PPC 90 (June 2010)
PPC 90 (June 2010)
Notes on Contributors
KIM BEERDEN is a PhD student at Leiden University, The Netherlands, working on her dissertation about ancient divination. She also teaches a number of courses to students. MICHELE FIELD was formerly literary editor of the Sydney Morning Herald but now lives in London. FORKA LEYPEY MATHEW FOMINE received his BA, MA and MPhil in history at the University of Yaounde 1 in 2000, 2002 and 2006 respectively, he is now working towards his PhD on Patterns of Food Consumption in Cameroon. He has published in Gastronomica and Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies (forthcoming). JAN GROSS lives in Melbourne, Australia and is completing an MA in Creative Writing. RICHARD LANDY is a ceramicist (www.wedgeofstilton.com), an art teacher (Westminster School), and an archaeologist who wrote his thesis on the Roman pottery of Stilton. WILLIAM WOYS WEAVER is a food historian and Adjunct Professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He is a contributing editor to Gourmet and Mother Earth News.
The West Country lost a stalwart worker in the fields of agriculture and food with the sad death of Carol Trewin in October 2009. Since her arrival in the region after a stint as editor of Radio Four’s Farming Today more than ten years ago, she worked at the Western Morning News as farming editor and latterly as food editor. Between these two posts she worked for Taste of the West. Her drive and enthusiasm were everywhere apparent and her friendship memorable. She produced two excellent books on Cornwall, its fishing and its food, and was in the throes of writing a book of Devon food when she died. Her work has been completed and then published by her partner James Crowden, and can now be bought from him. It is called The Devon Food Book, with photography by Adam Woolfitt. It costs £30.00 and can be obtained through the website <www.thedevonfoodbook.co.uk>. The book combines history, photography, reportage of present-day food producers and their techniques, recipes from Devon chefs, and a gazetteer. It is a model of how such books should be.
A rather downbeat but sometimes interesting diary was left to posterity by one Thomas Bunn (1767–1853) of Frome in Somerset. Extracts have been published by the Frome Society for Local Study, edited by Derek J. Gill (Experiences of a 19th Century Gentleman, 2003). He was a man who did not do a lot in life, but was a great benefactor. His record is rather affecting, but we won’t go into that here. In 1846, already in his seventies, he went to London, and wrote: ‘I visited one of the new clubhouses. It is spacious and splendidly fitted up with architectural ornaments and a few works of art. I had a singular introduction. An Italian artist introduced me to the cook who appeared to be a sensible foreigner. He shewed me his private apartment filled with pleasing oil paintings by his deceased wife in splendid frames which he sells. The head cook shewed us the spacious kitchens and apparatus for roasting and for keeping some articles in icy coolness.’ The cook, of course, was Alexis Soyer, the club the Reform, and his late wife Emma, née Simonau. Bunn confirms in most particulars the facts recounted by Helen Morris in her life of Soyer, though she does not talk of him selling the pictures, but rather gathering avariciously to his bosom all he could obtain on the open market.
MEMORY IN THE FOOD BUSINESS
The very sad death of Rose Gray in February was marked by countless panegyrics for her contributions to British cooking and restauration. All were deserved but in some manner divorced from historical reality. Many of her actions, described as ground-breaking, pioneering and so forth, were alive and well, even vieux jeu, in other kitchens. What of course was unique was the recipe, the altogether, that was Rose Gray, her partnership with Ruth Rogers, the River Café, the cookery books and more. There is nothing so short as a cook’s memory. While haute couture seems to thrive on its collective recall, cookery determinedly modernizes all its trends. I suppose that I am more conscious of this than usual as I attempt to gather some connected thoughts on the work of George Perry-Smith at the Hole in the Wall restaurant in Bath in the 1950s and 1960s. No-one – commentators seemed to be saying when remembering Rose Gray – had ever paid attention to seasons, no-one had attempted simple domestic Italian food, no-one had changed their menu daily, no-one had had an open kitchen. Well, George wrote out his menu daily (as did a million other chefs) all through the 1950s, he created an open kitchen in the 1960s, he paid attention to the seasons, and so on, and so on. Just to give you a flavour of his work at the Hole I print below a menu from the end of April 1955. At this stage the menus were handwritten, reproduced by a jelly system from a master written in indelible purple ink. They taxed the ingenuity of the finest palaeographers (a skill now in doubt with the sacking of the professor at King’s College, London). The prices are old money.
