A Food & Travel Blog

Win a copy of Mary Taylor Simeti’s “Sicilian Food”!

22/09/2010 | By

Cookbooks have been on my mind quite a bit lately. As I’ve mentioned before, on my “About Me” page, I have something of a fondness for cookbooks, cooking magazines and books about food and lately the storage issues for all of them have been getting critical.  The book count is now in the vicinity of 200, not counting the small selection of antique and collectible cookbooks or the food magazines!  I recently had a cabinet-maker install some extra bookshelves in the kitchen, which I promptly filled, still leaving me with piles of books and magazines dotted around the house.  Not wishing to draw too much more attention to my expensive habit, I then spent several frustrating, but ultimately successful, hours with a screw-driver and some inexpensive flat-packed bookcases – freeing me of cookbook storage concerns for a little while, at least!

Cookbooks have a very long history, with the earliest known cookbook dating back to the 4th or 5th century, and recipes have been recorded in some fashion by almost  every literate society over the subsequent centuries.  Before the invention of the printing press, cookbooks were written by hand for the use of professional cooks and were written almost exclusively by men.  In the mid 18th century women began writing cookbooks with one of the first, “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy” published by Hannah Glasse in 1747, becoming one of the most  significant culinary reference books of it’s time.  These books were not intended for the, usually illiterate, household cooks, but were used by the mistress of the house to instruct and train her staff.

The early cookbooks used no specific weights or measurements with the ingredients and it wasn’t until the publication of Eliza Acton’s “Modern Cookery for Private Families” in 1845, with it’s precise instructions for amounts of ingredients, that cookbooks took on the form we are familiar with today.  (Incidentally, Mrs. Acton is attributed with the first recipe for Brussel sprouts – so now we know who to blame!)  The popularity of this book was very soon eclipsed by the enormous success of “Mrs. Beetons Book of Household Management”, published by the then 25 year old Isabella Beeton in 1861 and containing over 1,100 pages of domestic guidance and – mostly plagiarised – recipes.  This juggernaut was frequently reprinted, found in almost all middle class homes, and is still available in slightly different form today – lasting much longer than poor old Isabella who died at 28.

Today, cookbooks have a very significant part of the market share of the Australian publishing industry.  Unfortunately I was unable to find out just how significant.  I telephoned five of the larger publishers, the Australian Publishing Association and the Australian Booksellers Association – none of whom were able to give me any idea of the numbers of cookbooks published in Australia annually!  However, Neilsen Book Scan were able to tell me that the market share of books in the Food and Drink category is up by 35% to date this year, a fact that seems generally credited to the remarkable success of the television show, Masterchef.

Now, I’m pretty sure that I am not the only one with a cookbook compulsion so I’m giving one of my lucky readers a chance to feed their addiction!  The very generous people at Wakefield Press are providing me with a copy of Mary Taylor Simeti’s “Sicilian Food” to give away.  I reviewed this book a few weeks back here and loved it to bits.  If you would like the chance to get your hands on a free copy of this wonderful look at the food and history of Sicily just post a comment anywhere on this blog!  I will post it to anywhere in the world that you may live so it is open to everyone.  I will announce the winner on Monday the 10th of October here on the blog, so if you want to make sure you don’t miss out on the announcement you may like to subscribe also!

Good Luck!

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  1. kel

    pick me! pick me! this looks really good..well… most cookbooks do really..like you have an insatiable urge!

  2. Alex

    Like you, the last thing I need is another cook book … but I’m sure I could squeeze this on to a shelf somewhere!

  3. Sue Averay

    we aimed for Sicily on our last Italian jaunt, however, got sidetracked by autumn in Rome, where the artichokes sang their siren songs from the ghetto! Who could resist a book that celebrates the seductive nature of these marvellous plants by flaunting their enticing beauty on the front cover? I have to have it, and if you don’t give it to me, I’ll be demanding it from Kris Kringle!

