food history. Among the many options I’ve discovered, one of the delightful ones is a BBC series known as the Supersizers. This is a program in which restaurant critic Giles Coren and entertainer/comedian Sue Perkins pick different periods of history and then relive them. They wear the clothing of the period, live in suitable housing, and, most importantly, eat or discuss every aspect of the culinary arts from the period. The programs are tremendously varied, and include, among others, ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, the French Revolution, pretty much every age defined by who was on the throne (Elizabethan, Victorian, Edwardian), the Regency period (Jane Austen’s times), and one year, they went through England by the decade (once they got to the ’70s, things began to look familiar, which actually made them even more entertaining).
The show employs top chefs, to prepare the period-appropriate foods, and a wide range of experts (culinary historians, cultural anthropologists, farmers, foragers, politicians,and so on) to comment on how food was obtained and consumed in each period. So while Giles and Sue focus on being entertaining, the scholarship is excellent.
Since we’re just a few days past the anniversary of D-Day (June 6), I thought that perhaps the best example to post would be dining in England during World War II. This video, while still entertaining, contrasts somewhat with the lavish repasts that are the focus of most of the videos. However, it is a period that many still remember and that had a lasting impact on the world. Still, do check out some of the other videos. So many fascinating eras, fabulous costumes, and over-the-top dinners — truly delightful. But now, here is dining in Wartime.
It’s probably because I enjoy and often write about history that I’ve ended up with a lot of friends who are also focused on history. As mentioned earlier, I have a cousin who has written about World War II in Italy. I have an old friend who is one of the world’s leading authorities on Napoleon Bonaparte, and while he doesn’t have a book out, he has published dozens of other people’s books. One acquaintance has written an excellent travel guide to American Civil War sites.
Unusual among these folks is Robert Mueller, because even though his book focuses on a specific region (France and Belgium), it does not focus on one war, but rather spans the centuries, sharing the key battles that have marked this landscape and directed its history.
Fields of War: Fifty Key Battlefields in France and Belgium is a travel guide, as well as a history book. It guides readers to the monuments and battlefields of turning points in Europe’s history, from the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) through World War II. The many national awards the book has won — including the Military Writers Society of America 2010 Bronze Medal in the Travel Category — are testament to its scholarship and usefulness. One can almost imagine the millions of warriors who have fought as Mueller guides the readers across the places these key battles occurred.
If you have any interest in military history, and especially if you’re planning a trip to Europe, you definitely want to buy this book. You can go straight to Amazon to order it, or you can first visit Mueller’s excellent blog, French Battlefields. If you didn’t want to travel before, you will probably want to once you’ve visited his site or read his book. Definitely recommended.
Okay–this is not about food. But it is about travel. And history. I just reconnected with a cousin I haven’t seen in many years, and it turns out that she’s a writer, too. She’s got a great book out titled A Travel Guide to World War II Sites in Italy: Museums, Monuments, and Battlegrounds. It’s a must-have guide to sites important to Allies and Partisans alike in a part of “The Good War” that folks don’t focus on much.
I definitely recommend this book if you have an interest in World War II. In addition to background information, maps, and photos, it includes places to stay that are convenient to the key sites. Simply a terrific guide book. For more information, you can visit the website: Travel Guide Press. Of course, the bonus of visiting sites in Italy is that you get to eat Italian food!