The historian of food Polly Russell, writing in the Financial Times, is struck by the quantity of food May recommends for Christmas, including 20 first courses and 19 second courses. Even the "Grand Sa
The historian of food Polly Russell, writing in the Financial Times, is struck by the quantity of food May recommends for Christmas, including 20 first courses and 19 second courses. Even the "Grand Sallet" (salad) contained a whole capon and a breast of lamb or veal. Russell sees the lavishness of the book as a reaction to the former dominance of the Puritans over English life.
Vera Rule, writing in The Guardian, argues that May's writing resembled that of his contemporary, the physician William Harvey, communicating exciting facts "through urgent active verbs and imperative terms - leach that brawn, allay that pheasant, unbrace that mallard. She notes that both menus and customs were in transition (from Mediaeval to Early Modern): novelties included tricks like wrapping puddings in a cloth before boiling, whereas May tells readers to place a ring of bits of toast around a stew, so that diners could eat by dipping, rather than make use of new-fangled forks. She comments that his cooking was far from new, though he takes for granted two recent arrivals from the Americas, the potato and the turkey. On the other hand, Rule observes, May was still completely Mediaeval in liking live birds bursting from a fake "pye", complete with mock battle held on the table. Old Byzantine or Middle Eastern cuisine, brought to Europe by Islamic conquerors, similarly features with "saffron, almonds, East Indies spices." She concludes that "His ubiquitous luxury garnish was molten butter frothed with sharp orange juice."
Kate Colquhoun notes that the book was the first to group recipes logically into sections, and that May was the first cook in Britain to illustrate his book with "woodcuts of spectacular pastry work that would set the standard for the next hundred years". Calling the Accomplisht Cook "one of the most clearly written collections of the century", she points out that a tenth of the book was about bisks, broths with a little meat or fish. She describes the book as "in some ways an old-fashioned collection with savoury dishes laden with sugar and dried fruits", yet embracing the "new French style" with plenty of butter, recipes that called for snails, and sauces that contained cream.