09 November 2008

in search of lost tastes

There was a time when this was my cooking bible. It was the first cookery book that I bought (this is my second copy - the first fell to pieces). I worked my way through Boston baked beans, liver in the venetian manner, chicken liver pilaff. I was using this pre-BSE days, but even so I avoided the brain fritters, though - and I can't quite believe this now - I definitely had a go once at making brawn.

I got a yearning for onion, bacon and potato hotpot a week or so ago and there was a scrabble round to find the recipe, hence the resurrection and nostalgic reflection. I sat up in bed and read through the recipes, remembering where I was when I tried them for the first time. I spent a few years travelling around and the book came with me, There was the fruit-picking summer in the Vale of Evesham when I first tried summer pudding. A bleak winter in Bedfordshire when my Christmas pudding was made with potatoes and carrots (vegetable plum pudding). The time in our new flat in Bethnal Green when we were both sick after eating Suleiman's pilaff made with leftover lamb. Each of the familiar recipes evoked memories of time and place and taste - a kind of reverse "madeleine" experience.

Cookery books make great bedtime reading, even those without quite so much personal resonance. I've found it hard recently to read anything else lately. This book, for example, is not a work of great literature. It does not try to be clever and it is sparing in its use of anecdote. But there is something about the rhythm of the lists of ingredients and instructions that is comforting and lulls you to sleep. And the other good thing about it, unlike most modern cookery books, is that it's pretty lightweight, so when you do nod off and if falls onto your face it does not break your nose.

It may have been re-reading this that attracted me to the kale in the market yesterday; it may have been my longing lately for green cabbegey things; or it may have been the beauty of the leaves.

I thought the book had a recipe for colcannon but I ended up winging it. Very delicious it was too. And very cheap.


Anonymous said...

I love this post. It reminded me of my first vegetarian cookery book, The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas. I bought it when I was at university and relied on it heavily as a newly married. It doesn't just have recipes but gives glimpses into the author's Polish heritage and bohemian lifestyle. I still have the book, well some of it. The dog ate (yes, chewed and swallowed)about a third of it when he was a pup.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this post. Recipe books make very hypnotic and comforting reading; the ingredient lists, the directions, the familiarity and routine, perhaps... the rhythm.

This cookbook looks especially enticing and I love the recipes you chose to talk about.

Colcannon is wonderful stuff, isn't it? Very cheap, as you say, but also extremely delicious. Kale and potatoes are an excellent combination.