Olden but Golden

I have always thought you can never have too many cookery books. This is not to say I am wanton in my procurement of them, nor do I necessarily actively look for them, but over the years I have acquired a fair number – oh, well, if you must – I have about 300. Now, this 300 is a very small number compared to a tutor/chef I know who has over 2,500, so even if you were tempted to, back off and, stop judging! Nevertheless, 300 keeps me happy and occasionally occupied just looking and browsing through them and I always find something new to think about.

Today’s browse started with the first cookery book I owned, Barbara Hammond’s Cooking Explained. It was first published in 1963 and a first edition from Abe Books will cost, today, the vast sum of £9 (plus P&P of about £5).

My own copy, bought for £2 when I was at school, in the 1960s, was well-thumbed, and is torn and stained as you can see from the photo. The insides are marked and commented on; tiny writing which, in a meat experiment, variously tells me what happens to a piece of meat in cold water (tough, I noted), in cold water with lemon juice (tender), in fast boiling water (tough and shrunk), with 1 level teaspoon of dripping heated to haze point (shrunk), then fried on all sides very quickly and then 1/4pt of boiling water added ( tough but good flavour). In Special Recipes, the Curry sauce is, by today’s culinary opportunities, lacking in anything that might come from the Asian sub-continent, apart from the addition of 1/2 oz of curry powder (gulp), which with cooking apples, margarine, flour, black treacle, lemon juice and an ‘exotic’ teaspoon of chutney – type unspecified – constitute the sauce. Yes, there are LOTS of corrections on that one and let’s not look too hard at the Chinese Stewed Pork. But this is still the book I turn to for the principles of preserving fruit and vegetables because it is scientific, it is thorough, it is detailed, and it is mostly correct – well apart from the time I followed the instructions for making strawberry jam in a pressure cooker (during an exam) and the cooker exploded and the jam dripped from the ceiling onto students and tutor alike.

This book has been with me wherever we have gone in the world. I have made wedding cakes in Nigeria, pickles in Greece and honeycombs in Zambia. The first 200 pages are taken up with ‘Explanations’, of planning, food hygiene, nutritive values of foods, the science of making food lighter, planning meals and preserving foods; while the next three hundred are all about recipes.

It may be old but it has wisdom and knowledge and experience within its covers. Which made me get my ladders out to look at some of the older books I have to see what they offered. Oh, my goodness, I had quite forgotten that the first one, ‘The Edinburgh Book of Plain Cookery Recipes’, printed in 1875 was the Edinburgh School of Cookery and Domestic Economy cookbook. You may or may not know that my first training was to be a teacher of domestic science (note the change from ‘economics’ to ‘science’ by 1967 when I was there) behind the doors of 3, 4, and 6 Atholl Crescent, or as it was affectionately called in Edinburgh ‘The Dough School’.

But that book does not compare for sheer entertainment value to the 1837 edition of the Shilling Cookery Book which is Mrs. Beeton’s. ‘With More Than 500 Recipes’, and upwards of 300 illustrations, it is a tiny powerhouse keeping women in their place by, for instance, admonishing “Do Not Let Your Children Die! Instead, women are encouraged to buy Fenning’s ‘Children’s Powders (to) prevent Convulsions’, seemingly because they are ‘cooling’ and ‘soothing’. This slim volume was only a small part of Isabella’s main book The Englishwoman’s Cookery Book. It was aimed at ‘Plain Cooks and Maids-of-all-Work, so that they would have a knowledge of some of their duties and to assist them in ‘the important task of dressing and serving daily food’. She hopes ‘both Mistress and Maid will find some information serviceable’.

The 1882 New Vegetarian Dishes, by Mrs. Bowdich (with a preface by Ernest Bell M.A. treasurer of the London Vegetarian Society), is, I think my oldest vegetarian recipe book. It is by no means the earliest vegetarian cookery book as Mr Bell says in his preface but is the only one which fulfills the requirement of not simply presenting recipes that throw out the meat and substitute a few beans.

Early Indian cookery books can not compare to the ones available to us today. Partly it is to do with the colonial mindset of what constitutes the ubiquitous dish called ‘curry’; partly it is to do with the availability of the necessary ingredients. The book of Indian Cookery is a facsimile of the first edition first published in 1861. This is not a vegetarian book, indeed I could find only one savoury dish which did not contain meat, recipe number 48: Cuthree (recipe below). In the preface R.Terry says, ‘ Indian cookery having of late years been so much on the increase, induces me to lay before my readers a small Manuscript of Recipes, by which I hope to gather their cordial support in this peculiar branch of the Art, having these last Ten Years been Chef-de-Cuisine at the Oriental Club; and gathered, not only from my own knowledge of Cookery, but from Native Cooks, the proper ingredients that are required in each Curry or Soup to give it that flavor which it should possess to make it a palatable dish.’ Perhaps I won’t try the Lark Curry.

The last section of the book tells the reader where to source ingredients. Payne’s Oriental Warehouse at 268 Regents St would provide 1lb to 1/4lb bottles of its celebrated curry powder as well as a huge variety of Curry Pastes and Chutneys, including Mulligatawny, Bengal Club and Lucknow (sweet) chutneys. But I think what I covet is the Triturating & Comminuting Machine, used for passing ‘pulps of Fruits for Jams and Ices, Gum-paste, Meats and Forcemeat and Potted Meats, Anchovy Sauce, … and all Vegetables required to be pulped. A substitute for Tammy Cloths and large Brass Wire Sieves, which are always subject to Verdigris’.

And finally, I offer you The Stork Wartime Cookery Book. If you think vegetarians may be missing something, take heart from Mr. Bell when he says, ‘ The thorough-going vegetarian, to whom abstinence from meat is part of his ethical code … – who would as soon think of taking his neighbours purse as helping himself to a slice of beef’. Stork and Mr. Bell are both concerned with the lack of, with abstinence. Abstinence is the backbone of the Stork book, something to be faced straight on, to be challenged by and to overcome. It is all about ‘less’. Puddings with less sugar, Cakes with less fruit and alternatives to sugar, Scrap-saving and new ways to do-up meat and fish, as well as, Making the most of Vegetables, Rice and Macaroni. There is even a section called ‘A FEW ELEMENTARY DIRECTIONS FOR GRASS WIDOWERS’, which gives the hapless men directions on ‘how to make tea’, ‘how to make coffee’, how to cook sausages, boil potatoes, cook greens and make porridge. But perhaps the most telling chapter is AIR RAID INTERRUPTIONS – what to do with, cakes, heat, Meat, Puddings, Stews, Vegetables.

A very fine book to have on hand for when the natural disaster (N.Z.) happens, be it earthquake, tsunami, volcanic or hydrothermal activity. So, when the tsunami comes, come to my house. I have all the recipes you will ever need.


No. 48 – Cuthree.

Soak 1 pint of peas, 2 hours afterwards boil them for 1 hour; strain them off, and place them in a stewpan with 1 1/2 pints of stock, 1/2lb rice, with 2 onions: let simmer for 30 minutes – by this time it should be quite dry – season with salt and pepper, and a small pinch of curry powder: build it on your dish, and garnish round with hard boiled eggs and onion fried dry.

(from, Indian Cookery, by Richard Terry, Chef-de-Cuisine at the Oriental Club, F.K.Gurney (Pub), London, 1861.)