  4. Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial

    Serendipitously, the restaurant we ate at just a couple of nights ago was Sicilian. Mad passionate people, and boy, can they cook! Thanks for the opportunity to enter, Amanda! 🙂

  5. Kate

    I would just love to see some of those recipes from Italy’s abundant isle on my table – it may well be the closest I ever get to Sicily !!!

  6. tracey

    very tricky way to increase comment volume! Does it pictorially differentiate between brown rice and wheat?? Which may have circumvented a recent embarrassing dinner party!

  7. Bernadette Nagy

    Don’t forget – if you need any Masterchef info, I can put you in touch with ‘the guru’!!
    ps Saw Simon Callow on Sunday, and Maggie O’Farrell on Tues (plus 2 chamber operas on Wednesday eve!!

  8. Anilou

    Umm hello. I usually just read your blog, but seeing as you have a wonderful cookbook to give away, I’ve come out of the woodwork to say ‘hi’.

  9. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella

    How very nice of you to give a cookbook away! I’m afraid I am suffering the same fate with cookbooks and my shelves are groaning. So this isn’t an entry, merely a compliment! 🙂

  10. Anna Johnston

    Aaahhh Sicilian food of almost any type is wonderful, I adore this type of food, so I know I’d just love this cookbook Amanda. Strangely enough, for a Chef I’m not the worst cookbook fiend I’ve seen (although I still manage to have way too many); but I do avidly collect chefs recipes….., I think its actually an addiction, not a collection 🙂

  11. suziwong66

    mmmm, yup i suffer the same problem of bookshelf space…not only do i have my beloved and ever growing collection of cookbooks, cooking mags and food growing mags but i’ve got my education/politics, quilting and embroidery books & mags as well.

    My philosophy is there is always a solution to a problem and in my case it’s NOT “stop buying cookbooks” as MrSuziwong66 suggests but rather get another bookcase hahaha

    and since i don’t have any books about Sicilian food, my collection is OBVIOUSLY in deficit haha

    great post! I loved the social history aspect of cookbooks:)

  12. admin

    Husbands don’t seem to have much of a handle on this stuff. Mine has suggested a similar course of action in the past – but has now given up.

  13. admin

    Thanks for the compliment, but thanks, too, to Wakefield Press who supplied the prize.

  14. cityhippyfarmgirl

    Ah Sicilian food, it doesn’t get much better. Cookbooks, yep love them, and coincidentally I don’t have a Sicilian one!

  15. Sarah @ For the Love of Food

    Hi Amanda
    I do love the photo on the cover (isn’t that enough reason to buy yet another?). I’ve been given two Italian cookbooks this year (My Cousin Rosa and Light of Lucia) and I think a trifecta is due 🙂

    Although my collection is not as large as yours, I still have quite a few. My brother in-law asked me recently ‘Don’t you have enough cook books – how many do you need?’ to which I answered of course ‘I’ll never have enough!’

  16. Marisa Raniolo Wilkins

    I have been passionate about Sicilian food for a very long time. I have visited Sicily many times and have collected many books about Sicilian cookery – some published in America some written in Italian and published in Italy.
    Mary Taylor Simeti is one of my heros – I think that sometimes it takes a “foreigner ‘ with a passion to rediscover and tease out the history behind the food ( not that she is a foreigner, she is part of Sicily, having dedicated so many years to it.).
    Marisa Raniolo Wilkins

  17. admin

    Marisa – I agree totally. often it takes someone without a lifelong familiarity with a regional food to take a step back and start to wonder about it’s roots.

  18. Ashlee

    My aunt is originally from Sicily and the food she creates is incredible! I wish I had half her talent.

  19. Heidi - Apples Under My Bed

    What a shame, I only just discovered your blog! I adore Sicilian food. I adore Sicily! I cannot wait to go back. I too am obsessed with Cookbooks 🙂
    Heidi xo

  20. Amanda

    Heidi – not too late at all! I’m not drawing it until after 5pm CST. Love the name of your blog!
    Kathy – I just love recycling leftovers and turning risotto into arancini is one of my favourite ways to do so!
    Ashlee – my kids continually profess a desire to be Italian!