Food in history is a tantalising thing. Although we may have recipes, firsthand descriptions, and images, we can never be sure how things really looked or tasted. Much of the work of food historians has been focused on creative use of available sources, not to provide facsimile meals, but to gain insight into the cultural role of food of the past. Two recent books explore different aspects of food in history. Both are, refreshingly, free of recipes.
From the Getty Research Institute comes a fascinating new volume, The Edible Monument: The Art of Food for Festivals (Getty Research Institute, $62 hb, 190 pp, 9781606064542), which accompanied a recent exhibition of the same name. The exhibition at the Getty Centre, Los Angeles, was drawn from the Getty's rich holdings of illustrated books, prints, manuscripts, and decorative arts, supplemented with loaned works. It was a compelling visual record of a vanished art form.