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A History of British Baking (Hardback)

From Blood Bread to Bake-Off

British History P&S History Social History Photographic Books

By Emma Kay, Foreword by John Swift
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 256
Illustrations: 100 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526757487
Published: 30th September 2020

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RRP £25.00

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The British have been baking for centuries. Here, for the first time, is a comprehensive account of how our relationship with this much-loved art has changed, evolved and progressed over time.

Renowned food historian and author, Emma Kay, skilfully combines the related histories of Britain's economy, innovation, technology, health, cultural and social trends with the personal stories of many of the individuals involved with the whole process: the early pioneers, the recipe writers, the cooks, the entrepreneurs. The result is a deliciously fascinating read, one that will prove to be juicer than the juiciest of juicy baked goods.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a remarkable book. Chock full of vintage recipes and more importantly the rigors of bread making in Britain. In the war years the circumstances of field baking was astounding. I found this book to be a very interesting history of baking and learned for more than expected. In fact, I will admit to a bit of shock at times. The copious amounts of research needed to pen such must have been a formidable task indeed.

NetGalley, Karen Fisher

Baking in Britain traced chronologically by Kay, a food historian, through medieval times and lines of the royal family; European baking as beginning in Rome, then Norway, then into the UK by way of the Normans; the meaning and purpose of baking taking on a religious/ritual bent in the 1300s before baking as a craft would be reserved for royals and to feed the military at war until the mid 1500s; often being held back by blights and plagues; commonality of breads, cakes, scones, biscuits/cookies, and pies; refinement of yeasts, better ingredients through global trade, standardized measurements and ovens; and rationing during WWI and WWII.

NetGalley, Kristine Fisher

A History of British Baking was such a great read! Emma Kay does a fantastic job detailing the history of British baking; it is very detailed but super easy to read! The wealth of knowledge found in this book is indicative of the sheer amount of research Kay conducted before writing it. I recommend this book to anyone interested in culinary history or even general history.

NetGalley, Christina Miranda

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Baking is one of the many ways a person shows love. When you bake someone a cake, cookies or bread, you pour your best into the dough.
Baking has not always been a choice. You could not run to the store for a loaf of bread or cupcakes for school. Home baking has evolved along with our lifestyles. The choices in basic ingredients have expanded so I can make Irish soda bread or traditional rye breads with authentic ingredients from the store down the block.
So much of history is tied up in the art of cooking and baking. This book is an interesting and entertaining story of how methods and recipes have changed as both ingredients and equipment has improved and become universally available. It is both a history lesson tied up in a familiar landscape, everyone of us has spent time in the kitchen, and a look at the recipes that have been handed down. Emma Kay is obviously one of us....you know one of those women who show their families love often through baking.

NetGalley, Denice Langley

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Food history books have intrigued me since I was a child, It's the combination of history, cultures, traditions, related laws/crimes/punishments, superstitions and passion for the science of baking which is so fascinating. This book delves into baking history from Roman times to Medieval times to the present and everything between with a focus on breads, cakes and pastries, including several recipes. It brims with information, yet at no point does it feel like a textbook or an overload. Instead, it's a superb balance, detailing the importance of simple bread in the Bible to baked elaborate battle reenactments later on to migrant shops to the oldest existing wedding cake to industrialization and factories.

The old English recipes are splendid fun to read, as are the ingredients and preparations and history. Photographs and illustrations are wonderful.

I'm a seasoned baker but was thrilled to learn new-to-me information such as the reasons for the low mortality rate of bakers in Victorian times and earlier, bread baking etiquette and laws, bread preservation during wars and the origin of many recipes. The need for bread in every culture has remained a constant in a changing world.

If you crave a food history book to devour, this it it! I loved everything about it.

NetGalley, Brenda Carleton

Renowned food historian and author, Emma Kay, skillfully combines the related histories of Britain's economy, innovation, technology, health, cultural and social trends with the personal stories of many of the individuals involved with the whole process: the early pioneers, the recipe writers, the cooks, the entrepreneurs. The result is a deliciously fascinating read, one that will prove to be juicer than the juiciest of juicy baked goods."

My views -- I LOVED this book. I requested the book because of 1) an interest in books about Britain and 2) an interest in baking. Combine the two, stir, and you get a great read. :)

I found this book to be immensely educational. Food is reflective of historical change and social behavior, and I'd go so far as to say it is one of the biggest indications of progress throughout history. As the description states, histories of economics, innovation, technology, cultural and social trends are relate directly with food. Social class impacts your economic potential, which influences what foods you can afford, etc. I found this book to showcase a deep dive into British history in a unique survey / approach. The writing style is accessible. There are some recipes included.

I would HIGHLY suggest this book and would totally love a physical copy to add to my collection.