Couvert, bread and butter 1/- Hot beginnings Soupe à l’oignon, gratinée 2/- Mushroom soup 2/- Today’s soup 1/- Spaghetti bolognese 2/6 Pasta con le sarde 3/6 Egg dishes Omelettes 3/- to 6/6 Egg Valenciana 3/6 Pipérade 5/6 Cold beginnings Hors d’oeuvres variés, from 5/- Smoked salmon 6/6 Caviar 5/6 Pâté maison 3/6 Aïoli with shrimps and rice 3/6 Salade niçoise 3/6 Honeydew melon 2/6 Fresh pineapple 3/6 A salad of tunny-fish, onions and radishes 3/- Fresh grapefruit 1/- Salami with pickles 3/- Tomato or pineapple juice 1/6 Fish dishes Scallops with shrimps and mushrooms 7/6 Dover Sole with butter and cheese, lemon and green salad 7/6 Cold buffet Lobster salad 6/6 to 10/6 Dressed crab with green salad 6/6 Fresh Scotch salmon with aïoli and cucumber salad 8/6 Roast chicken with grapes and green salad 7/6 Baked ham with apricots and green salad 6/6 Main hot dishes Chicken Maryland, with banana, bacon, corn on the cob and green salad 10/6 Paëlla – a Spanish risotto of chicken and shell-fish 12/6 Curried chicken with chutney, orange and banana 6/6 (Bombay Duck and Poppadum 1/-) Leg of lamb, Greek fashion, with chipolatas and watercress 6/6 Leg of veal braised with tomatoes and rosemary 5/6 Vegetables New potatoes 1/- Chipped potatoes 6d Salads 2/- to 4/6 Green peas 1/3 Endings Cheeses 2/6 Yoghourt 1/- Mushrooms on toast 3/6 Jane’s banana cheese 2/6 Ices 1/- with stem ginger 2/- Candied oranges 2/- Membrillo with cheese 2/6 Fresh fruit basket 2/- Fruit salad 2/6 Zabaglione 5/6 Fresh pineapple 3/6 with Kirsch and grenadine 5/6 Blue Mountain Jamaica coffee 1/-
March 2010 was an important month for we married our daughter number three, Matilda, to Paul Adams. The ceremony was in our parish church, the reception at home. If you will allow, I quote a passage from Surtees’ novel Ask Mamma (1858). In times of stress, a visit to Surtees invariably lifts the spirits. The hero (‘the richest commoner in England’, who had been staying at Tantivy Castle) has been invited to Yammerton Grange, the home of Major Yammerton, one of those brilliant Surtees characters who manage to combine louche, penny-pinching, snivelling, boastful, arriviste, tasteless, ignorant and double-dealing, yet, of course, respectable, in a single memorable package. The novelist describes the preparations for the reception and subsequent dinner party when the Major will parade his glorious catch (on behalf of his daughters) before his neighbours. ‘It is undoubtedly a sound principle that Major and Mrs Yammerton went upon, never to invite people direct from great houses to theirs; it dwarfs little ones so. A few days’ ventilation at a country inn with its stupid dirty waiters, copper-showing plate, and wretched cookery, would be a good preparation, only no one ever goes into an inn in England that can help it. Still, coming down from a first-class nobleman’s castle to a third-class gentleman’s house, was rather a trial upon the latter. Not that we mean to say anything disrespectful of Yammerton Grange, which, though built at different times, was good, roomy, and rough-cast, with a man-boy in brown and yellow livery, who called himself the “Butler,” but whom the women-servants called the “Bumbler.” The above outline will give the reader a general idea of the “style of thing,” as the insolvent dandy said, when he asked his creditors for a “wax candle and eau-de-Cologne” sort of allowance. Everything at the Grange of course was now put into holiday garb, both externally and internally – gravel raked, garden spruced, stables strawed, &c. All the Major’s old sheep-caps, old hare snares, old hang-locks, old hedging-gloves, pruning-knives, and implements of husbandry were thrust into the back of the drawer of the passage table, while a mixed sporting and military trophy, composed of whips, swords and pistols, radiated round his Sunday hat against the wall above it. ‘The drawing-room, we need not say, underwent metamorphose, the chairs and sofas suddenly changing from rather dirty print to pea-green damask, the druggeted carpet bursting into cornucopias of fruit and gay bouquets, while a rich cover of many colours adorned the centre table, which, in turn, was covered with the proceeds of the young ladies’ industry. The room became a sort of exhibition of their united accomplishments. The silver ink-stand surmounted a beautiful unblemished blotting-book, fresh pens and paper stood invitingly behind, while the little dictionary was consigned, with other “sundries,” to the well of the ottoman.’ I offer this passage as anticipation of the situation at Allaleigh in the months before Matilda’s marriage. In the twenty-first century, in-betweeners have no servants save labour-saving devices. These keep chaos at bay, but no more. Critical junctures throw the defects of the arrangement into relief. Without a full team devoted to cleaning and maintenance, tidying is more than sweeping unwanted clutter into the hall-stand drawer. There are the unused rooms that have been left gently to decline; there are the much-used rooms that show the wear and tear of every day; there are the rooms that have been assaulted by sundry leaks, dampness and rot. There are the picture rails, mirrors, frames, glasses and dados; not to mention the skirtings and doorknobs. Windows can be contracted out, but what of the light-fittings, upholstery, carpets and flooring? Did I mention the silver and copper? And that ignores the garden, the driveway, the outhouses and barns. What may otherwise be left till a crisis has now to be whole. What seems fine to you and your wife may seem less so to a hundred gimlet-eyed outsiders. I was driving past Belvoir Castle, commanding its ridge over the plain that stretched to Nottingham. ‘How much for a wedding?’ I enquired of my companion. The figure of £11,500 (for a room) was mentioned. Outrageous, I thought; then I thought again. Add up all the costs of the Allaleigh clean-up: the plants purchased, the trees cut down, the driveway bulldozed into a new parking area, the marquee, the service tent, the painting, plastering, gilding and scrubbing, the extra labour over six or seven weeks. Perhaps the castle is not so expensive. The event has also increased my respect for the acumen of my late father-in-law. My wife’s two elder sisters were married from the family home in the same year. Until this month I thought the man, at least financially, vaguely self-destructive. However, now I realize his cunning plan was to take advantage of improvements made for the first by holding a quick follow-on.
