Cooking across the Ages

Rated 4 out of 5 by from Cooking Across the Ages Dr Albala is an excellent and personable presenter. His knowledge flows well and he comes across as a confident but gregarious chef as well. Only one thing mars the lectures and that is the switch to different camera angles and close ups which aren't needed at all and in fact are really annoying as Dr Albala continues to look to the main camera and talk and you feel disconnected from the lecture because you lose eye contact. The lectures themselves are already liberally spaced with cuts to illustrations and of course the actual cooking going on so they are not static and the extra angles are not needed.
Date published: 2021-03-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and fascinating! Wonderful course combining history, cooking, and culture. Love the guidebook as well.
Date published: 2021-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ancient Cooking Made Fun! I have been a fan of The Great Courses for many uears and my interests run the gamut from Shakespeare to Gardening and I would be hard pressed to single outt just one course, but.....I have to say this particular one is the most enjoyable I have ever owned! I had to stop mid lecture to notify an old friend about it as he his an aficianado of ancient roman foods and their r preparation. (I hope he signs in and orders it for his library!). The presenter is extremely affable and knowledgeable and I know I will watch this over and over again!
Date published: 2021-02-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disorganized and Messy I really wanted to enjoy this, and gave it a fair chance, but it just doesn't work. There's no historical background to any of the dishes made and no explanation as to their cultural significance or the reason they're made the way they are. I'm sure the professor is wonderful and very skilled, but this isn't his medium. Even as a cooking show, it's just not good. The camera angles are awful and very disconcerting, making it unpleasant to view. He regularly misses steps in the recipes he read out moments earlier. His techniques are sloppy, which is forgivable as he's not a chef, but his kitchen hygiene is basically non-existent, which is not. He doesn't wash his hands, shown clearly in close-ups of food covered fingers. He uses the same cutting board for meat and vegetables, without even bothering to clean it in between. It's a nerve-wracking invitation to food poisoning that makes me too anxious to enjoy watching. All in all it's incredibly disappointing.
Date published: 2021-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A joy to watch! It was a joy to watch this series, we looked forward to each new episode. Dr. Ken is so comfortable in his kitchen & speaks so well that he seems like a friend. He demonstrates some interesting techniques we were unfamiliar with. He also gave us confidence to improvise & not be so slavish to recipes. Most of all, he provides the history & reasons for the period foods he prepares. We wish he had a regular show!
Date published: 2021-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fun and Informative We own more than 50 of The Great Courses and have found most of them interesting, illuminating, and enjoyable. One of the courses I had recently purchased was the 24 -lecture series taught by Dr. Ken Albala of the University of the Pacific. I absolutely loved this lecture series. Dr. Albala is hardly a dry speaker. The course appears to have been filmed in his messy kitchen at home. He wore shorts and an open-neck shirt, and clearly was having fun. Each lecture focused on a particular culture and historic time. Some lecture titles included: Ancient Rome: Cooking with Apicius; Imperial China: Soybeans and Dumplings; Feast like a Viking with Meat and Beer; Renaissance Italy’s Sweets and Pasta; The Birth of French Haute Cuisine; America’s Can-Opener Cookbook and others. Each half-hour lecture included not only information about history and culture, but also featured Dr. Albala making a bigger mess in his kitchen as he prepared food from ancient / old cookbooks including the manuscript of a Puritan woman named Lettice Pudsey (love the name!) and demonstrated cooking techniques. Not often would I say a lecture series is a “hard to put down,” but this one is. The series, which is often on sale through The Great Courses, also comes with a 200+ page book filled with recipes. Back to the kitchen to try another recipe!
Date published: 2021-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Currently my favourite I am absolutely fascinated by how food has shaped culture, as well as vice versa. This course does exactly that... In the form of a cooking show! I love it.
Date published: 2021-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Variety is the Spice of Life! During the pandemic shutdown, my girlfriend and I were looking for something we could watch together while stuck at home, with limited streaming options. Imagine our surprise when our favorite lecturer, Dr. Ken Albala, came out with this brand new course! We became even more excited when we realized that this was not just lectures, but also a lab portion that is an actual cooking show, produced in the professor's own kitchen! Love to see Great Courses branching out into new territory like this. We don't have our own Netflix or Hulu account, so a little variety from Great Courses goes a long way for us.
Date published: 2020-12-21
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Cooking across the Ages
Course Trailer
Understanding Culture through Cooking
1: Understanding Culture through Cooking