NetGalley, A Home Library

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a lively romp through the history of British Baking. Emma Kay is that gossipy best friend who tells you fascinating stories and keeps you wanting to read more. Emma's meticulous research has turned up some fascinating facts, definitely a book to keep dipping into.

NetGalley, Danielle Ellis

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The book is meticulously annotated throughout. The author has cited both period and modern scholarly research to support the narrative. There are numerous chapter notes, and an index. The chapter notes alone will keep keen readers going for ages.

The author has a casual academic style of writing; accessible and careful, with proper annotation, but not overly convoluted or impenetrably difficult to read. She manages to convey a wealth of information without being pedantic or preachy. I really enjoyed reading this historical catalogue of how closely food is intertwined with place, with social development and expansion, and with the people who live/d in Great Britain.

This would be a great choice for libraries, local historians, food historians, period reproduction cooks, Bed & Breakfast/hospitality, or for fans of British cuisine.

Five stars. It's abundantly clear that the author has poured prodigious effort and careful academic research into this tome. I can't imagine there's much left unanswered about Britain's culinary traditions. I felt very much enlightened after reading it, anyhow.

NetGalley, Annie Buchanan

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


A History of British Baking abounds in bready joy. I'm an American, an amateur baker who adores Great British Bake Off, and a history geek. On my first-ever international trip ever last year, to the UK, I set about trying all of the British and Scottish baked goods (and cheeses) that I could. To put it simply: I LOVED THIS BOOK. It felt made for me.

The book is incredibly well-researched, filled with footnotes throughout but never stodgy or academic. It started out addressing the earliest influences on British baking, going back to the Romans, advancing through the Middle Ages with rising French influences (like whoa, French toast was actually brought over as part of the Norman conquest!), the industrialization of baking, how baking was handled during wars on the home front and abroad, the influences (and biases against) immigrant bakers, and ending with the modern artisan movement. There are recipes from every era, original language intact--and, thankfully, translations and explanations are included. Illustrations and photographs are found throughout.

I cannot recommend this book enough. I would love to own it in physical form myself.

NetGalley, Beth Cato

Great book for anyone who is a fan of baking! Love the recipes and old photographs that are included in the book as well!

NetGalley, Natasha Tomich

I love learning about historical cooking techniques and recipes! It's always interesting to read about how tastes change, or people settle for (due to technology, etc...) This book doesn't contain a load of recipes, but does has lots of information on how foods have changed and why. I enjoyed reading it, Emma Kay has done her homework and written a well-researched book! If your interested in food, this book will keep you interested.

NetGalley, Catherine Hankins

This is a fascinating read - it is a history book vs. a cookbook but nonetheless, a delicious read. It was well-written and not dry like some history books tend to be. Anyone who loves food (not just baking) "trivia" will love reading the historical way baking passed through time in the UK - I adore the "Great British Bake Off" so this was right up my alley!

NetGalley, Janet Pole Cousineau

About Emma Kay

Emma is a post-graduate historian and former senior museum worker. Now, food historian, author and prolific collector of Kitchenalia. She lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and young son. Her articles have appeared in publications including BBC History MagazineThe Daily ExpressDaily Mail and Times Literary Supplement. She has contributed historic food research for a number of television production companies and featured several times on Talk Radio Europe, BBC Radio Hereford and Worcester, BBC Radio Coventry and Warwickshire, BBC Radio Gloucestershire, BBC Radio Humberside and LifeFM. 


In 2020 Emma presented a feature on Roman food and cooking for new Channel 5 series Walking Britain's Roman Roads.


At the end of 2019 Emma was filmed for several episodes of a new Channel 5 series, Britain's Battlefields.


In 2018 she appeared in a ten-part series for the BBC and Hungry Gap Productions, The Best Christmas Food Ever and on BBC Countryfile, co-presenting a feature exploring the heritage of the black pear.


She has delivered talks and food demos for Bath Literature Festival, Stroud Book Festival, Wakefield Rhubarb Festival, 1 Royal Crescent, Bath, The Women's Institute and Freckleton Library among others.


Emma has had six books published including: Dining with the Georgians (Amberley Publishing, 2014), Dining with the Victorians (Amberley Publishing, 2015), Cooking up History: Chefs of the Past (Prospect Books, 2017), Vintage Kitchenalia (Amberley Publishing, 2017), More than a Sauce: A Culinary History of Worcestershire (Amberley Publishing, 2018), Stinking Bishops and Spotty Pigs: A History of Gloucestershire's Food and Drink (Amberley Publishing, 2019). 


Her latest book A History of British Baking with Pen & Sword Books is due for publication in the Autumn of 2020, with a book on Lancashire's Food and Drink for Amberley Publishing, scheduled the end of 2020.


Emma is a member of The Guild of Food Writers.


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