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Roots of all Cookbooks – Culinary Historians of New York

On Wednesday, I headed downtown to Astor Center, Carrot Pie in hand, to hear Anne Willan speak for latest Culinary Historians of New York event about her latest cookbook, The Cookbook Family Tree: A History of Early Cookbooks.  The pie is just one of the well-researched recipes in the book, and is based on a 16th century recipe by Bartolomeo Scappi, from Opera di M. Bartolomeo Scappi. One of my favorite parts about participating in CHNY events for the past couple of years has been that I don’t just go to the events, I usually cook a recipe relevant to the era being covered and bring it to the event, so folks is you don’t just hear about Medieval recipes, they get to taste them. Willan, of course, is legendary in the world of food, and has won an IACP Lifetime Achievement Award, James Beard Award, and Bon Appétit Teacher of the Year Award, to name just a few. She also happens to be a fellow Brit.

After some fabulous Lustau Amontillado Sherry and a tasting of recipes from the ages, sourced from the book, we settled in to enjoy some background on Willan’s latest. She focuses in the book on early cookbooks, and started off by tracing the history of the earliest cookbooks using a cookbook tree (not in the book, but a fabulous tool). One of the highlights was a sampling of some of the gorgeous artwork from the book, which Willan’s husband helped curate. Sadly I can’t include the recipe here for copyright purposes, but get the book and you can try it out for yourself!

I was actually amazed by the lack of detail in Scappi’s recipe. He basically says something along the lines of “make a pastry with these ingredients,” but Willan does a great job of developing the recipes properly for the book, with precision, so you don’t have to guess what Scappi meant. The pie included, of all things, carrots, Parmesan, rose water and candied orange peel, so it was sort of a combination I was unfamiliar with, but a good example of some of the bizarre savory-sweet combos that were popular in the 16th century. Some other great recipes served at the event were Gallina Morisca, a spiced Moorish chicken, and a caraway-spiced Seed Cake. Willan even managed to bring in some of her Ypocras, a sort of Medieval mulled wine, heavily spiced and served cold.

Here’s more on the event from blogger Local Bozo. Also, save the date for the next CHNY event at the National Arts Club with David Strauss:

Wednesday, April 18, 2012: “Beating the Nazis with Truffles and Tripe: The Early Years of Gourmet: The Magazine of Good Living,” 


About francoiseeats

I'm currently working as a freelance travel and food writer, and photographer. I spent two years at, the culinary on-line magazine for the industry insider. My articles have been published in New York, NY and Richmond, VA. After graduating from Columbia University and recovering from the tragedy of not being able to read Camus books for a living, I attended The Culinary Institute of America, where my scone consumption rose drastically. Fluent in French and Italian, I've worked in some of New York's top restaurants and covered food-related stories in a number of publications, from The Richmond Times-Dispatch to Time Out New York.

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  1. Pingback: LaVarenne » Unveiling the Cookbook Tree of Life

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