PPC 92 (March 2011)
PPC 92 (March 2011)
NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
LYNNE CHATTERTON is an Australian now living in Umbria, where she and her husband cultivate olives. Brian Chatterton was formerly Minister of Agriculture in South Australia and together they have considerable expertise in matters agricultural, particularly dryland farming. ANDREW DALBY has written on the history of languages, of food, and of Wikipedia. His most recent work is his translation of Geoponika for Prospect Books; his next is a translation of Walter of Bibbesworth’s Treatise which we also intend publishing some time later this year. KYLE MCKIBBEN was brought up near Glasgow, but defected to pork-eating Edinburgh in his twenties. He hates the goatiness of goats’ cheese. STEPHEN MASSIL is a librarian, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and a regular participant in the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery. NAWAL NASRALLAH was born in Iraq and was professor at Baghdad and Mosul universities, teaching English and American Literatures, 1977–90. She is the author of Delights from the Garden of Eden, an historical cookbook of Iraqi cuisine. She now lives in America. CLARE PAWLEY is a photographer and lives in South Devon. DAWN STARIN is an anthropologist and honorary research associate at UCL, London. She has spent decades studying and writing about the people and the wildlife of Africa and Asia. EILEEN WHITE lives in Bradford and is involved with the Leeds Symposium on Food History, having edited and contributed to many of the proceedings published by Prospect.
DEALING WITH FOOD
It was good to read a piece by B.R. Myers in a recent issue of The Atlantic called ‘The Moral Crusade Against Foodies’ which takes a stand against the juggernaut that is our current obsession with food and pleasure (exemplified in the article by the works of Anthony Bourdain, Gabrielle Hamilton [Blood, Bones and Butter], Kim Severson [Spoon Fed], Jeffrey Steingarten, and Michael Pollan). Myers writes as a vegan, which perhaps skews his perceptions. He has written before on this topic (as well as on North Korea), in particular a vigorous critique of Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. He reserves his special bile for foodies who deploy moral arguments to justify one form of meat-eating or another: seeing greater moral worth, for example, in free range or organic meat. But he is happy to take a swing at many behavioural traits, and the prose style, of those who write about food. There is something quite tiring about our current level of preoccupation, as well as its depressing repetitiveness. I must admit that I thought we had settled all the questions that seem to vex the present generation some thirty to fifty years ago. It seems to be taking an unconsciable time to filter down. Questions such as: Should one eat processed foods? Should you try to grow your own? Should you buy from local producers? Should you encourage artisan methods? Should you buy fish from day boats? Should you hate supermarkets? Should you eschew most forms of industrial agriculture? These don’t seem to me difficult enquiries, nor moral ones. And most of us posed them many years since. Their constant reiteration, with more or less pomposity, alarmism and wittering is just boring. Which brings me to my next subject. My daughter Matilda now keeps a restaurant. Her husband Paul Adams is the chef, and they are in partnership with Matt and Amanda Wrisdale at the Tollemache Arms, Buckminster, on the border of Leicestershire and Lincolnshire. It is a short diversion from the Great North Road, at about the latitude of Grantham, and I hope that readers may find a visit enjoyable. Matilda is the third generation of our family to go in for this way of life and it has been pleasing to see how she took to it. The Tollemache is in shooting and hunting country. The pattern of business is not that of west London, where she earned her spurs, as well as meeting Paul. They are still acclimatizing, getting used to winter evenings with very few customers to cheer them along. And we note how eager we are to have news of their state of trade, to sympathize with the dull stretches, to applaud the busy nights. Re-engaging in this way with the restaurant business (we worked our last shift at the Carved Angel in 1984) provokes a reappraisal and a memory of what enthused us about the whole affair in the first place. If what is happening today is mere repetition of our debates of the 1970s, this would dissipate any sense of purpose and excitement. It would merely enrage us that so many people had not yet seen the light. So what aspect of cooking and catering would make the bone marrow tremble? My nearest approach to an answer involved some form of culinary self-sufficiency. The answers to the questions posed above seem to me to be givens, leaving the real adventure in some other angle on the venture. Currently, that angle is in the housekeeping rather than the cooking. Were I, God forbid, to have to do it all again, I think I might be more interested in the production of the basic goods than in the finished dishes. The chapters of old cookery books that now hold my attention are those that detail how to make butter, how to brine meats, how to preserve, how to make sausages and pork products, how to pickle, how to make cheese – all those things, indeed, that the students of the proposed university of artisan food technicians are going to learn. If one became entirely self-sustaining in this way, short of going into farming, then one could impart real identity and character to the restaurant one was running. This is hardly anything new; indeed, it is perhaps the ineluctable tendency of British commercial cooking over the last couple of decades. So I hope that Paul Adams is reading this and that the Tollemache will be as famous for its pork pies, clotted cream and sausages as it will surely be for its excellent roasts and sautées.
The twenty-sixth Leeds Symposium on Food History and Traditions is announced for Saturday 16 April 2011. The subject is ‘Pigs and their Products – A Second Bite’ and it is being held at The Friends Meeting House, Friargate, York. The fee is £20 and enquiries should be addressed to C. Anne Wilson, c/o Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT. The talks include Laura Mason on Lard, Dr Steph Mastoris on Cultural Attitudes to Pig and Pork Products, Gillian Riley on Images of Pigs, Peter Brears on Pig Products and Puddings, and John Hudson on Pigs and his Childhood. The bring-your-own lunch is always worth a detour.
In the last issue I reported on my wife’s letter to The Guardian about the origins of prawn cocktail. Mary Williamson in Ontario has very kindly written with some more information from North America. She has unearthed a recipe from The Wimodausis Club Cook Book (3rd edition), Toronto 1934. This reads:
Prawn or Shrimp Cocktail Mrs A. L. Ellsworth 1. The making of the sauce. Take 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise sauce, same amount of tomato catsup, add a little cream, a few drops of Worcestershire sauce, squeeze a little lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, then mix well together. 2. Shell prawns or shrimps, chop a few lettuce leaves, and place same in a silver cup or glass placing the prawns on top, then pour the sauce over, sprinkle a little chopped parsley. 3. This should be served slightly iced, buttered brown bread served at the same time.
She then goes on to remind us of the Mariani Encylopedia entry which states that ‘“shrimp cocktail” is a variation on the “oyster cocktail”, created in about 1860 by a San Franciscan miner who dipped his oysters in ketchup.’ Her search of the New York Times archive found the only mention before 1930 was, ‘a series of ads for a brand of ketchup, and you simply dunked your shrimps in the ketchup to create a shrimp cocktail.’ She remarks that she does have Toronto recipes back to the early 1900s for oyster cocktail and crabmeat cocktail with the same sauce but the earliest printed recipe she has found is indeed the 1934 citation. In closing, she observes that in the late 1920s, ‘both of the big Toronto department stores were advertising shrimp cocktail to begin a midday dinner in their restaurants.’
