This book for kids 8-11, subtitled “Chewing on History with Famous Folks and Their Fabulous Foods” aims to provide a glimpse into the food customs of famous people throughout history. As the author notes, “History is written between the lines of menu items.”
There are two parts to each of the profiles of the sixteen historical figures featured: one is a description of what that person would have eaten, and the other, told as if in the person’s own words, tells why the person was famous. (I especially enjoyed the title of the bio of Napoleon – “More About Moi.”)
For example, we learn about George Washington’s false teeth, and how, by the time he became President, only one of his teeth was real. Thus he preferred soft foods, and famously loved having hoecakes with butter and honey for breakfast. (I have tried the Mt. Vernon recipe for this meal, and it was very good.)
Paul Revere apparently had his teeth, but ate a lot of cornmeal mush anyway (it is also called “hasty pudding”), a food introduced to colonists by Native Americans.
It is Abraham Lincoln who enjoyed pandowdy, although he tended to get so absorbed in his work he would forget to eat.
Under Queen Victoria, dishes became popular such as fried ox feet, tongue, and sheep’s head. (You can learn more about the rather unsavory – to me, anyway – aspects of eating in the Victorian Era in this website on British Food History.)
Gandhi was a vegetarian (when he wasn’t fasting during protests to draw attention to injustice). [Although not included in this book, Gandhi famously said “The body was never meant to be treated as a refuse bin, holding all the foods that the palate demands.” Probably good he didn’t live in current times in America.]
Babe Ruth, on the other hand, was well-known as a big eater, especially “relishing” ballpark hot dogs. The famous Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai is also discussed.
Martin Luther King, Jr. loved traditional Southern cooking. One of my favorite stories about him (not in this book) is about how much he was looking forward to dinner the day he was assassinated: he wanted to make sure they would get “real soul food”. Canaan’s Edge, the concluding volume of “America in the King Years,” by Pulitizer Prize winner Taylor Branch, provides a poignant account of King’s last day, and the food he wanted for his supper. What the author of this book for kids does include however is the important role played by lunch counters in the Civil Rights movement.
The main part of the book ends with a section on Neil Armstrong, offering entertaining information on how astronauts eat.
At the end of the book there is a timeline, and a bit more information for each person profiled in a section called “Wanna Learn A Little More?” This is followed by “Wanna Read A Little More?” offering a bibliography and website list. Finally, there is a simple recipe for pandowdy.
The very clever and amusing watercolor illustrations are by Eric Zelz, husband of the author. He uses caricatures and eye-catching text enhancements.
Evaluation: The selection of historical figures is reasonably eclectic, and the historical information offers enough of a taste to whet kids’ appetites for more.
Published by Tilbury House Publishers, 2016