JOURNAL OF MEDIEVAL HISTORY
An offprint from this journal’s volume 36 (2010) issue was kindly sent me by the author, Chris Woolgar of the University of Southampton. The name will be familiar to those who enjoy the Middle Ages for his magisterial Household Accounts from Medieval England (1992) as well as other excellent work on food in the Middle Ages. This is indeed the title of his article in this journal and I recommend it to anyone seeking a bibliographic and thematic study of recent works in the field. Thoroughly good stuff. You can probably access this online via <www.elsevier.com/locate/jmedhist>. Doubtless a fee is payable.
Cecilia Hosinsky very kindly sent me the special food edition of the Spanish magazine Clío. For the non-Spanish reader it’s most valuable for some of its pictures, but it is quite interesting to reflect on the ability of some European countries to produce these sorts of popular magazines whereas the Brits generally do not. The range of the articles is wide and hats-off to Clío for producing it. Cecilia Hosinsky, who lives on La Palma in the Canaries, was particularly taken by an article on eating in Spain in the Civil War (‘Cooking with an Empty Larder’). She was drawn to the recipe for a Spanish omelette without eggs or potatoes. This was published by Ignasi Domènech in 1938: ‘he substituted the potatoes for soaked slices of the white layer that separates the peel and the wedges of an orange (i.e. the pith). The eggs are substituted for drops of oil, four spoonfuls of flour, ten spoonfuls of water, one spoon of bicarbonate, a pinch of pepper, salt and some food colouring to give it a tint of egg yolk. Beat the mixture until it resembles beaten eggs. Add the drained and mashed orange peelings. The mixture can then be fryed as a tortilla.’ Ms Hosinsky recalls that these were the years when the inhabitants of La Palma resorted to bracken roots for making bread.
ANDRÉ SIMON AWARDS
The winner of the André Simon Memorial Award for 2009 was Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking, published by Kyle Cathie at £30.00 (but I note that Amazon is offering it at 50 per cent discount which sounds like economic suicide for Kyle Cathie, or are we paying over the odds if bought in a conventional manner?) The publisher’s own account is that, ‘Darina reconnects you with the cooking skills that missed a generation or two. The book is divided into chapters such as “Dairy”, “Hens and Eggs”, “Bread and Preserving” and forgotten processes such as smoking mackerel, curing bacon and making yogurt and butter which are explained in the simplest terms. The delicious recipes show you how to use your homemade produce to its best, and include ideas for using forgotten cuts of meat, baking bread and cakes and even eating food from the wild. The Vegetables and Herbs chapter is stuffed with growing tips to satisfy even those with the smallest garden plot or window box, and there are plenty of suggestions for using gluts of vegetables. You’ll even discover how to keep a few chickens in the garden.’ Darina has certainly touched a nerve of our times: what we need is not so much recipes but instruction in how to do things; the processes are more important than the curlicues, which should look after themselves (so to speak). Inspection reveals that the publisher is not so far off the mark. There is a nice attention paid to basic methods and making the best of your materials. I would exaggerate were I to say the instructions were detailed, but they are adequate as a beginning: butter, for example, receives but a page; ham and pork products do get longer. I am not sure I will immediately give up my Jocasta Innes Country Kitchen as port of first resort, but I would prefer the very wide range of Darina Allen’s recipes. This would be a great present for a young married or new arrival in the countryside.
SCHOOL OF ARTISAN FOOD
In line with what Darina Allen writes about there is news of this educational initiative on the Welbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire. Its intentions are quite evidently serious and well thought out. Welbeck already houses The Welbeck Bakehouse and the dairy producing Stitchelton, the new unpasteurized version of Stilton (five star). The aim is to offer a university degree in artisanal food technologies, encompassing Bakery, Butchery and charcuterie, Cheese-making and dairy, Baking, Biology, Social Science and Business studies.
Andrew Witley has issues his schedule of courses for all those who are deeply keen on doing their own baking. The courses are held at Macbiehill Farmhouse, LaMancha, West Linton, Peebles, EH46 7AZ. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FOOD HISTORY NEWS
Sandra Oliver has been producing her newsletter for twenty years, 80 issues. It has always been impressive stuff, subjecting American food history to detailed, rigorous investigation; no claim is left unsourced. Volume 20, number 4 is to be the last issue in print and the organization is migrating to the Internet <www.foodhistorynews.com>. One salutes the passing of an inspiring companion.
IN GRANDMOTHER GELL’S KITCHEN
This is a ‘selection of recipes used in the eighteenth century’ transcribed and introduced by Carol Barstow and published by Nottinghamshire County Council (£5.95, ISBN 9780902751637). The source is a manuscript entitled ‘The receipt book of Grandmother Gell’ held in the Nottinghamshire Archives among the documents deposited by the Edge family of Strelley Hall. Grandmother Gell was in fact a Derbyshire woman, her family living at Hopton Hall near Wirksworth in Derbyshire. Mark Dawson told me of it and I got very excited because in my younger days as an archivist, I had the privilege of cataloguing the papers of a latter-day imperialist, Phillip Lyttelton Gell (d. 1929) of Hopton and well remember visiting the family seat. The collection is what you might expect and enjoyable.
