We have no contributing diarist this week, so we'll have an open forum instead. Those of you who have read a book that changed your life and would like to contribute a diary, please kosmail me. I have a template that makes it very easy to write a diary! You need only write three paragraphs and the template tells you exactly what to put in each one. Just think--contribute a diary and you may find yourself on the "Rec" list!
For now, however, we’ll discuss our favorite books about cooking—or as our British cousins call it, “cookery.”
For me, it’s The Cooking of the British Isles by Adrian Bailey. Don’t laugh, and if you’re thinking of mouthing the well-worn mantra, “But-British-food-is-awful-everyone-knows-that”—don’t. That idea should have been retired long ago. The truth is, if you’ve ever stayed with someone who lives in Britain and who is a good cook, you’ve experienced food that can only be described as sublime.
The writing in The Cooking of the British Isles is so excellent it’s like a novel: you just travel delightedly from one chapter to the next, hardly able to believe your comfort level is rocketing to the highest pitch. Consider the lyrical qualities of such paragraphs as these:
In the summer, when we had desserts and pies made from the garden fruits, I was sent to the neighboring farm to buy cream to pour over them, so thick and yellow that I was warned not to swing the can on the way home or it would turn to butter. It was at the farm, in those days before World War II, that we also bought eggs and chickens, milk, and freshly churned butter that was shaped into one-pound bricks and stamped with the image of a friendly cow. The color and taste of the butter changed with the seasons—in winter it was pale, almost white, with the faintest of flavors. In summer, when the cows were turned out to pasture in meadows carpeted with buttercups, it became yellow and rich as a golden sovereign. From the introduction by Jose Wilson, foods editor and consultant.
A joint of beef is usually roasted with its attendant circle of potatoes in the roasting pan, for roast potatoes, like Yorkshire pudding, are an integral part of the meal. So are the other accompaniments—mustard; snow-white and fluffy horseradish sauce; a boat of rich, brown, hot gravy. Green vegetables and perhaps some carrots, add a splash of bright color to the harmony of pinks and browns on the plate. But few of us pause to admire the view. A fairly generous amount has been prepared, for second and third helpings are usually expected, in spite of the knowledge that a large and sugary plum pie must surely follow, crowned with thick cream. How formidable! How delicious!The chapter titles alone stimulate my tastebuds: “Breakfasts to Rouse Sluggards from Sleep”; “Tea: Sustenance, Beverage and Ritual”: “A Royal Collection of Rural Cheeses”; “Blessed Be He That Invented Pudding”: and “Foods of Feast and Festival.”
Here’s the intro from “Foods of Feast and Festival”:
The winter sun, a disk of pale fire, climbs but a short way up the cold marble arch of our British sky. At sunset the horizon is inflamed, the color tinting the snow that lies on the frozen fields, and the entire landscape is washed in a frigid pink. Only the evergreen shrubs and trees, the holly and the ivy, and those sacred birds of winter, the robin and the wren, show that life still exists. The earth lies dormant, and sleeps.I’ve followed some of the recipes in this book, although my pudding didn’t turn out as well as the beautiful golden-brown steamed pudding, its sides streaming with warm raspberry jam, depicted in the chapter on sweets. But much of the book has stuck with me and to this day I won’t stir my Christmas pudding mixture “widdershins” (counterclockwise), nor permit anyone in the household to stir it that way.
So which is YOUR favorite cookbook, and why? Do its phrases linger in your memory as those from the aforementioned book linger in mine? Do the recipes you’ve tried from your favorite cookbook bring back pleasant memories?
Come, take a chair round the table, help yourself to a cup of hot mulled cider—mind you don’t inadvertently swallow one of the whole cloves in it—and help yourself to one of Adrian Bailey’s “hot little mince pies, dusted with sugar,” keeping warm in the chafing dish over there. Tell us about your favorite cookbook. Our tongues are hanging out, waiting for you to speak!