What can you learn about different cultural groups of people through the lens of their cookbooks? A lot, as Professor Ken Albala illustrates by looking at two chicken recipes 200 years and a continent apart. Learn to cook a recipe from the 1748 French cookbook Le Nouveau Cuisinier Royal et Bourgeois, and another from The Can-Opener Cookbook of 1953.

25 min
Ancient Rome: Cooking with Apicius
2: Ancient Rome: Cooking with Apicius

Are the recipes in De re coquinaria—the oldest complete recipe book in the Western tradition—bizarre and disgusting, or do they reflect a time of elegance and luxury? Historians have expressed a gamut of opinions. As you explore its sala cattabia, minutal of apricots, and botellum, you might be surprised to find three delicious, and even somewhat familiar, dishes.

39 min
Imperial China: Soybeans and Dumplings
3: Imperial China: Soybeans and Dumplings

Examine the Chinese Wei dynasty’s Qi Min Yao Shu, an encyclopedic manual containing “essential techniques to benefit the people” and learn about Chinese agricultural practices going back to antiquity. Explore the fermentation practices of the time, using both bacteria and mold, and follow a scaled-down recipe to create an intensely flavored fermented black bean dish.

32 min
Medieval Egypt: Chickpeas and Phyllo Dough
4: Medieval Egypt: Chickpeas and Phyllo Dough

From 14th-century Egypt, explore recipes that reflect the interchange between the many cultures of the Eastern Mediterranean of the time—Alexandria, Venice, and Constantinople, just to name a few. Learn to make the sweet Byzantine specialty known as himmas kassa, and a super light and flaky phyllo dough stretched to the size of a table, just as Professor Albala remembers his grandmother doing.

26 min
Feast like a Viking with Meat and Beer
5: Feast like a Viking with Meat and Beer

Explore the oldest-known cookbook in Medieval Europe, the 13th century’s Libellus de arte coquinaria. With its terse recipes of meat, fowl, fish, and sauces, it seemed to be written for a noble audience, not the common cook. Learn to make “hunter-style” fish pie with animal bones—and beer, much safer than drinking water at the time.

27 min
Medieval France’s Touch for Sugar and Spice
6: Medieval France’s Touch for Sugar and Spice

Meet the first celebrity chef—Guillaume Tirel, known as Taillevent—who served in the 14th century as master chef in the French imperial courts. His Le Viandier was not an introduction to cooking but served as an aid to help people remember how to cook the classics. Dive into his recipe for a polysavory white stew of capons, along with individual tarts with banners for your guests.

41 min
Renaissance Italy’s Sweets and Pasta
7: Renaissance Italy’s Sweets and Pasta

Explore the earliest printed cookbook, composed in Italy in the early 15th century and printed around 1470—making it one of the first generation of books in print on any subject. Learn to create its blancmanger, a combination of capon breast, white flour, rosewater, sugar, and almond milk that still exists today in Turkish cuisine. And discover how to make pasta by feel and texture, no measurements allowed.

28 min
Crafting Aphrodisiacs from the Renaissance
8: Crafting Aphrodisiacs from the Renaissance

Renaissance medicine promoted the idea that some foods made you hot, some cold, some promoted healthy libido and reproduction, and some not. Explore the 1560 cookbook of Domenico Romoli, which combined recipes with medical advice. Learn to make his chickpea fritters, zeppole, and sofrito of chopped beef.

31 min
Aztec Tortillas and Chocolate
9: Aztec Tortillas and Chocolate

While no written recipes exist from Aztec culture—either because they were intentionally destroyed by colonial invaders or accidentally by the passage of time—we can infer what they ate and cooked from other literature that did survive, and by studying the ecology of the area. Master the secrets of an Aztec specialty: drinking chocolate poured from on high to create a special froth, as well as their turkey tamales.