HOME CURING OF BACON AND HAMS
The above is the title of Bulletin no. 127 of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and Food published in conjunction with the Small Pig Keepers’ Council in 1944, one therefore in that grand series of making the most of your food that was produced during and after the war. I recommend it for its compact accuracy and intelligence. Interestingly I found this book as a facsimile on Amazon (Reed Books, £14.99). This rather disappointingly put the kybosh on my producing it for the time being. There is quite an amusing customer review on Amazon which I quote: ‘This was a government pamphlet released in 1945 and re-published with no further information at a highly inflated price, a gross disappointment and a total waste of money.’ (They don’t mince their words on Amazon, but she’s wrong.)
Rhubarbaria sold very satisfactorily over the Christmas period and we have moved to a reprint. Many journalists were very nice about it. I have in my file a sweet take on Mary Prior’s Rhubarb and Almond Tart recipe, to be found on page 72 of her book. Embarrassingly, I can’t find who sent it me and my memory, the older I get, is a blank. So to that anonymous well-wisher, many thanks.
The Rhubarb Tart Song Sung to the tune of Washington Post by Souza I want another slice of rhubarb tart I want another lovely slice I’m not disparaging the blueberry pie But rhubarb tart is oh-so-very nice. A rhubarb what? A rhubarb tart A what-barb tart? A rhu-barb tart I want another slice of rhubarb tart. In a pastry case that you made earlier Add roasted chunks of sweet rhubarb Cover with sponge containing almond flakes And bake until lightly browned A rhubarb what? A rhubarb tart A what-barb tart? A rhu-barb tart I want another slice of rhubarb tart I want another slice of rhubarb tart I want another lovely slice I’m not disparaging the blueberry pie But rhubarb tart is oh-so-very nice!!!
LEEDS SYMPOSIUM ON FOOD HISTORY
This year’s Symposium was on ‘Crunch. Crunchy comestibles with a special focus on historic biscuits.’ I feel that biscuits would make an excellent volume for ‘The English Kitchen’ and we will have to see how things turn out in terms of a publishing programme. While on this topic, it is rumoured that Ivan Day is fast gathering the contributions to the next Leeds volume which is on moulds and moulded foods.
I was very remiss a year or more ago in failing to post an enquiry from Helen Galizia on this topic. She wrote, ‘I see that “scum” gets a lot of attention in your publication, Medieval Arab Cookery. The early texts were always going on about removing it. Indeed that is accepted practice. My grandmother used to say “stir it in” – she would have washed the meat carefully before putting it in the pot. Legumes also produce scum. It led me to wonder what exactly is scum? – something produced by proteins clearly – amino acids? An answer from a food scientist would be helpful.’
In the same message, Helen Galizia ruminated on expressions of time in Medieval Arab Cookery. Her parallel was interesting: ‘Charles Perry in his Introduction to the late Professor Arberry’s translation of the Baghdad Cookery Book states that his translations of sa’a as “an hour” really means “a while” in virtually every case, arguing that medieval cooks were not clock-watchers. In Maltese the Arabic word has been transmuted into our “siegha” (with a line across the h) which we translate as “one hour” and we have “saghtejn” as two hours. I get this from Aquilina’s Maltese dictionary and he, in turn, has used De Soldanis’ and Vassalli’s dictionaries.’
THE PARIS SALON DES LIVRES GOURMANDS
I think I spent the coldest week in many years in Paris in the company of Edouard Cointreau and his Gourmand organization at the Paris Cookbook Fair in a swish exhibition space somewhere north of Stalingrad (10eme Paris, not USSR). Book fairs are a trial. I avoid them at most costs. But they always have a silver lining to a cloud deepened by poor catering, air conditioning, long hours of standing, aimless conversation and lack of alcohol. Actually, the Paris catering was not too bad and certainly cheerful. Cointreau’s all-inclusive Gourmand Awards are certainly very interesting, discovering books and publishers that you would never otherwise hear of from one decade to the next. The exhibitors, too, can be unusual, as can be (with knobs on) the casual visitors to your stand. I was interested by the publisher of a Kurdish cookbook in German (Stefan Trudewind, Edition Orient, Berlin). The book is charming, the recipes basic but heartfelt. I was also intrigued by a Swedish book called Tofvehult – the Dream of a Café (that’s the translation) which was written by the café’s owner Lena Göransson. The café has had considerable success in Sweden and the cakes look great. My Swedish masseur will be able to translate them for me.
Continuing the Salon theme, there were also magazines that I had never encountered. The first, Bouillon, is a Dutch journal – book-size rather than magazine-size, profusely illustrated, four-colour, concentrating on modern cooking – chefs and all that jazz. I can’t understand a word of it but was amused to see a piece on my home town of Dartmouth and our old restaurant in its New Angel guise. There are lots of book reviews. <www.bouillonmagazine.nl>
THE WORLD OF FINE WINE
The other journal that I had never encountered was the astonishingly glossy WOFW (astonishingly expensive as well – £89 per year for four issues). The writers are out of the top drawer and if you like to lay down a cellar, this will help you choose correctly. If, like me, you can barely afford Bordeaux but spend most of your drinking life on the Rhône or the Loire, you will at least find it attractive and not infrequently interesting.
Bing actually is the Fondation Bibliothèque Internationale de Gastronomie which ‘arose out of the enthusiasm of a group of scholars and of devotees of gastronomic culture brought together through the initiative and drive of Orazio Bagnasco, who is the President.’ The Foundation’s library is in Lugano and the collection extends to around 3,500 books, both printed and in manuscript, in every language, and dating from before the end of 1899. They have produced a most magnificent catalogue. The price is high, but in three volumes you get some lovely pictures and exhaustive bibliographic detail. The third volume contains only an index. <www.fondationbing.org>.
