Cookbooks and More:
I don’t normally enter Dom’s Random Recipes challenge. It’s not because I dislike challenges, but that particular one has never worked for me. Obviously I do follow recipes sometimes, but I live alone and for the most part my cooking is based on things I’ve made for years, adapted, evolved and made my own. If I have guests then I generally make something I’ve cooked for years – or something I’ve developed myself based on READING cookery books and eating out. The exception is baking – which to me is still something of a mystery – so if I’m making a cake or baking bread, I will dig out a recipe and follow it religiously.
This month’s challenge though is simply to photograph your cook books and say a bit about them.
By the standards of some of the other entries I’ve seen, my cookery book collection is really small! But, those I keep are very special to me. I started cooking properly when I was a teenager, mostly because my mother HATED cooking and had to do quite a lot of entertaining (she was the Doctor’s wife in a small seaside town and apparently it was ‘expected’). And we had a large kitchen garden and an orchard. So, at certain times I’d take over baking cakes, preparing fruit and vegetables and making jam and pickles. But, I think I cut my cooking teeth properly when I went to University.
In our first year we all lived on Campus in shared houses. And, there was a rather dire university canteen that served school dinner type food if you didn’t want to cook. One of my enterprising friends came up with a bright idea. We should have a cooking collective. And, for six out of seven evenings we’d cook supper for each other. The rules were simple. You had to make two courses and you had to be there for your own evening. Any other evening if you didn’t want to eat, that was fine so long as you warned the host. You could bring a guest to your own evening and you could cook whatever you liked. None of us had allergies and none of us were vegetarian.
We managed a whole year of eating that way. And, I think all six of us learnt to cook to a reasonable level from the experience. It was a cheap way to eat well and I think you get quite a lot of confidence from cooking for other people. I still have the cookery book I used that year. It even still has the Sussex University Bookshop sticker on the back. It’s called ‘The Pauper’s Cookbook’ and it was written by Jocasta Innes. On the back, it says ‘a wealth of recipes for under sixty pence per head.’ And I still remember cooking her liver au poivre, goulash and pizza with scone base. Most of the recipes are basic, rather boring and very frugal – but not as bad as the most memorably disgusting meal we ate – baked bean lasagne!
In my second year, I lived with three other music students and we did one of those supermarket bingo games where you had to collect scratchcards every time you went to shop. We won. £1000 of food vouchers – a real fortune for a house of students. At that point I graduated from Jocasta to Elizabeth David – French Provincial Cooking. I THINK I bought it after spending £20 on a set of four creuset cookware pans which I still use today (yes really) and getting a free Elizabeth David booklet with the pans (also still on the bookshelf). And, at that point I discovered the sort of cookery books I really enjoy. In a sense the cookery writers I liked then are closer to the bloggers of today. They DO give you a recipe, but within the context of an experience. Elizabeth David, Claudia Roden, Madhur Jaffrey – so much more than just a recipe, each author sketches a story about the heritage of the food, their own personal view and paints a picture with words. I have a rather lovely book from the Guild of Food Writers which ‘How the British Fell in Love with Food’ – a selection of excerpts from many of my favourite writers and an explanation of the intention of the Guild.
Despite regular purges, my cookbook shelf is completely full and I’ve run out of books I don’t want to keep. I am not entirely sure what to do next. We ARE supposed to be giving up books and moving to an electronic world. But I just don’t seem to be going that way!