37 min
Papal Rome: Meat Rolls and Eggplant
10: Papal Rome: Meat Rolls and Eggplant

Explore the encyclopedic wonders of the Opera, a 1570 cookbook by Bartolomeo Scappi. Unusual for its time, Opera was a cookbook written specifically to teach cooking. With directions and recipes from the Late Renaissance style, and using lavish and contrasting flavors, you will create delicious meat rolls, salami, and an eggplant dish.

41 min
Dining with Don Quixote in Imperial Spain
11: Dining with Don Quixote in Imperial Spain

Spain became a gastronomic model for much of Europe in the 17th century, with its culinary influence becoming widespread even after suffering military defeat. As you cook its olla podrida, discover the riot of flavors—lamb, beef, pig’s feet, chestnuts, turnips, and more—in this “rotten pot” that became popular throughout Europe.

20 min
Portugal and Japan: Cakes and Katsuobushi
12: Portugal and Japan: Cakes and Katsuobushi

Explore the fascinating decades of exchange between Portugal and Japan in the 16th century—before Japan turned to cultural isolation—and discover which Portuguese foods are still part of Japanese cuisine today. Explore the process of creating fine dried fish flakes from skipjack tuna, and learn why the dried blocks of this fish are so prized that they’re often even given as wedding presents.

26 min
Vegetarian India: Jackfruit and Rice
13: Vegetarian India: Jackfruit and Rice

Explore the ethical vegetarianism of the Jain people in 16th century Kallahalli, today’s southwestern India. As reflected in recipes from the Soopa Shastra, a cookbook commissioned by the local magnate of the area, the Jains used fresh, local ingredients to their best advantage. Learn to cook a stuffed cake, tamarind rice, eggplant, plantain, and a jackfruit soup.

39 min
The Birth of French Haute Cuisine
14: The Birth of French Haute Cuisine

In every account of the birth of French haute cuisine, credit is given to Francois Pierre de La Varenne for charting the course forward. Among his many innovations was the creation of the roux, a combination of fat and flour used to thicken a sauce. Follow his lead in creating a flavorful bouillon from beef, mutton, and fowl; a potage of chickens garnished with asparagus; and soft cakes without cheese.

36 min
Post-Puritan England: Hippocras and Cookies
15: Post-Puritan England: Hippocras and Cookies

Did Lettice Pudsey create all the recipes in the 17th-century manuscript attributed to her? Or do as many as 13 others also deserve credit? Whatever the answer, Pudsey had great culinary skills and she wanted her peers to know it. Explore her hippocras, a delicious spiced wine, and the astounding flavors of her “capon in whit broth.”

29 min
China’s Last Dynasty: Elegant Simplicity
16: China’s Last Dynasty: Elegant Simplicity

Explore the fascinating cookbook of the great Qing Dynasty poet Yuan Mei. Writing Recipes from the Garden of Contentment as a reaction to the elite dining of the Chinese court, his recipes are relatively simple, traditional, and made to highlight the natural state of ingredients. Learn to cook his pork tenderloin, wheat gluten, and a simple rice porridge typically eaten for breakfast.

32 min
Early America: Johnnycake and Pumpkin
17: Early America: Johnnycake and Pumpkin

Amelia Simmons, universally recognized as the first truly American cookbook author, wrote recipes for “all grades of life,” from elegant households to the most humble farmer, in the democratizing spirit of the early Republic. Explore her recipes to create a cornmeal-based johnnycake, a type of corned beef, and a predecessor to the pumpkin pie.

39 min
The French Canadian Tourtière Meat Pie
18: The French Canadian Tourtière Meat Pie

La Cuisinière Canadienne, published in 1840, was the first Canadian cookbook. The authors created the recipes they imagined the early 17th-century Quebec settlers would have eaten—and once in writing, they became the tradition. Discover the extraordinary flavors of the tourtière, a meat pie traditionally served on Christmas or New Year’s Day.