James Crowden has produced another book. I am astonished by his energy and his ability to delve in the most unlikely rivulets and valleys of knowledge. The book is Literary Somerset, published by James Crowden, costing £18.95 plus £4.00 postage. Write to James Crowden, Forge House, Fore Street, Winsham, Chard, TA20 4DY. It is a most interesting and catholic catalogue of everyone from Somerset who has ever written a word. It goes back as far as the Romans, and embraces scribes as modern as P.J. Harvey from Yeovil, or even Tom Jaine from Bath. The illustrations are grand and it would make a perfect present for those who hanker for their Somerset youth.
NOSTALGIE DE LA BOUE
I am often curious about the ability of food-writers, chefs and other people involved professionally in good food and good eating to hanker and yearn for the foods of their infancy. While perhaps understanding the appeal of a well-made rice pudding, I am less impressed by those who devour the manufactured delicacies of their youth (sweets and chocolates, tomato ketchup, disgusting buns, etc., etc.). This Easter, Jay Rayner extolled the glories of the chocolate bars purveyed to unsuspecting children by the likes of Cadbury in Great Britain. The only plus-point of Cadbury has been their paternalistic treatment of the workforce – in eclipse for much of the recent past – while their chocolate has been repellent, a travesty. How someone can turn from tasting the very best of food to scoffing a Crunchy bar without retching is beyond me. It struck me forcibly that the takeover of Cadbury by Kraft was richly deserved; by their fruits ye shall know them.
DOES ENGLAND COOK?
One of the most teasing statistical problems of the day is establishing just what home-cooks get up to in their own kitchens. While there is an ever-increasing coverage of cookery in media of all sorts, there is not much countervailing evidence of increased beating and baking at the stove. Sales of ready-meals continue to increase, the restaurant trade continues to grow, and instances of real activity in the kitchen seems restricted to a small number of the bourgeoisie. There is a new contribution to this debate which my wife discovered in Easter’s Good Housekeeping. A poll revealed that ‘nine out of ten mothers said that they cook the same meals over and over again, relying on nine basic recipes – and one in four make the same meals on the same day of every week. And the top nine recipes are [in order]…spaghetti bolognese; roast dinner; cottage or shepherd’s pie; pasta; meat and two veg; pizza; stew or casserole; sausages and mash (or chips); curry’. Another statistic, again found by my wife, is that just less than half of England’s cooks have not decided by four o’clock in the afternoon what it is they will cook for dinner or supper that night. These figures are gripping and tell you I don’t know what.
BOOK REVIEWS by Michele Field
Creative Commons License These reviews are published under the legal arrangements of Creative Commons (see www.creativecommons.org.uk). You may reprint the reviews – as many of them as you like – without cost, provided that (1) you acknowledge the source (PPC) and the authors, (2) you do not make commercial use of them or alter them, and (3) you attach the CC symbol to your re-use, so the spirit continues. In other words, the ideas and information should circulate – to everyone’s benefit. Michele Field Great British Food Cass Titcombe et al Ebury Press | 2010 | 223p | £16.99 It is always easy to argue with cooks who tell you how they make the recipes which you have been making for years, but I’ve no special argument with these. Canteen is an incipient chain of restaurants genuinely enjoyed by overseas visitors to London – the way Rules used to be. Crushed swede and carrot, school-dinner servings of macaroni cheese, devilled kidneys, Victoria sponge – all reliably assembled. However, it is food you find from Tasmania to Toronto and it’s disingenuous to call it ‘Great’ or even nowadays really ‘British’. Eat Up! Seeking out the best of British cooking Charles Campion Kyle Cathie | 2010 | 175p | £16.99 Campion is a relentlessly upbeat ‘critic’ who visits 20 friends to review a meal of theirs and share their recipes. I felt as if I might have been sat down by a series of friends who (without saying so explicitly) wanted to give me make-up and clothes-buying advice. Glenda’s nasturtium relish is a good tip, but not her blackberry vodka. Annie’s crab ravioli are nothing of the sort – they are passable Chinese wonton. It is a genre which women’s-groups and churches used to compile and sell for a quarter of this price. Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon Ari Weinzweig Zingerman’s Press | 2009 | 230p | US$29.99 In a world where novelty food is equated with El Bulli, it is important to remember that how much recipe-generation comes from culinary left-wingers like American bacon buffs. No-one has cured bacon as variously as Americans do, but this book from Michigan is about not letting bacon bore you in the kitchen. Bacon-based salad dressings may reconcile some people to the leaf; chocolate and bacon fat gravy probably won’t do the same to chocolate lovers. A charming book. Food Studies: An introduction to research methods Ed. Jeff Miller and Jonathan Deutsch Berg | 2009 | 219p | £16.99 This is a primer for students drawn into the exploding network of tertiary ‘food history’ courses. The contributors’ consensus is that the same research rules apply as those in music history or any ‘subjective’/historical area that relies on taste. My test would be whether any of this research advice can be predictive when we face food crises and climate changes ahead. I don’t see how this analysis of the past is analytical enough to be more than under-graduate. But perhaps a few students who go through these paces will turn then their ethnography on the future. Bad