Andrew Whitley has sent through his latest prospectus of bread courses for 2011. They address many aspects: Fundamental, Intermediate, Advanced; Baking for a Living; Skilling for Powerdown; French Breads; Sourdough for All; Italian Baking; Whole Grain Baking. These residential courses take place at Macbie Hill Farmhouse, Lamancha, West Lynton, Peebles, EH46 9AZ (www.breadmatters.com).
John Newton in New South Wales (firstname.lastname@example.org) is organizing a cheese tour of northern Spain to run from April 28th to May 9th, the highlight being the Trujillo Cheese Fair.
One of the most interesting reports on obesity in the last few months related to the increase in weight in adult males in England from 1986 to 2000. The average male Briton put on more than a stone (17 lb) in this period. The average female put on 12 lb. What I found most gripping about this were the reasons adduced. Approximately 7 lb of the male increase was due to a reduction in physical activity but more than 10 lb of the male and all of the female increase was explained by the fact that we are eating a larger number of calories. Interestingly, The Guardian interpreted that last statement as ‘more food’ but one has to presume that what they were really saying was more filth.
Epikur: Journal für Gastrosophie is an online journal from the University of Salzburg’s Interdisziplinäres Zentrum für Gastrosophie. It is a cracking read, some in English, and has lots of book reviews. For non-German readers there can be no better sport than putting the text into Google’s translation wizard and seeing what emerges.
FIRE AND KNIVES
I do not think I have mentioned this food quarterly which recently celebrated its first anniversary. Just above A5 in format, its editor is Tim Hayward. It costs £9.50 an issue, is printed in full colour but with very little in the way of gastroporn (I apologize for using this term). If you can’t find it in a bookshop go to www.fireandknives.com. Typographically it’s much more energetic and imaginative than PPC. How should one describe its contents? I think you’d call it middlebrow and that’s not a criticism. In other words it’s good food journalism, not snooty, full of curiosity and vim.
HESTON’S NEW RESTAURANT
The Jaines had another moment of glory in The Guardian’s correspondence columns this quarter, provoked this time by Heston Blumenthal’s new restaurant on Hyde Park which, I am sure you have all read, explores the heritage of English cookery. The excitement and thrill of such a development should not be ignored. Those who saw Blumenthal’s speculative feasts on television will realize that his take on a historical model will travel a considerable distance from the original, but no matter if the result is a better appreciation of where we came from. The press accounts of his first meals left the curious reader with more questions than answers, particularly Tristram Hunt’s story of his dinner in The Guardian. Tristram Hunt, now a labour MP, is an historian by trade (a biographer of Engels). His knowledge of food history, however, seemed a mite spotty. My published cavil was his description of a rhubarb dish. I quote, ‘there was always poached rhubarb (c 1590) – here, with rosehips and rhubarb sorbet. Sugar from north Africa was part of British cooking in the 16th century, but it was a relative rarity until the plantations of the Caribbean began to be exploited in the mid-17th century. In its absence, rhubarb served as a sweetener and Blumenthal has crafted a dish which exhilaratingly combines room temperature rhubarb with ice-cold sorbet.’ As any reader of Rhubarbaria will know, the first rhubarb plants weren’t grown until 40 years after Elizabeth’s death and weren’t really eaten until the next century. Any modern cook will know it ain’t no sweetener and there certainly isn’t a recipe dating from 1590. Another letter to the paper took Hunt to task for his reference to rosbifs. Hunt thought the term a late-eighteenth century French homage to our skill at roasting meat while more accurately it was an earlier insult. Gilly Lehmann contributed her tithe in an interesting message to me. She notes the roast quail offered at lunch times which, the menu states, is ‘inspired’ by A Boke of Cookrye, 1591. The recipe in question reads as follows: ‘Roste a Quaile.With his legs broken and knit one within an other.’ As she comments, ‘So much for history as inspiration.’ Hunt has another intriguing paragraph which reads like this: ‘Of course, the service system – of three courses presented and cleared away – is an anachronism. Tudor eating habits, for example, involved the use of a slice of bread as the vehicle for a range of dishes and sauces spread out across the table, each one scooped out with the diner’s little finger. Restaurants, as we know them, only began during the early 19th century in post-revolutionary France. Even then, the majority of diners ate their food with all courses on display. The Victorians were renowned for piling as much meat, fish, jellies, soups and vegetables on the table as possible. But I gallantly accept the compromise of the modern three courses.’ This contains so many misapprehensions and inaccuracies that there seems no point in further remark. It’s all very intriguing and one certainly shouldn’t take Mr Blumenthal to task for the fatuities of journalists. His cooking, by all accounts, is top notch.
There is an advertisement airing on British television that shows a bunch of children at play, as happy as happy can be save for their lack of kit: no hoops, no balls, no hoppers. A voiceover is instantly recognizable as Jamie Oliver, and we catch a brief glimpse of him mixing with the kids. His presence lends gravitas to the message of the ad: buy more from Sainsbury’s and the grocer will buy schools sports equipment on our behalf. The self-interest of doing good is a trope adored by supermarkets (Tesco did it with computers). Oliver has been the spokesman for Sainsbury since his first TV appearance as a chummy Essex boy who cooked enthusiastically. In the intervening years there has been a steady development towards some form of secular sainthood through a series of apparently selfless good deeds involving cooking and education (in the broadest sense). It would be difficult to take moral issue with any of them. And Oliver has shown himself to be far cannier, sympathetic and intelligent than one would ever have first expected. However, I cannot be the only one who finds his career disquieting, even sinister, while outwardly wholly admirable. No good deed is entirely without some pay-off in sustenance. Even hermits have to live, for death ends everything (save miracles beyond the grave). But Oliver has developed this aspect to a very high degree (£40 million at the last newspaper story). It is sometimes difficult to remember that each wizard wheeze of do-goodery he embarks upon earns him and his burgeoning team a shedload of money. This is sainthood as enterprise. While accepting that Oliver’s development may be entirely his own creation, I am struck by the tremendous synergy of his persona and the public image desired by Sainsbury’s, his sponsors. Is this the source of all his brilliant ideas for our improvement? Has each step in his career been crafted by the supermarket’s advertising agency to elevate him to this astonishing pre-eminence?