28 min
Victorian Working-Class Meals
19: Victorian Working-Class Meals

Alexis Soyer, author of the 1855 Shilling Cookery for the People, gained popularity initially as the chef at a fashionable club in London, but later as an inventor and philanthropist who started soup kitchens during the Irish potato famine. Explore his recipes for vermicelli and macaroni, fried fish “Jewish fashion,” and beef pudding.

36 min
Imperial Germany’s Cabbage and Sauerbraten
20: Imperial Germany’s Cabbage and Sauerbraten

Henriette Davidis wrote the most popular German cookbook of the 19th century, Praktisches Kochbuch (Practical Cookbook). For the first time in history, with urbanization and the birth of a working class, she knew German women might not have learned to cook before marriage, so she wrote this book for them. Follow her recipes for a delicious red cabbage, sauerbrauten, and bread dumplings.

37 min
Imperial Russia’s Piroshki and Coulibiac
21: Imperial Russia’s Piroshki and Coulibiac

Examine A Gift to Young Housewives by Elena Molokhovets, published during the Russian empire in the final decades before the revolution, featured the foods eaten by the Russian elite. Learn to make pirozhki iz vermisheli, Salad Olivier (known simply as Russian salad outside the country), and the delicious sweet Blinchiki for dessert.

38 min
Brazil and West Africa: Black Bean Stew
22: Brazil and West Africa: Black Bean Stew

Explore the rich cuisine of 19th-century Brazil with its indigenous American, West African, and Portuguese influences. From the Cozinheiro Imperial, first published in 1838, learn to cook vatapá with mandioca flour, green beans and shrimp, and a delicious black bean stew using every part of the pig, including tail and ears.

34 min
America’s Can-Opener Cookbook
23: America’s Can-Opener Cookbook

Discover the 1954 Can-Opener Cookbook, a reflection of the mid-century focus on all things convenient—a time when having a can on the pantry shelf was considered easier, more dependable, and more hygienic than fresh food. Follow the recipes to create quick crab meat Lorenzo, jambalaya, and a light blancmange made with instant vanilla pudding mix.

29 min
The Foodie Era: Cooking with the World
24: The Foodie Era: Cooking with the World

In the 1980s, when cooking became an official leisure activity and mark of cultural status, Nathalie Dupree, Jacques Pepin, and Martin Yan each had a television cooking show. These programs exposed people to great cooking and encouraged them to step into their own kitchens. Learn to create Dupree’s macaroni pie, to bone a chicken Pepin style, and to cook the chicken thighs in a wok as Yan taught.

40 min
Ken Albala

It may seem monomaniacal, but I teach about food, I write about food, I love to cook, I read about food for leisure-what better recipe is there for happiness than to make work and play completely seamless?


Columbia University


University of the Pacific

About Ken Albala

Ken Albala is a Professor of History at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, where he won the Faye and Alex Spanos Distinguished Teaching Award and has been teaching for more than two decades. He holds an MA in History from Yale University and a PhD in History from Columbia University. He is the author or editor of more than two dozen books on food, including Eating Right in the RenaissanceFood in Early Modern EuropeCooking in Europe, 1250–1650The Banquet: Dining in the Great Courts of Late Renaissance EuropePancake: A Global History; and Beans: A History, winner of the International Association of Culinary Professionals Jane Grigson Award. He also coedited The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food and Drink Industries; Human Cuisine; Food and Faith in Christian Culture; and A Cultural History of Food in the Renaissance. He served as the editor of several food series with more than 100 titles in the past two decades. He also edited the four-volume Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia and the three-volume SAGE Encyclopedia of Food Issues and coedited the journal Food, Culture & Society. His textbook Three World Cuisines: Italian, Mexican, Chinese won the Gourmand World Cookbook Award for Best Foreign Cuisine Book in the World. He also coauthored the cookbook The Lost Art of Real Cooking and its sequel, The Lost Arts of Hearth and Home, a handbook of kitchen and home projects. His most recent book is Noodle Soup: Recipes, Techniques, Obsession.

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