Ideas? Robert Winston Bantam | 2010 | 417p | £20 Winston is very good as a scientist reviewing other science results, and the chapter ‘Animal Farm’, among others here, can convince you in a paragraph. Antibiotics in meat and in fish-farming as a source of MRSA infections – he explains this more clearly than journalists do. And are vegetarian fish like carp really less palatable than carnivorous farmed-fish which take so many wild, small fish to feed? Did you grasp that escape rates from farmed salmon are so high that a ‘caught’ salmon in free-water may have farmed parents? – Because probably as many as one in seven do. The Globalization of Food Ed. David Inglis and Debra Gimlin Berg | 2009 | 296p | £19.99 These 15 essays pull together the subject of ‘local’ food pluses and ‘global’ ones. ‘Global’ used to be known as ‘cosmopolitan’ before food writers undertook to warn us about dangers to our health and to the environment. Most of these essays look at ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food sourcing as a new type of rhetoric, and at how arms are twisted for governments’ policies. We live with a wider variety of food than our parents ever saw – so we are all small-scale globalizers and can learn from these arguments. Asian Dumplings Andrea Nguyen Ten Speed | 2009 | 234p | $30 Most of us have at least one gaping hole in our cooking skills, and my biggest was filled-dumplings, from crisp to wet. My varieties were sometimes identifiable by shape... but not in blindfold tastings. This book is a revelation of detail, and although the Vietnamese author is California-based, she makes few concessions to American efficiency. Indian recipes like Moong Dal Vada are her weak point, but she has repaired so many of my weak points, I won’t carp. The Economical Environmentalist Prashant Vaze Earthscan | 2009 | 350p | £14.99 A brilliant, hard-nosed, quantitative analysis of what our daily lives ‘cost’ as atmospheric carbon inputs. The chapters in which Vaze looks at food show that drying processes (dried fruits, sugar, most salt, etc.) is to be despised by the climate-conscious (honey and soy sauce have smaller carbon footprints than sugar and salt). Cows’ waste, if properly used, makes beef less carbon-hungry; and because organic crops require more land and tractor fuel they come out worse than the media assumes. On every page, revelatory statistics. Digest this. The Real Food Companion Matthew Evans Murdoch | 2010 | 575p | £30 This publisher’s two-brick books are known for helping with your bicep exercises between stirring the pot. However, Evans – despite a couple of pages explaining ‘sugar’ , or assuming that ‘poaching’ is not an instruction you’ve met before – does prove to be reliable guide on recipes which beginners would not usually tackle – like labna (yoghurt balls in olive oil), sweet-sour chipolatas with green grapes, and Brussels sprouts in duck fat. But it is rather as if a builder poured cement for your foundations... and proceeded to decorate your bedroom. A Visual History of Cookery Black Dog | 2009 | 348p | £29.95 This is an opportunistic ‘office exercise’ that both pulls together interesting pictures and reprints a few articles like M.F.K. Fisher’s ‘How Not to Boil an Egg’ which moved food into the focus of polite conversation. It is fascinating because there is no thread running from page to page – it is like a scrapbook of a family whom you have not met, so both inscrutable and all too bare-chested. It is a coffee-table book for people who eat three meals a day from their coffee-tables. Designing for Re-use Tom Fisher and Janet Shipton Earthscan | 2010 | 186p | £24.95 Not about food itself but how food-packaging can take account of its use to consumers. What genius discovered that selling yoghurt and other food in stackable (once emptied) plastic cartons would be popular? Space-saving is important for re-users of packaging, but so are labels that easily rip off. The Internet now has sites with advice on re-using, as the exterior is often largely what you’re paying for. If you’re choosing an instant coffee the packaging’s next use may be the tie-breaker. Remember, a banana won nature’s original packaging competition. The No-Nonsense Guide to World Food Wayne Roberts | New Internationalist | 2008 | 192p | £7.99 Issue-ness is now like nitrogen on the soil of our food life: much of it runs off and pollutes fresh waters, but some of it is necessary for us to remain conscientious. This is a primer for people whose newspapers have tweaked concerns, and it builds on those concerns. The research, however, is all borrowed and Roberts takes terms like ‘junkfood’ as easily defined, rather than culturally elastic. If the issues were so clear, every government in the world would not be wrestling with them now. Encyclopedia of Pasta Oretta Zanini de Vita California | 2009 | 375p | £20.95 I shook my head – there is no reason for this book to not have been around all our lives and loved. The talk of pasta ingredients and accompaniments was sidetracked for me by the ingenuity of shapes. Nowhere has a ‘basic’ food been given so many personalities as pasta, sometimes just whimsically and sometimes with reason. One shape is called testaroli – ‘unusual shape’ – which means that the peasant-designer had an unusual input. I can’t find any flaw in this book except it did not come to me more quickly. Biocultural Diversity Conservation Luisa Maffi and Ellen Woodley Earthscan | 2010 | 282p | £.34.99 Although climate change will diminish the species we know, it may also trigger new species once life adapts to new conditions. This book looks pessimistically at food crops in small societies and the impact of population numbers on diversity. But it is more than anthropological -- it is also judgmental. Should value systems always be based on sustaining old patterns? I felt that the authors likewise might recommend we keep a ‘tradition’ of using old models of mobile phones, rather than dropping that ‘diversity’ and moving on. The Songs of Sapa Luke Nguyen Murdoch | 2009 | 344p | £25 The writer moved to Australia from Thailand and Vietnam, and the strongest flavour in the book is Australian. The ingredients are often bold but the salty-sweet, crisp pieces in light sauces, and shiny salads are already familiar from the worldwide restaurant franchise known as ‘Vietnamese’. We have learned interesting differences among Chinese food cultures, and among different social levels of Japanese food. But no-one has ever showed me that one Vietnamese chef is not as silky and crunchy as the next. So this book is all right, but where are the others? The Silver Spoon for Children Amanda Grant Phaidon | 2009 | 99p | £12.95 We can’t decide on Jamie’s school menus, and decisions about cookery books for children are even harder. There have been at least four food titles aimed at under-12s in the past two years, and magazines like ChopChop grow in the States. I suspect that if your child looks askance at his plate, the best thing is to show him that it’s in a book – and you can work through the pictures. My grandson looks at my plate and his (he is under two) and then no-one is allowed to interfere by cutting up a chop or buttering his roll. Children are more conservative than any author of gnocchi recipes can grasp. Save the Deli David Sax Houghton Mifflin | 2009 | 319p | $24 For a one-theme food book, this is good. The author looks at what Jewish food means to the delis in the States, but also why there is less American-type, Jewish nostalgia in London delis. Is it because Americans wanted immigrants to assert their differences, and British policy was to show Jews how to work with a new context? Sax finds that Jewish delis in London have 95 per cent Jewish customers – the opposite of NYC delis – and that the London food has a discernible authenticity. A wider question of what we want from food retail, but not one addressed. The Bear and Fish Family Cookbook Yabin Yu and Jialin Tian Jayca | 2009 | 163p | £24.95 This mother and daughter were born in China and now are American engineers. Like any vanity publishing project, it is rather myopic, but has shots of brilliance. A walnut soup served as a cocktail, several uncommon recipes with hardboiled eggs, and a few recipes which because they take six hours of ‘simmering’ do not make their way into other books. However, a photo rarely appears on same page as its recipe, and I suspect they found the cooking easier than creating the publication. Momofuku David Chang and Peter Meehan Clarkson Potter | 2009 | 303p | $40 Of all the food books I faced recently, this Japanese-Korean book of twists-and-turns happily took me beyond where I usually think. Chang is the owner of NYC eateries (it was one of his big fans who said I should say ‘eateries’) where miso butterscotch and sour-cream ice cream meet. This is alternative thinking without the high-end technology of Blumenthal. If you have as much as a cup of mustard seeds, pickle them as Chang does and sprinkle them into endless conversations. Bourke Street Bakery Paul Allam and David McGuinness Murdoch | 2009 | 365p | £25 This ‘community bakery’ in Sydney produces the usual panini and pastries, and apart from a variety of pies (from ratatouille pie to Christmas mince) there is no obvious speciality. Also, there is no particular development through the pages, say from easier to more difficult recipes. The spelt sourdough at the front of the book defeated me, while the trifle and tarts towards the end of the book are hardly ‘baking’ as most bakers use the word. The Exotic Meat Cookbook Jeanette Edgar and Rachel Godwin HarperCollins | 2009 | 176p |£20 The authors have a Shropshire farm with a line in ‘exotic meats’. They obviously do not raise everything they supply (the wagyu beef comes from Australia or Chile) and the book never mentions a meat’s provenance. Crocodile meat is not the same the world over, and I’d enjoy the recipes more if I knew whose crocs they have in mind. Young veal is one of their ‘exotics’. I think it tastes a bit like zebra (five zebra recipes here, though not currently available to order on their website – alternativemeats.co.uk). It’s a Tasty World http://www.ediblegeography.com/tasty-world-tour/ This Japanese exhibition explores the science of deliciousness and has an exemplary text: six chapters in pdf, with generous illustrations. The link above will take you to the National Science Museum in Tokyo (Miraikan) where the work originated and was displayed until the end of March. The Japanese can deconstruct a subject like this – for instance, topics like our tasting biology, preservation technologies, food waste – with a wonderful sense of humour. Rustica: Spanish Traditions and Recipes Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish Murdoch | 2009 | 367p | £25 The eleven chapters are roughly geographical and focus on ‘old’ Spanish cooking rather than the new El Bulli style. Camorra’s family emigrated from Andalusia to Australia in 1975, so this is a squarely ‘family fare’. Lots of chorizo, but also interesting flavours like pork and pumpkin pâté, cold milk soup with cinnamon dumplings, kid and chicken liver hot-pot, and a superb cannellini bean and spinach tortilla in saffron sauce. Sunshine bounces off the olive oil in photo after photo. Nutmeg and Custard Marcus Wareing Transworld | 2009 | 273p | £25 Wareing would be worth reading if he put his genius into these pages, but he is writing about the meals he makes when he ‘wants to spend time with his family’. Rice Crispie squares, chicken and rice, spicy sweet potato wedges – though, of course, sometimes with a nice twist to the recipe. However, this is cooking as in the pages of women’s magazines, not from Petrus or the Savoy Grill, and it is hard to believe the book was not ‘ghosted’.
