Cooking across the Ages

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
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and Enjoyable This is an incredibly interesting series. I appreciate the historical view of cooking and cultures. Ken is a great story teller and cook. The slant camera view is not that bothersome. Excellent value and something to focus on during these trying times. Thank you !!
Date published: 2020-12-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Presentation, Knowledge and Demonstrations. Ken Albala does a marvelous job tying food into different eras, explaining the history of the food and place and then tops it off with superb cooking demonstrations. Just what I was looking for. Bravo.
Date published: 2020-12-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Nourishing family fare Yes, as a writer/editor I lecture people against food metaphors or puns, but this calls for an exception. History is my passion, and I long ago realized that don't create a viable sense of the past through lists of rulers, but rather through reading the literature, hearing the music (when possible), and tasting a little of what they ate. This course was of my own self-indulgence, but Dr. Albala's assessible and spirited style as hooked my entire family. We watch these lectures together, then discuss what we want to try out. This course has been especially welcome during this time of pandemic isolation.
Date published: 2020-12-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating and fun I enjoyed the lectures and tried the recipes. An excellent course!
Date published: 2020-11-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Interesting Course I started this course and stopped because it was not what I expected. I came back to it with an understanding that I was not going to head to the kitchen to try out a particular recipe. In this new frame of mind, I learned a lot and enjoyed it. To be clear, one could make almost any of the recipes in the course. Just not without some advance shopping - and not in the regular grocery. Some ingredients would need to be purchased online (even if you live near a Whole Foods or other store like this). My favorite lecture and the one that synched this as an excellent course involved a stuffed fabric fish. I don't want to give anything away but this was the lecture that clarified this Professor has a sense of humor and is willing to take chances in the pursuit of educating his class. Just a note, I watched the course Food: A History by the same professor after this course, not before. I am not sure it makes a difference. But, I think some would prefer to watch Food: A History first as an overview and then this course is more like the follow-on lab.
Date published: 2020-11-13
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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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