What people are eating is a reflection of their society. A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe explores what people were or were not able to eat during the Depression. It also covers various ways that the government attempted to provide relief to its citizens who were often in crisis. I had not realized that before this period, the federal government had no involvement in the nutrition of its citizens. This was also an era of discoveries of how vitamins and minerals worked to promote good health. When US citizens were so desperate for food, some actually dying of starvation, the government was forced to step up. Different methods of relief were tried at different times. When farm crops were abundant, the federal government bought up the surplus and turned it over to various organizations for distribution to the disadvantaged. The Red Cross frequently had a role in this. The Depression was also an era that ushered in the school lunch program. Research was done that showed how poorly children learned when they were hungry. These two food historians have uncovered so much information about how people and government coped with hunger. Recipes are even included.
If you enjoy art and cooking from a historical perspective, Cooking for Picasso by Camille Aubray will make a great read. Ondine is a young woman who lives and works at her parents’ bistro in Juan-les-Pins on France’s Cote d’Azur. One day her parents have an unusual job for her. This was in the days long before take-out food. Ondine must bicycle to a villa each day to deliver lunch to an unknown Mr. Ruiz. This begins a life changing summer for Ondine. After she has learned that he is Pablo Picasso, she does some modeling for him. Ondine eventually cooks the lunches for Picasso instead of just making her mother’s deliveries. The novel jumps from the summer of 1936 to a present day granddaughter of Ondine who hopes to locate a portrait that Picasso may have painted and given to her grandmother. The lives and loves of three generations of women are blended in a historical sweep with a treasure hunt at the end.
If you often associate reading with eating, I have a book for you. Voracious by Cara Nicoletti explores why certain books are among her favorites and pairs them with recipes for meals mentioned in the books. Nicoletti was an English Lit major who planned a different life but found herself working in the food industry, eventually becoming a butcher. She divides the book titles which she presents according to the time of her life when she was most influenced by a particular book. You might be inspired to read or reread a book from Nicoletti’s insightful description of a book. Some of the recipes provide a better understanding of just what the author had the characters eating. Her first book and recipe is breakfast sausage in honor of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book The Little House in the Big Woods. A humorous pairing is clam chowder with Moby-Dick. Cherry pie seems just a little creepy with In Cold Blood. I hope this book will inspire you to both read something and cook something.