EVELYN’S NASTURTIUM CAPERS
The whisky and whiskey blogger Matthew Rowley (http://matthew-rowley.blogspot.com) is always worth reading, not least because he has been very kind about Prospect Books at one time or another. Most recently, he has been experimenting with making capers out of nasturtium pods under the guidance of John Evelyn’s Acetaria (and, more recently, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall). His forte is of course distilled spirits and you will learn much from reading his regular commentary.
FRANCE AND GM MAIZE
Peter Crosskey is fast becoming our French correspondent and sent me this story from his desk on an ever-interesting topic: ‘France has added 38 varieties of genetically modified (GM) maize to the national catalogue of approved seed varieties, allowing them to be sold but not, as yet, cultivated. Food and farming minister Bruno Le Maire signed a ministerial decree to this effect while tidying up administrative loose ends prior to going on holiday, a surprisingly effective subterfuge even by French standards. ‘The GM interlopers were spotted when decree AGRG1016697A surfaced in the Journal Officiel on July 25 2010, but the media response to the warnings from Greenpeace and family-farmers’ national body, the Confédération Paysanne (Conf’), was one of muted bemusement. To be sure, Agence France Presse syndicated a basic article, but the food and farming ministry in rue de Varenne could add little to the story during the holiday period. Indeed, the ministry’s initial startled response to enquiries (in fluent French) from the UK was to suggest contacting the environment ministry. ‘Predictably in all this, the running was being made by France’s seed industry, which earned €2.48 billion last year, of which €900 million came from export sales (42 per cent of that in maize and sorghum). A beleaguered ministry press officer eventually explained that the decree did not change the current status of GM maize crops, but that the minister’s decision was a required response to an injunction issued by France’s supreme constitutional court, the Conseil d’Etat, on behalf of the seed producers. ‘Director of the national seed trade association, the Groupement National Interprofessionnel des Semences et plants (GNIS), Philippe Gracien, cheerfully accuses France of “having one foot on the brake and one foot on the accelerator,” describing the government position as being a paradox. His members, however, will still need a green light for cultivation before growing seed crops on French territory, although that would not significantly affect the trade. ‘Le Maire’s decree bears a striking resemblance to a proposal published by the European Commission on July 15 2010, which in its current form would require member states to trade in GM stock, regardless of national policy. Proposals emanating from the Commission can take up to two years to be ratified, according to a spokesman in the health directorate, which now oversees the development and implementation of EU policy on GM products. ‘While Gracien is adamant that the timing of Le Maire’s decree is coincidental, the appearance of pre-emptive compliance is strong enough to merit the denial. In practice the Commission’s proposal has been given a real leg-up by the French minister, however contrite his signature on the decree. ‘The French action has, indeed, triggered a default EU-wide de facto acceptance of the GM maize varieties at seed list level, a necessary first step for their eventual full authorization. Regardless of French national policy on cultivation, French seed producers will be able to trade the listed varieties across the EU, wherever GM cultivation is authorized. ‘Conf’ national secretary Michel David denounces “the manoeuvres by the ministry of agriculture, which is bending over backwards to meet the wishes of the seed industry to kill off the moratorium on GM crops during the summer ceasefire.” The current administrative constraints are, he argues, no more solid than that and can be rewritten overnight if required. ‘The current decree authorized the sale of two T25 varieties, which are not subject to the 2008 French safeguard clause. They do, however, require an authorization for the use of companion herbicide glufosinate ammonium. David is concerned that while this toxic product is not allowed on maize crops yet, its current availability on the market for other uses (e.g. crop dessication) gives it rather more than a foot in the door. ‘Maize accounts for the bulk of crop irrigation in France. The wisdom of soaking a crop with water soluble toxins of any description has to be questioned, especially on light and porous soils. ‘As France drifts back to work after the long summer break, someone may think to challenge the administrative fait accompli. Whether or not the genie can be put back into the bottle, though, is another matter.’
THE OXFORD SYMPOSIUM
The next Symposium is 8–10 July, 2011 at St Catherine’s College, Oxford. The subject is ‘Celebration’, celebrating as they are their thirtieth anniversary. Registration and information are achieved and obtained from the website, www.oxfordsymposium.org.uk.
Jane’s daughter Caroline is working on an obituary of her mother and I hope that we will be able to run this in the next issue.
I print below the draft of a round-up review I submitted to The Guardian in December 2010 but the 1,000 words allotted me was insufficient to mention all the books I had gathered for consideration. So, after my submission, I have appended notes on other titles that I have been looking at. David Thompson, Thai Street Food (Conran Octopus, £40.00) René Redzepi, Noma. Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine (Phaidon, £35) F. Marian McNeill, The Scots Kitchen, its Traditions and Recipes (Birlinn, £20) Jamie Oliver, Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals (Penguin, £26) Nigel Slater, Tender. Volume II, A Cook’s Guide to the Fruit Garden (4th Estate, £30) Stephanie Alexander, Kitchen Garden Companion (Quadrille, £30) Skye Gingell, How I Cook (Quadrille, £25) Josceline Dimbleby, Orchards in the Oasis (Quadrille, £25). Mark Hix, Hix Oyster and Chop House (Quadrille, £25) Stephen Markwick and Fiona Beckett, A Well-Run Kitchen (Culinaria, £12) ‘No subject area excites designers and their cohorts to a higher state of ecstasy than cookery: full-page photographs on every spread, coloured type, textured paper, tricksy formats, and rubbish legibility leaves them trembling at their desks, but hinders the involvement of the reader with the writer. In the good old days, that’s what books were about: engagement, not presentation. The art of the author has been subverted. Which bright spark at Conran Octopus determined that David Thompson’s Thai Street Food (£40.00) would be so large that it would never fit a bookcase? That, when open, would cover most of the kitchen table on which you are meant to be pounding, chopping and blending? Who said you need poster-size photos of Thai street scenes to spark your imagination? How about a few well-chosen words? The book itself is first-class. Few people will cook much of what Thompson describes: the materials are hard to come by, the techniques are often not domestic, but the value of his record of a sub-culture (which, counter-intuitively, is of very recent origin) is great. ‘Meanwhile Phaidon have done their worst with René Redzepi’s Noma. Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine (£35). Undeniably handsome, it offers a stay-at-home glimpse of the intellectual underpinnings of this year’s world’s best restaurant. Chef Redzepi’s exploration of the true meaning of local food and sympathetic, seasonal construction of dishes will send many readers off to their markets, hedgerows and gardens, but don’t expect to get much culinary help from him. Once you’re through the introductory matter (not to be missed), there are a hundred full-page photographs (without captions) of bits and bobs, mood-enhancers, and finished dishes that give gastro-porn a bad name. After that, the recipes. Some you might try (just), others might inspire, others will have you searching shelves for sea lettuce, Cladonia lichen, Grise Bonne pears, birch wood chips or wild chervil. Still more will leave you looking for the Thermomix, the Pacojet and sundry other gadgets. A present for the man who likes a project. ‘These irritations are assuaged by the stand-out book of the season, for its virtues of no photographs, white paper and seemly typography. F. Marian McNeill’s The Scots Kitchen, its Traditions and Recipes (Birlinn, £20) is a classic from 1929, introduced and edited by the Scottish writer Catherine Brown. A hundred ways with a neep may excite a few and depress many, but McNeill’s use of quotation and description to portray a nation’s foodways is artful and delightful. The recipes, as used to be the way, are generally laconic and require a cook to use the brain. ‘That organ is not in overdrive when following Jamie Oliver’s instructions in Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals (Penguin, £26). It promises a revolutionary approach, but seems merely to suggest trolling the supermarket shelves to buy as much as possible half-prepared, pre-washed and processed. This should have been a promotional booklet from one of the big four, whose tyranny over us is close to Orwellian. ‘Not many books this season concentrate on a particular subject beyond the personality of their author. Thai streets and Danish restaurants apart, there are few reports from culinary frontiers (except curry) or explorations of specific foodstuffs. Two exceptions are garden-centred. Nigel Slater’s Tender. Volume II, A Cook’s Guide to the Fruit Garden (4th Estate, £30) carries on where his first volume covered vegetables. His recipes are really very good, and as this is fruit and nuts, there is welcome respite from the constant Mediterranean/Oriental tendency of most modern work. Then there is Stephanie Alexander from Australia’s Kitchen Garden Companion (Quadrille, £30) which does both fruit and veg., has growing instructions and comments in similar vein to Slater (but not so artistic), followed up by a heap of recipes (which are not so simple). Alexander’s previous Cook’s Companion has a very high status in our house for its scope and imaginative take on a thousand ingredients (she will always have something useful to say) so I am sure this will be used with pleasure. For ease and directness, however, Slater has the edge. ‘Cookbooks often work to two paradigms. One is the dedicated enthusiast, willing to shop, search, source, chop, sniff, wait, work and dream until the masterwork emerges to boundless admiration. The other, the slightly put-upon whose task is to produce sustenance each day, every day, week in, week out. The two may mingle in many combinations, but this year the second has been well served by inventive collections of creative yet practical dishes from the likes of Sarah Raven, Rose Prince and Diana Henry. In this vein, the chef Skye Gingell has written How I Cook (Quadrille, £25). The recipes are disarmingly simple, but extremely appetizing. And her practical advice is sound. A good book for the beginner with aspirations, dealing in clean and upfront flavours. Another general collection, this time of greater range and complexity, is Josceline Dimbleby’s Orchards in the Oasis (Quadrille, £25). This is just great. She has welded a memoir to a cookery book and it works. Her tone, thank the Lord, is unpresuming, but her life has been full of thrills, from an ambassadorial childhood in Syria and Peru, to motherhood in South Devon and travels hither and yon. She is an inveterate hoarder, so her scrapbooks have been raided for illustrations which, for once, are a delight. Long practice ensures that her recipes are sound. ‘I would like to rumble longer about soup books that have hopeless recipes for stock; pig books with no instructions for making bacon, sausages or hams; the decontexualization of Elizabeth David into a ‘best of…’ with full-page photography when you can buy the real thing unmediated from Grub Street; or the author who writes inanely, ‘I don’t really feel a kitchen is mine until I’ve cooked a chicken there’; but I’ll close with cheerful endorsement of Mark Hix’s Hix Oyster and Chop House (Quadrille, £25) which has bold and muscular recipes that will feed the inner man and, finally, Stephen Markwick and Fiona Beckett’s A Well-Run Kitchen (Culinaria, £12). At this point, I should declare a professional interest, we used to work together. Markwick has fed Bristol for upwards of twenty years, most recently at his restaurant Culinaria, from where you can buy this book (www.culinariabristol.co.uk). The cooking comes out of Elizabeth David via George Perry-Smith and Joyce Molyneux. Everyone can cook them, and they result in much admiration and much happiness. You can’t ask for more.’ The Great British Book of Baking, recipes by Linda Collister (Michael Joseph, £20). This is the book of the television series but the programme-makers have deputed the excellent, and very sound, Linda Collister to provide clear and helpful recipes of everything baked. On the aesthetic front, it is a serious error, but the recipes are indeed good. Carol Wilson and Christopher Trotter, The Whole Hog (Pavillion, £25). It is quite good to see a whole British book devoted to the pig, and there is quite a lot of general information about the various types of sausage, bacon, ham and so on. The recipes, too, range fairly widely from Burma to Spain to Germany, Brazil and Britain. But the book is strangely deracinated because there’s little exploration of British pork culture. There are no instructions on making sausages or any form of curing, be it bacon or ham. There’s just a quick tour of the supermarket shelves. There is a very slight exploration of paté, terrine and pork pie, and more space is given to exotic pork stews from overseas. Maybe this is a mirror of our culture, but I feel an opportunity has been missed. Stevie Parle, Real Food from Near and Far (Quadrille, £14.99). Alice Hart, Alice’s Cook Book (Quadrille, £14.99). Full marks to Quadrille (which has apparently taken over big time as the largest trade cookery publisher, certainly the greatest number of titles this season), for this pair of books which initiate their ‘New Voices in Food’ series. It is difficult to gain an audience if you are a novice, and not on television. Stevie Parle is chef at The Dock Kitchen in Portobello and a leader in the pop-up restaurant movement – deeply trendy. Alice Hart, is another pop-up queen, apparently a neuro-scientist as well as the youngest ever food-editor of Waitrose Food Illustrated. I would advise you not to read her acknowledgements which are excruciating. Her recipes are of our time and no worse for that. Stevie Parle’s recipes are a bit more exotic and show a long familiarity with points east of India. I was surprised to see that he was bottling without sterilization (I always thought this a direct route to botulism) and I was intrigued to find his constant reiteration of the advice to get rid of the ‘nasty green sprout’ in your garlic clove. Why were all his garlic cloves sprouting? He goes on and on about it. But I did find his book quite invigorating. Harold McGee, Keys to Good Cooking (Hodder & Stoughton, £25). In order to solve my botulism query, I referred to McGee’s new book. He confirms it. And, what’s more, he advises of the dangers of botulism if you merely put herbs in oil and leave them in your warm kitchen. Or, perhaps (though he doesn’t mention this specifically), chillies in oil. Be warned. McGee’s Keys is a sort of half-way house to his big one On Food & Cooking. Put simply, it is 500 pages of short statements about one fact or another relating to cooking, classified by commodity cooked or equipment employed. The short, sharp statements tend to the admonitory and I am not quite sure that the reader is not better advised to read the more discursive big one so that he or she can roll the facts around the mouth and brain before extracting the kernel of technical truth that has been set down on paper in this present book. It’s all quite bald. And the charm of McGee is the context. Low marks to Hodder for rubbish production. Nigella Lawson, Kitchen (Chatto & Windus, £26). It’s difficult to write about Kitchen and keep one’s cool. Nigella Lawson does push the boundaries and seems largely a parody. It was she, indeed, who wrote the comment quoted in The Guardian above, ‘I don’t really feel a kitchen is mine until I’ve cooked a chicken there.’ One’s emotional beef about the book is how she panders to the aspiring host/hostess with her drop-in remarks about a life accessible to the upper one per cent of the population. We did cook her South Indian vegetable curry the other night and it was modestly OK, though the quantities were not quite right. She seems to have a fixation with garlic oil in this book. I am still trying to work out what it is, she never explains, but she seems to deploy it in every savoury dish. I think the tone of her writing is now so displeasing that I would rather take what are no more than modern mainstream recipes from some other source. Annie Bell, Soup, Glorious Soup (Kyle Cathie, £14.99) Annie Bell is usually the tops with the Jaines and other friends. Her Gorgeous series, with which this is not quite uniform, is a firm favourite. This new title might be called ‘Soup and Snacks’ for she has not stinted in ideas and recipes for little nibbles to go with the bowl, elevating a first course into a supper or lunch. Nor has she stopped at soup, progressing here and there to bigger propositions such as Pot au feu or Bourride. I was chiefly intrigued by why the stock recipes were so poor and so few, given what we have been told by chefs like Raymond Blanc about the importance of accurate stock-making; nor was there an exploration of soup-making the Thomas Keller way, capturing the essence of the vegetable without the mediation of stock or other flavours. Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, Leon. Naturally Fast Food Book 2 (Conran Octopus, £20) The helter-skelter design, breathless and slightly bumptious prose, and fast, furious pace appeals to a younger set than here at home in Allaleigh. Many of the recipes are very simple, many wholesome. You may require a strong, long drink after exposing your eyes to its pages for any time at all. But give it to the kids. Ladurée, Sucré, the Recipes (Scriptum Editions, £28) The recipes are in fact composed by Philippe Andrieu. I saw the French edition at the Gourmand book show in Paris last winter. Everyone was looking in wonder. It is, of course, the silliest of cookbooks. The cardboard box, apparently of macaroons, contains a small-format book resplendent with gilt edges and bound in the palest eau-de-nil suede. What did I do? I unwrapped it with dusty, charcoaled hands. The second-hand value vanished in a trice. As it would if you thought to use it in a kitchen. The recipes can be recommended for inspection, although on trying the very simplest (hot chocolate, not a lot can go wrong there) the author managed two statements or instructions that made no sense. They go from the many-layered cakes and jellies, to the luxurious staples of French sweet life, to their trademark macaroons. Perhaps they should produce a usable paperback. It is without doubt a perfect gift for an ornamental someone. Following the sweet vein, Claire Ptak has published The Whoopie Pie Book (Square Peg, £15). Whoopie pies seem to be the new version of cupcakes. Shall we say that they are a cupcake-type dough baked as soft cookies which then sandwich an indescribably over-the-top cream filling. The story would appear to be that the Amish invented them as a transportable lunchbox item, the recipients responding ‘to finding these special treats in their lunches with a resounding “Whoopie!”’ There’s not a lot more to say, most of the recipes are for the sandwich filling which has come a long way since my mother would put a bit of sugar and butter together. A proper sort of pie is described by Tom Bridge in Pie Society, Traditional Savoury Pies, Pasties and Puddings from around the British Isles (Palatyne, £14.99). Tom Bridge is a favoured person because he wrote with Colin Cooper English about our favourite nineteenth-century author, Dr Kitchiner. You’ll have to cope with a lot of north country cheerfulness and the odd pun, but you will get a useful collection of English pies. Whether you like them is another matter altogether. With At Elizabeth David’s Table compiled by Jill Norman (Michael Joseph, £25), we finally have a ‘best of…’ of an author who we never thought would succumb to such treatment. The question of course is, Would Elizabeth David embrace the full-page photographic treatment of the modern recipe book? The typography is certainly spacious and elegant, the photographs are handsome but entirely supererogatory. But as we now know, people really want photographs. How do we know, you may ask. My answer would be that people repeatedly tell me this and, what’s more, an interesting lady called Samantha Bilton sent me the conclusions of her MA dissertation at the University of Brighton on cookery books and their influence (this may be published in either this issue or the next issue of PPC). She conducted various focus group enquiries, one of the conclusions of which was, ‘This study has shown that the importance of photographs in cookbooks cannot be underestimated (Segers, 2005; Dahl and Moreau, 2007). They are an important source of inspiration. All of the domestic cooks in the focus groups like to see a photograph of the dish they are preparing (irrespective of their confidence level). As RM noted “you kind of expect every recipe to be a full-page porn shot”. Some focus group participants expressed the enjoyment they get from looking at cookbooks such as Clare (FG3) who said she likes “foraging” for recipes. Perhaps then O’Neill (2003) and Magee’s (2007) claims that food photography in cookbooks and food magazines is like pornography is justified. Maybe domestic cooks do enjoy looking at pictures of food without getting their hands dirty.’ The question which I cannot answer relates to chickens and eggs. Do cookery-book readers demand photographs because that is what they have been fed or were the photographs the consequence of demand? The interesting thing about the book itself is that it decontextualizes the author. I did look quite hard for evidence of tinkering with her deathless prose and changes seem to be limited to the ordering of paragraphs so that the recipes can stand alone (I did however find the conversion of one teaspoon into a tablespoon measure and in another instance, a bizarre piece of cutlery called a dessert teaspoon when in fact they meant dessertspoon). Will this bring new people to Elizabeth David? Would they be better served by a more handsome hardback edition of all her works than is currently available, so that neophytes are converted to her worship? It has been a matter of some debate in our household as to how many books of curry recipes the normal English family might require. It’s not that we don’t like curry, it’s just how many different curries do you want to cook? Would it not be simpler to go to a good restaurant and let them take the strain? Phaidon might have an inkling of this dilemma as they subtitle India Cook Book written by Pushpesh Pant (£29.95) ‘The only book on Indian food you’ll ever need’. It certainly covers the subject with a thousand recipes