Noel Kingsbury: Hybrid: the History and Science of Plant Breeding: University of Chicago Press, 2009, 493 pp., hardback: £24. This is a comprehensive account of plant breeding’s crucial role in the production of food and ornamentals. Breeding is a manipulative and interventionist practice hounded by controversy, and the author conscientiously presents both mainstream and alternative points of view. Some knowledge of biology, especially genetics, is essential to fully appreciate the development and impact of breeding, but even then this is not an easy read: each page is dense with information and ideas that deserve careful consideration. For those with the background and stamina, however, the work they put into Hybrid will be both satisfying and valuable. Michael Michaud María del Carmen Simón Palmer: La Cocina de Palacio 1561-1931: Editorial Castalia, 1997, 185 pp., £48.50. Simón Palmer came up with this scholarly classic after sifting through the Madrid’s Palace’s unpublished archives. She sheds light on key episodes, such as French cuisine’s takeover of court cookery, but really excels when she turns her eye to everyday reality: the hidden queens’ kitchens, the resale of palace food, the struggle to source good meat, childrens’ and pets’ food. Vicky Hayward I had the good fortune to review a few new cookery books for The Guardian this Christmas. I append here my draft:
‘Many foodsters end this year in a state of deep anti-climax. The banking crisis was meant to mark the end of money and meretricious vanities, dethroned at last by the earthy virtues of food production and honest labour. In the peak-oil, globally warmed apocalypse so eagerly anticipated, communities revive hand-knitting and jam making, and men dream of standing guard over their allotments. ‘Is this new engagement with essentials embraced by the world of food publishing? Not really. Phaidon offers us Coco (£25), a doorstop of a book where ten über-chefs each choose ten future stars from all corners of the earth. Their recipes may be of interest, but only of value to members of the club or trendspotters. Heston Blumenthal returns with a slimmed-down Fat Duck Cookbook (Bloomsbury, £35), still a giant by any other measure, portraying the chef as superman, with never a nod to his rather less than supermannish encounter with food poisoning earlier this year. His recipes will not be cooked at home, but study is rewarded by many helpful tips (e.g. how best to clarify stock, or the virtues of slow cooking). His memoir is inspiriting, but the accompanying art is seriously dire. ‘For many, the real essential at this time of year is how best to cook the turkey. Roll up Delia’s Happy Christmas (Ebury Press, £25) (possible subtitle ‘nine more ways with cranberries’). Its popularity might imply that Christmas dinner is the only meal its readers ever expect to worry about. She has already made this one earlier, in 1990, and has recycled the instructions, timetables and shopping lists, as well as a fair few of the recipes, now wrapped in a sparkling new parcel of extra meals to fill out the holiday period. Would we follow Delia at home? Now you ask, never in a month of Sundays. But the other recipes, the supporting cast, are nicely comforting and enjoyable. ‘Many find the warm, affecting prose of Nigel Slater an inspiration, though cynics may think it flirts with a style too close to ‘the blush of autumn on the tremulant, pendulant fruit’. In Tender. Volume I. A Cook and his Vegetable Patch (4th Estate, £30) he manages astonishing prolixity in pursuit of very few greens. He would like us to think he grew them all, but admits in his foreword that they mostly came from Fern Verrow Biodynamic Farm in Herefordshire. Is this a cook’s equivalent of greenwash? ‘A lighter tone, and welcome for it, is adopted by Simon Hopkinson in The Vegetarian Option (Quadrille, £20). Chicken stock as his second recipe has to be a tease, and vegetarians will be disappointed by the somewhat old-fashioned dairy and egg approach to their dietary choice. However, those who seek good ideas for non-meat dishes will be happily satisfied. Carnivores, on the other hand, may be more content to follow Jamie Oliver to Jamie’s America (Michael Joseph, £26) thus sampling alligator, surf ‘n’ turf, pork and beans, and much more. The food is heroically messy, the recipes a jumble, much like Jamie’s own view of the country, a melting-pot of peoples and traditions (mostly with a chilli thrown in). The urgent, ingenuous cameraderie sits uneasy with the canny management of a career and enterprise that earns millions per annum. ‘There are many, many households who will opt every day – for reasons of ease, convenience and economy – for some sort of roast or baked fish or meat. The answer to their prayers may lie in Rôtis (Murdoch, £17.99) from the French chef Stéphane Reynaud whose idiosyncratic work has been in evidence for a few years now. Rather than the manual of plain roasting which the title might imply, it offers a few dozen brilliant ideas and combinations for pot roasts (and roasted vegetables too). All this is true bliss to vary the deadly, and endless, round of cooking for a family. There is one sad reservation: his timings are worryingly brief, his ovens disturbingly cool. Our debate on the difference between raw and cooked venison would have done the late Lévi-Strauss proud. ‘So what might be the killer cookbook presents of the season? I suggest two. The first is the American chef Thomas Keller’s ad hoc at home (Artisan, £40) – Ad Hoc is the name of his family-style restaurant. This both suffers and benefits from an all-American seriousness about the business of cooking. It is many leagues beyond Jamie’s lug it and see. But the recipes are gold-dust (though not boring) and the instructions, if carefully attended to, will make you a better cook. The second is Ginette Mathiot’s I Know How to Cook (Phaidon, £24.95), first published in 1932 and brought up to date by Clotilde Dusoulier. A further instalment in Phaidon’s programme to bring us classics from the nations of Europe, this one was written by a home economist and went on to sell millions. It is not ground-breaking, nor is it terribly instructive, but it is a perfect repository of simple, conservative French home cooking. One to shelve next to Constance Spry. ‘It saddens me that so few English cookery books eschew the modern mishmash and multicultural blend. All the more reason, therefore, to greet Peter Brears’s account of Traditional Food in Shropshire (Excellent Press, £19.95) with rousing cheers. He’ll teach you to stuff a boar’s head, or he’ll tell you of kitchens and dishes of past centuries, all leavened with illustration and quotation. A wake-up call (that can be taken two ways) after a long night of risottos, chowders, salsas and tortillas.’
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