A Bite-Sized History of France: Gastronomic Tales of Revolution, War, and Enlightenment

Stéphane Hénaut and Jeni Mitchell. New Press, $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-62097-251-9
Husband-and-wife authors Hénault and Mitchell serve up a fascinating history of France through food. They discuss Marie Antoinette’s notorious phrase “let them eat cake” (which the authors maintain she never actually said in response to being told “the people of France had no more bread to eat”) and the role sugar played in the city of Nantes, known for its rum-soaked vanilla cake (due to France’s slave-based sugar-cane plantations in the Caribbean, the city developed sugar refineries in the late 17th century). Referring to Napoleon’s famous adage—“an army marches on its stomach”—the authors recount an omen involving his flipping of crepes ahead of his failed invasion of Moscow (he flipped four crepes perfectly as a sign of good luck, but the fifth fell into the flames). The authors share some intriguing facts: a country as small as France, for example, produces five million tons of potatoes yearly. The authors also discuss the country’s drastically declining bee population, which caused French honey production to drop from 30,000 tons in the early 1990s to 10,000 tons in 2014. Hénault and Mitchell are often witty (perhaps most amusingly illustrated by a chapter called “War and Peas”) even as they present their exceptionally well-researched material. This culinary history is a treat for Francophiles. (July)
Reviewed on: 04/23/2018
Release date: 07/01/2018
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