for everything from Red Amaranthus Leaves to Lamb Ribs in Sauce to Aubergine Discs with Spiced Lentil and Bean Topping. I will have to admit right away that I have not yet tried one of the recipes but perhaps next year it’s goodbye Madhur Jaffrey, hello Pushpesh Pant. Phaidon has even given us a little ornamental shopping bag so we can go to the spice bazaar proclaiming our intentions to the world. From the house of Murdoch has arrived another weighty brick of a book. Stéphane Reynaud’s 365 good reasons to sit down to eat (£30). Reynaud is unstoppable, his publisher in France (Hachette) must be quite breathless keeping up. This is certainly a book with page after page of photographs and a very large number of recipes. Because it is arranged by time, not type, it is not easy to run through for ideas, but ideas there are aplenty. This seems to me the chief quality of Reynaud: he renews your enthusiasm for French bourgeois cooking by a few happy tweaks and up-to-date angles. Rather like his last book, Rôtis, some of his cooking times do seem deeply suspect. He roasts a whole chicken, for example, which has been slathered in an uncooked mushroom-shallot mixture in a cool oven (Gas 3) for one hour. He takes a very large rack of lamb; he doesn’t sear it first but only roasts it for fifteen minutes in a moderate oven (Gas 4). The accompanying photograph does not show red raw cutlets though I think it should. So it seems to me a book to plunder for thoughts more than anything else. Ibn Razīn al-Tugībī: Relieves de las mesas, acerca de las delicias de la comida y los diferentes platos (Fudālat al-Hiwān Fī Tayyibat Al-Taām Wa-l-Alwān). Introduction, translation and notes by Manuela Marín: Ediciones Trea, S.L., 2009, softback: €25. Sources for the growing body of work on Spain’s medieval Islamic food culture are many and varied. Archaeologists’ finds have shaped exhibitions and catalogues which vividly evoke farming, dining and kitchen work back to the tenth century. New translations of poetry and municipal laws, agricultural and dietetic treatises have given us varied snapshots of later al-Andalus’s food culture. Market inspectors’ manuals (hisbas) have thrown up rich pickings on everyday city life. The evidence thins later: the Muslims who remained after the Christian conquest, the Moriscos, began to keep their everyday ways behind closed doors. But there are interesting glimpses through fiction – and its reinterpretation – as well as local historical and archaeological studies down to the 1609–14 expulsion. What, though, of recipes? Until last year we had only one main published source for the entire period: the Kitāb al-Tabīh fī –Magrib wa-l-Andalus, a thirteenth-century collage, written in different hands, of over 500 recipes drawn from the cookery of the wealthy urban classes. First published in Spanish in 1966 (reissued in 2005) and in English in 1987, its importance within Spanish studies of Islamic food culture is fundamental. (I have left aside here the debate about Ambrosio Huici Miranda’s 1960s Spanish interpretation, especially since it is still the only version in print.While the queries raised by Charles Perry in his 1987 edition are valid, it is worth remembering Huici Miranda was working privately in the 1960s within the constraints of Franco’s dictatorship.) Against this backdrop, the new translation of a second cookery manuscript into Spanish by eminent Arabist Manuela Marín is exciting news. Ibn Razīn, the author of the Fudālat, as it is known, was writing in Algeria in the mid-thirteenth century at the end of a life caught up in the Islamic diaspora from Spain. His edited gastronome’s vision is, then, very different from the slightly random feel of the Kitāb. ‘For my part I have found myself partial to andalusí food,’ he wrote, ‘and proclaim in this chapter, and others related to it, that the andalusís are people of devotion and progress, despite having arrived late at culinary invention.’ After knocking off a quick explanation for the andalusís’ late arrival on the food scene and his own aversion to ‘oriental’ cookery – I won’t reveal that here – he went on to lay out his book’s structure: twelve sections tidily grouping over 400 recipes by their main ingredient. The opening is unusual: a long section of a hundred grain-based dishes made with fine and course wheat, millet and rice flour, plus couscous and noodles. So, too, is a brief section on beef and a three-recipe chapter on locusts, crayfish and snails. There are no drinks, sherberts or medicinal recipes, but fourteen recipes for almori, the fermented flavouring sauce, and eight for soaps. Manuela Marín, who has written extensively on medieval Muslim food, adds three excellent introductory chapters and over 350 footnotes, some of which, like those on wild asparagus and Berber san-hāgī recipes, are neat short stories in themselves. What, then, does the Fudālat give us? First, the writing is a pleasure to read. Whether its sparkle is entirely that of Ibn Razīn, who studied Koranic readings, poetry and history before gastronomy, is unclear. Some may lie in the translation. It has a certain Andalusian air, one clause elegantly attached to the other. For mutton with almonds: ‘The sweet skinned almonds, washed in cold water, and dried in a cloth, are pounded in a lean wooden mortar until the dough has the consistency of marrow.’ In a dish for a fat hen: ‘Put it whole in a new pot without any cracks and add two spoonfuls of honey dissolved in rose water, three spoonfuls of olive oil, salt in proportion, pepper, skinned almonds and a little water.’ Many recipes end with the phrase ‘si Dios Altísimo quiere’, which are still dropped into everyday conversation in the south in a modern shorthand - as ‘si Dios quiere’, or if God so wishes – reflecting the south’s graceful fatalism. The book has a multitude of detail on themes of specialist interest from dietetics, aesthetics and the continuity and evolution of dishes over time to aphrodisiac food, the comparative readings of dishes, and so on. Marín has no space to gloss these in full, but thanks to the clarity of the text the information is easily available to readers. For the same reason, there is good cooking here too. Ibn Razīn describes himself as an ‘exhaustive’ cook and he also describes ingredients, utensils, cooking method and heat with great precision. Recipes like spiced white cheese and egg pie with coriander juice, various of the nearly two dozen aubergine dishes, marinated fresh tuna – specifically, not dried or salted – fish baked in salt on a tile, lime or mint vinegar, milk and cane-sugar toffees all look delicious and possible. One theme that cannot be missed is the subtle mapping of the cooking. Ibn Razīn links rice dishes to ‘my city, Murcia, or Valencia’; he identifies lamb cooked with fresh white cheese as an itinerant shepherds’ dish; he groups al-sanhāgī dishes named after the Berber Sanhaja peoples and so on. Yet, for all that, what he wants to drive home is the idea of al-Andalus as a culinary territory. Marín instead stresses how much is shared by the eastern and western traditions, but she does pick out certain distinguishing marks: the generous quantities of saffron; the thick baked egg toppings; the honeyed pastries; and, most important, the olive oil which flows through 96 per cent of the recipes. The opening chapter on grains is also thought-provoking. Was it an inclusive gesture to draw in country cooking from the lush Segura valley where Ibn Razīn grew up? The geography here, then, is one of cities, sierras, paths, African homes, layered shadows from the past. Ibn Razīn’s Andalusia is, like so many later sketches of it, a country of the mind. Ibn Razīn’s wandering life helps explain that. Born and brought up in Murcia, to the north-east of Andalusia, first in the country then in the city, he moved on to North Africa, first