Over the centuries, recipes have evolved as surely as our species. It wasn't happenstance that brought us fish croquettes and macaroni-and-cheese.
Nor was it chance that "Mrs. Charles Darwin's Recipe Book," by Dusha Bateson and Weslie Janeway (Glitterati, 192 pages, $35), was published during the year of Charles Darwin's 150th anniversary of "On the Origins of Species." The book is a collection of comfort foods from the 8-by-8-inch notebook that Mrs. Charles Darwin, a k a Emma Wedgewood Darwin, kept from the early days of her marriage to her cousin Charles.
These aren't recipes that Emma created, or that she necessarily cooked herself, given the household she managed, with 10 children, a dozen servants (including a cook) and numerous friends and relatives as visitors. But from a historian's perspective, these recipes reflect the food on the dinner table of 19th-century Britain, and give us a peek at the human side of the man who so greatly influenced modern thinking.
This charming volume, with its botanical drawings and 55 recipes, reminds us of the evolution of tastes. There are recipes for cheese soufflé and broiled mushrooms, and for curry and puddings (Emma had 60 in the original manuscript; clearly Charles and the children loved sweets).
All are interspersed with excerpts from Emma's handwritten recipes, along with line drawings of farm animals, photographs and the Wedgewood pattern of china (Waterlily) the family used (the grandfather of Emma and Charles -- Joseph Wedgewood -- started the famous china company).
The authors include recipes that are practical and interesting, with many color photos. And you can certainly cook from the book.
But the volume is really intended to be read. The book reminds us that, long before celebrity chefs and bestsellers, food preparation was a household necessity. Our recipes didn't originate with us. They evolved.
LEE SVITAK DEAN