A History of British Baking by Emma Kay

A History of British Baking by Emma Kay* – From Blood Bread to Bake-Off is just the book I wanted to read now, after my last Bake Off bake along. I baked along each year for the last few years, at least one challenge, from 2015 to 2020, with the exception of 2017 when I baked only 4 challenges, as I was annoyed by their move to Channel 4. One of the best things, for me, at Bake Off was the historical bits they used to share when it was at the BBC, such as the story behind the Dampfnudel (2016). As the show went downhill after the switch, this will be the last bake along for me. It’s a shame, as I loved it and I also won two prizes for my bakes, an impressive Bakery Boss from the Sage Appliances, and 2nd place at a blogging conference, BlogOn.
So, how amazing is that A History of British Baking by Emma Kay was published last month and I got the chance to read it? Exactly when I wanted to read on this topic. Also, if you are curious of my last 10 bakes, all vegan, have a look here.

A History of British Baking by Emma Kay

Now, let’s talk about the book. It is a long history of baking, starting from Roman times to present day. I wish some of the things in the book were explored a bit more, like if baking was a thing before or after the start of agriculture? Our ancestors had porridge or gruel, that is well known, but baking is a new and intriguing idea. Also, she mentions the Salem Witch trials and ergot as a possible cause for this. While she doesn’t say it was the cause, I think it could have been explored more deeply. Ergot is not considered by today’s historians as a cause for what happened in Salem. The topic is too controversial for a page, for me. This is why I gave the book 4.5 stars instead of 5. I am well aware that most readers would not care for a lengthy discussion either on the start of agriculture nor ergot and the Salem witch trials, so it wouldn’t bother them at all.

She shares lots of recipes, which is really nice. Some of them are written with the old spellings, so it is interesting to read them. I think it’s easier to read them aloud. There are recipes and mentions of all sort of dishes, including cheesecake. Many of the pictures in the book are with her own bakes, which is lovely. I imagine that a lot of care and love went into creating them and sharing them in her book.

Some details are, I imagine, considered a bit yucky by modern-day readers, like the blood bread, which is, as the name suggests, bread made with blood, but these details are highly memorable nonetheless. She talks about laws, superstition and religion, traditions, having a holistic approach to baking. It is worth reading, that’s for sure.

A History of British Baking by Emma Kay

Details about the picture: I baked a 50/50 bread as a prop and I also used my new background, a Christmas-advent gift from my husband.
My rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: –
Published by: Pen & Sword History
Year it was published: 2020
Format: Hardcover
Genre(s): Broad historical subject
Pages: 256

About the author: Emma is a post-graduate historian and former senior museum worker. As a food historian she published articles in publications such as BBC History Magazine and Times Literary Supplement. Furthermore, she has contributed to a number of television production companies and featured several times on radio shows, Talk Radio Europe, BBC, and LifeFM.
Emma appeared in several TV shows, like The Best Christmas Food Ever and on BBC Countryfile. In 2020 Emma presented a feature on Roman food and cooking for new Channel 5 series Walking Britain’s Roman Roads.
She delivered talks and food demos at different book festivals.
Other books authored by Emma: Dining with the Georgians; Dining with the Victorians; Cooking up History: Chefs of the Past; Vintage Kitchenalia; More than a Sauce: A Culinary History of Worcestershire; Stinking Bishops and Spotty Pigs: A History of Gloucestershire’s Food and Drink.
Website & Social Media Links: Pen and Sword

*I was sent a copy of A History of British Baking by Emma Kay for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own.

6 thoughts on “A History of British Baking by Emma Kay”

  • I think this sounds like a very interesting book! You had me doing a little research on “ergot” and now I can see how it would fit in with witch trials. Fascinating!

    Blood bread doesn’t sound very appealing to me, but neither does blood sausage. I’m sure there was a time when the nutrients from either would have been important.
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    • It’s really interesting as an explanation for witch trials and I’m sure it happened in some cases, but it doesn’t fit with Salem. Also, the nutrients of blood were important and people had the skills of getting blood without killing the animal, which surely was very helpful, as it was similar to how much we can give in a transfusion. I read about that somewhere, but I can’t remember where.

  • I also spotted on Goodreads that you were reading this book. It does sound interesting, and I love how you styled the photo. The bread looks great, and I love the wooden table and cutting board. I suppose the author didn’t go into some episodes too deep, as it’s a very extensive topic, and she wanted to include many historic periods.

    • Thank you Galina. That wooden table is a printed background my husband made for me, from pictures he took a couple of years ago. I agree with you, this is why I was so specific on why I took half a star off, as it’s unlikely many readers would be bothered by that.

  • Hi Anca,

    I noticed on Goodreads that you had marked this book to read and I was intrigued by the notion of ‘blood bread’. When it turns out that is literally what it says it is, I just had to go and check it out for myself. Nope! I’m still not convinced, despite the recipe I found on Google saying that it was very nutritious and actually quite tasty! I am not a vegetarian or vegan, by any stretch of the imagination, but I just couldn’t stomach eating animal blood, which is probably why I never liked black pudding, when my dad used to try and get us to eat it as children. Neither do I like my steaks ‘blue’, unlike my sister-in-law, who might as well just eat the meat straight off the cow, so little is it cooked.

    I can imagine this being an interesting snapshot into the history of baking and not too detailed for those of us who tend not to be very adventurous cooks 🙂

    Yvonne Xx

    • It is a very interesting history of baking and at 200 pages it’s concise and really good. I imagined that blood bread would make some squeamish. I’am veggie, but even if I wasn’t I would not have something like that, which is kind of strange considering that there should not be a real difference between a steak and blood (as in yuck factor).

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