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Charlemagne's Tablecloth: A Piquant History of Feastingby Nichola Fletcher
Synopses & Reviews
Feasts, banquets, and grand dinners have always played a vital role in our lives. They oil the wheels of diplomacy, smooth the paths of the ambitious, and spread joy at family celebrations. They lift the spirits, involve all our senses and, at times, transport us to other fantastical worlds. Some feasts have give rise to hilarious misunderstandings, at others competitive elements take over. Some are purely for pleasure, some connect uncomfortably with death, but all are interesting. Nichola Fletcher has written a captivating history of feasts throughout the ages that includes the dramatic failures along with the dazzling successes.
From a humble meal of potatoes provided by an angel, to the extravagance of the high medieval and Renaissance tables groaning with red deer and wild boar, to the exquisite refinement of the Japanese tea ceremony, Charlemagne's Tablecloth covers them all. In her gustatory exploration of history's great feasting tables, Fletcher also answers more than a few riddles such as "Why did Charlemagne use an asbestos tablecloth at his feasts?" and "Where did the current craze for the elegant Japanese Kaiseki meal begin? Fletcher answers these questions and many more while inviting readers to a feasting table that extends all the way from Charlemagne's castle to her own millennium feast in Scotland.
This is an eclectic collection of feasts from the flamboyant to the eccentric, the delicious to the disgusting, and sometimes just the touchingly ordinary. For anyone who has ever sat down at a banquet table and wondered, "Why?" Nichola Fletcher provides the delicious answer in a book that is a feast all its own.
"We all eat, but how many of us know how to feast? If Fletcher, a food writer and occasional feast designer, has her way, we'll all be reconsidering our party habits. True, we're not likely to offer cannibalistic banquets (she discusses those of Fiji, New Guinea, the Aztecs and others), or platters of cats with rats (a dish from the 1870 siege of Paris), or Kwakiutl-style blubber-eating competitions. Even the complex Ruskin feast that Fletcher herself catered (seviche of wood pigeon, wild greens, Coniston char, and roast venison with wild bramble sauce, all served on pollen-inspired ceramic platters, with readings from Wordsworth and Ruskin) for a scholarly set of foodies in the middle of a British forest at sunset seems best left to its designated guests. But as Fletcher describes Roman, medieval, Renaissance, Persian, Japanese and Chinese feasting traditions, some universal elements emerge. Feasts often celebrate key life events and feature symbolic foods like eggs (for birth and fertility) or candied almonds (bitter and sweet, like life). Nature is either evoked or revoked, but rarely ignored. Fletcher serves her culinary history buffet-style; thematic chapters on meat or fish are followed by palate-cleansing pauses to examine oddities like 18th-century French food writer Grimod's funeral banquets or Mr. Billings's horseback dinner in 1903, followed by chapters on Victorian banquets and modern Day of the Dead rituals. This is a veritable cook's tour of a mesmerizing social custom. Photos. Agent, Susan Howe. (Aug. 16)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.
"A veritable feast of storytelling, this won a Silver Trophy at the 2004 Gourmet Media World Festival in Cannes and is recommended..." Library Jouranl
"A smorgasbord of informative and entertaining essays on feasts through the ages....This pleasurable treat can be consumed as presented or sampled in any order." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] savory history..." Booklist
About the Author
Nichola Fletcher lives in Scotland and France and is multiskilled. She originally trained as an artist goldsmith, a skill she still practices. But she has also spent thirty years perfecting her knowledge of venison, having pioneered Europe's first deer farm with her husband. She was nominated for a Slow Food Award for this work. As a food writer she has written four books on the culture, history, and cooking of game meats; lectures and demonstrates worldwide; and writes for the Financial Times. Her unusual combination of talents provides the perfect grounding for her remarkable study of the art of feasting for which she was awarded a Gourmet Voice Media Award. She has two daughters.
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Cooking and Food » Reference and Etiquette » Historical Food and Cooking