Culinary Pleasures: A History of Britain through Cook Books
Nicola Humble.

The first picture in this entertaining cultural history of cook books shows the Nigella Lawson of Victorian cuisine, Mrs Beeton. Her Book of Household Management sold two million copies within seven years of publication to a public captivated by the image of an all-knowing, efficient matron.

And yet the shot shows a pale, raven-haired, pretty young woman who, we are told, died aged 28.

This confusion, fostered by publishers determined not to let on she had passed away, makes it clear that the Victorian popular press did not take as much interest in Mrs Beeton as today's tabloids do in Nigella et al.

Humble is stinging about the rise of nouvelle cuisine, notorious for its dainty portions, during the greed is good 1980s, and goes on to argue that, in the last few years, young professionals have embraced what she dubs la cuisine mere.

Her ability to convey a broad sweep of history combined with a fine eye for telling details make this a fascinating read.

As well as recording the facts, she deftly debunks some common misconceptions about British food. This is an impressive work which shows that this country's poor food definitely cannot be blamed on a lack of imaginative recipes.

Katherine Haddon