How to skin and cook an alligator? How to cook British food in 19th-century India? How to fry eggplants in Hungary, when Ottoman spices had just started to kick in?
Cookbooks tell us things about people’s bread and butter throughout history. With their lists, stories, recommendations, and illustrations, they reveal long-forgotten human experiences. They tell us the stories of materials, hospitality, and family life. Old cookbooks offer us a taste of worlds no longer within our reach, lives that we sometimes even find difficult to imagine.
Trying historical recipes also means dipping our toes into a different world and dealing with challenges of taste and interpretation. Some historical recipes are difficult to recreate because they deal with different measurements, units, language, and ingredients. We try to reconstruct an experience from the past as we understand new things about the world in which we cook today.
The “Leftovers” project was born out of our love both for food and for history. We’ve decided to collect, experiment, and present some of the things we’ve learned from old cookbooks. Each post has an advising historian who specializes in the relevant time and place, and chooses some additional reading that you might like.
Want to pitch a post on a dish, a revolution, an old cookbook you found in your attic? Drop Alma a line
This blog is supported by Columbia University’s History Department and the History in Action Project.
History Ph.D student at Columbia, a cook and food blogger. Studies 20th-century international history, focusing on politics of food, agriculture, and development. Author of “Devarim Be’Alma,” a vegetarian food blog in Hebrew. Her blog has 40K readers every month and her recipes have appeared in major publications in Israel. Her favorite ingredients are: avocado, beetroots, garlic, dates, and tahini.
Former improv student and NGO worker in India, pursuing a Ph.D in History at Columbia. Studies early modern Europe, focusing on Jewish history, Jewish community, and history of science. Raised on creole food in New Orleans. Developed her chai game in India. Her favorite ingredients are: honey, balsamic vinegar, curry, basmati rice, and cayenne pepper.
Photography lover, eggplants foe, urban planning graduate student. Works on public transportation and community development. His photography homepage is here. Also takes all of the food pics here and has done some commercial photography here and here. Uses a good ol’ Nikon D80. His favorite ingredients are: red wine, olive oil, Nutmeg, chocolate, and jalapeño.