to Ceuta – still a Spanish province – then to Tunis and finally Algeria. Marín evokes his journeying as an uneasy search for a resting place and livelihood that used his full talents. Was the book, then, driven by nostalgia, as he suggests, or was it a commission designed, like others, to give guidelines to the Almohad dynasty’s courtly elites which represented their power? Marín leaves the question floating tantalizingly in the air. A postscript: this is one of more than forty books on food culture from independent Asturian publisher Trea, who launched in 2006. Many titles are of great interest though almost all, like this one, have been unheralded on home ground. Vicky Hayward John Varriano: Tastes and Temptations: Food and Art in Renaissance Italy: Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press 2009, hardcover: ISBN 9780520259041: 259 pp., notes, index and illustrations, £20.95. John Varriano leaves no text unread, no avenue unexplored, in this meticulously researched and comprehensive study of food and art in Renaissance Italy, a period he stretches from the fourteenth century until well into the seventeenth, while the geographic territory also includes Spain. The title might suggest a study of food as represented in Renaissance art, from still lifes to depictions of the Last Supper, and this is indeed a worthy subject; but Varriano extends the theme to cover the whole domain where food and art intersect, comparing the skills and status of cooks and painters, speculating on regional tastes in both food and art and discussing the role of foodstuffs in the production of art. The most solid and research-dense chapters, however, are those devoted to ‘Images of Food in Art’, the first of which describes the evolution of still lifes from the ancient Greek xenia, realistic depictions of foods sent by hosts to their guests. Renaissance still-life paintings also aimed at realism, sometimes a warts-and-all hyperrealism, in later years overlaid with erotic allusions. In contrast, scenes of the Last Supper and paintings of other religious themes, such as the Supper at Emmaus, were often more concerned with symbolic values and less with the actual details of what might have been eaten. Varriano notes that Last Supper paintings were often intended for monastery refectories, though he unaccountably fails to remark that this echoes the placement of xenia-like frescoes in the triclinium of a Roman villa. The materiality of food as the medium of art is examined in the final chapter which describes the edible table decorations, trionfi, designed to enhance the reputation of the host and the splendour of the occasion. It might be a mistake to call them edible, for although they were fashioned from sugar, marzipan, pastry, jellies and other foods they were not necessarily intended to be eaten. In the creation of these extravagances, cooks were undoubtedly – at least from the viewpoint of the twenty-first century – the equal of artists though at the time, Varriano suggests, cooks in general were considered tradesmen, without the same opportunities for artistic self-expression. Varriano’s enthusiasm for his subject and for his research takes him far beyond the conventional resources of art history and culinary history; bawdy verse, recent discoveries in neuroscience and the iconography of tarot cards all inform and enrich his text. Nevertheless, there are times when his hypothetical speculations seem to me to go just a little bit too far, as when he proposes that Venetian preferences for rich, vivid hues in works of art paralleled their taste for ‘food embellished with colourful spices’ and presented in a manner to please the eye (p. 56), or when he assumes that the miniscule four-legged carcase depicted in Duccio’s Last Supper of the early fourteenth century (p. 98) is a roast suckling pig which just might have been prepared in a way similar to that detailed in a much later recipe by Maestro Martino. And it would have been more pertinent to discuss preferred ways of cooking poultry in the sixteenth century than give a modernized version of a contemporary recipe to illustrate the way Caravaggio’s bird (p. 110) might have been cooked (incidentally, it might have been chicken rather than guinea hen; black-legged breeds are not uncommon). Minor quibbles aside, Varriano’s highly original approach – ‘to consider the interplay of the eye and the palate’ – results in a thoroughly satisfying and impeccably documented book which demonstrates how culinary history and art history can illuminate our understanding of past societies and cultures. Barbara Santich The Good Wife’s Guide: Le Ménagier de Paris: A Medieval Household Book, translated, with critical introduction, by Gina L. Greco and Christine M. Rose (Ithaca and New York: Cornell University Press, 2009), xii, 367. ISBN 9780801474743, $24.95. In the Paris of the late thirteenth-century a well-to-do bourgeois compiled a household manual for his teenage wife, or so the authorial fiction would have it. Important sections are devoted to prayers, suitable dress and appearance in public, attendance at mass, confession, the vices and virtues, and chastity and devotion to one’s husband. This interplay between personal, private, and public yields to illlustrative stories, of the long-suffering Griselda and of Melibee. On a nearly unconscious basis of sexism if not explicit misogyny, the self-righteous husband nonetheless comes across as caring and not without insights into youthful behaviour. He even expects his wife to outlive him and enter into a second union. Lucky the man who marries my wife! More immediately practical sections are given over to horticulture – the garden in the courtyard – to hawking, especially the care of young birds, and to menus for banquets and recipes. This latter section occupies almost 90 pages in the present accurate and readable translation by Greco and Rose. Although recipes are lightly annotated to explain difficult terms, there is no adaptation to a modern kitchen. Devotees of medieval cuisine will recognize the techniques for making salt pork and cod palatable, the use of verjuice in sauces, bread passed through a strainer as a thickener, and the – to our tastes – heavy reliance on spices and glazes. But there are also interesting insights into the various Paris markets and their stock in trade, on butchering practices, on calculating the quantities of food needed for large gatherings. Pottages, soups, sauces, and pasties are prominent and, naturally, menu planning must take into account the many ‘fish days’ of the ecclesiastical calendar. A very wide range of foodstuffs is reviewed in these recipes, although most are conditioned by the limited preservation techniques of the era. On the other hand, Parisians enjoyed ‘fresh’ fresh-water fish, not always within general range today. Food for convalescents and invalids is also reviewed. The book concludes with a helpful glossary of (mostly) original French terms, a bibliography, and index with cross-references to recipes. Many readers will be familiar with Taillevent’s Viandier. Le Ménagier de Paris has many of the same menus and recipes but places them – moralizing aside – in the fully credible environment of a late thirteenth-century household. William Sayers The Astronaut’s Cookbook. Tales, Recipes and More; Charles T. Bourland & Gregory Vogt; New York: Springer; 212 pages; colour illustrations; p/b; $29.95. This book examines space food and its history in the form of a cookbook, and is packed with genuinely fascinating facts and mostly unusable recipes. Perhaps because it is co-authored by one of the leading experts on space food development since the late 1960s and a writer of text books, the tone is curious: sometimes aimed at junior schoolchildren, sometimes detail-oriented adults, sometimes the joke-book market. It’s a strange combination. However, if you want to feel like an Apollo astronaut by making cold instant mashed potatoes in a ziplock bag, or learn the truth about crumbs in space, this is the recipe book for you. Jane Levi Hamitbah Hatemani (Yemenite Jewish Cooking), by Sue Larkey; published, as yet, only in Hebrew in Israel. The story of the Yemenite Jews is full of hardships and romance. The Jewish community in Yemen began, according to tradition with the visit of the Queen of Sheba to the wise King Solomon. The community survived the centuries, mostly cut off from the rest of the world, so that some of their food vocabulary faithfully recorded by Sue Larkey goes back to late antique Talmudic roots: dukkeh, the Yemenite haroset used on Passover and made with dates, sesame nuts and spices, and hamireh, the leavened dough. With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the loss of traditional jobs because of industrial imports, the Yemenite Jewish community left en masse for Israel in the 1950s, walking to Aden. From there an airlift was organized for them, which many saw as a fulfilment of the biblical prophecy about the ingathering of the exiles ‘on eagles’ wings.’ In Israel they lived in harsh conditions to begin with, but in homogeneous communities. Thus they were able to preserve many of their traditions – Yemenite silversmiths still use ancient methods – and especially their food. Of course many things were different in this move from a medieval to a modern culture – meat was fatter, flour could be bought instead of ground, while the use of electricity instead of charcoal, they claimed, changed the taste of many foods. Ancient Yemen was on the spice route, and the Jews developed their own mixes, which have stayed the same: hawaij for coffee still uses ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom, while hawaij for soup uses ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and cumin, and sometimes coriander. Coffee on the other hand was locally grown: we are all familiar with the name of the port of Mocca which has given its name to a type of coffee. But not everyone could afford fine coffee, and to this day the Yemenite Jews still drink jishr, made out of the husks of the coffee bean. Sue Larkey has brought us this story in detail: beginning from a study of the bread foods: lahouh, the bubbly yeast pancakes that look like large muffins; the rosettes of kubbaneh kept hot in a special pot all Friday night and eaten on the Sabbath morning; sabbayeh with spices and honey. One of the changes in food habits after immigration to Israel was the extensive use of margarine because of its convenience, as Jewish law forbids using butter, a milk food, together with meat. Back in the Yemen they never ate meat at the same meal as kubaneh, because this was made with samneh, clarified butter. So the kubbaneh I buy in the Yemenite market is, sadly, made with margarine. Sue Larkey, however, goes back to the original practices, and reveals to us the joys of kubbaneh and sabbaye made with butter. Sabbaye is a festive food, and Sue Larkey describes for us the feasts of the Jewish year with their respective foods, as well as the foods associated with the events of the life-cycle: wedding celebrations with all their colourful jewellery, and the lentils and soup traditionally used to comfort mourners. She also introduces her reader to the favourite Yemenite relish, the pungent hilbe, made of ground and soaked fenugreek seeds beaten to a foam with a spoon or by hand, and added to soup or eaten with pitta. I was unfamiliar with her very simple recipe, with just the seeds, water and salt. I am more familiar with one that adds ground chillis and a variety of small leeks called qarrat. So I went to talk to my Yemenite daughter-in-law’s grandmother, who left the Yemen as a girl of 12. She confirmed Larkey’s recipe as coming from a different area of Yemen. She and her Israeli-born daughter pored over the book, its pictures and recipes, with delight. ‘That is just how I make my soup’ said Batya. There could not be a better recommendation. Susan Weingarten Sue Shephard: The Surprising Life of Constance Spry: Macmillan 2010, 350 pp., hardback, £18.99 This well-researched, intriguing and very readable biography is apty titled ‘The surprising life’ of its subject. Remembered today as an innovative flower arranger and joint-author of a well-received cookery and household manual, Constance Spry had a multi-faceted life, moving from humble origins in Derby, via Ireland, to retailing and socializing in Mayfair. Inspired by her father’s career, which had advanced through part-time study, application and by making the most of his professional contacts, Constance, having studied to be a health lecturer, found herself in the world of Lady Aberdeen, wife of the Viceroy, as a member of her Phoenix health caravan, before she spectacularly changed her life by a disastrous marriage. Yet it seems to have been her reaction to this which turned her in the direction her life would be known for, taking up gardening and housekeeping with enthusiasm, strongly influenced by Mrs Searle’s Pot-pourri from a Surrey Garden (1898). The Great War brought her back into public activity, with the Red Cross and VAD in Dublin and then in England, after she had left her marriage. She was appointed first as a welfare officer in a Barrow-in-Furness works, then transferred to higher responsibilities in London, where she worked for Henry Spry, with whom her life would henceforth be linked (though apparently never in marriage). Constance was next appointed headmistress of an east London Day Continuation School, but seizing the opportunities presented by colleagues who became friends and a network extending to their friends and acquaintances, she moved step-by-step into a new life as a floral designer. Meeting Sidney Bernstein, the cinema promoter, and the theatre designer Norman Wilkinson led to contracts for floral displays in Granada cinemas and Atkinsons’ perfumery, then to individual commissions for the rich and famous who shared or appreciated her taste. She also met at this time, through one of her staff, Rosemary Hume, a diploma holder from the Cordon Bleu School, and friendship and eventually professional partnership followed. A decade of hectic activity in flower-arranging inevitably diminished with the Second World War. Such edibles as red kale, green tomatoes, rhubarb and artichokes had featured in her grand designs, but it was in the war that Constance turned to food as a subject in its own right. She embarked on ‘a food revolution’, her enthusiasm producing Come into the Garden, Cook in 1942, concentrating on vegetables and what we now know as foraging, a throwback to her childhood experience. After the war the floral business gradually revived and Constance and Rosemary Hume reopened and merged their Cordon Bleu Cooking and Flower Schools, relocating to Winkfield Place between Windsor and Ascot. There were divergent views on the quality of both students and instruction, but the establishment reached a high point with the provision of both floral decorations and catering for the Coronation in 1952. Winkfield produced the famous ‘Coronation Chicken’ and Shephard explains the physical and economic constraints which made this an appropriate dish for the occasion. Four years later The Constance Spry Cookery Book appeared as the apotheosis of the long friendship and collaboration between Constance and Rosemary. The food historian might readily sacrifice some of the lengthy, though entertaining, description of high society for more description and analysis of the Cookery Book, but for a sympathetic account of a complex woman, who put flowers and food into new perspectives, they need look no further. Richard Storey What Matters, Wendell Berry; Counterpoint; 256 pages, p/b; ISBN 978-1-58243-606-7; $14.95. To anyone who has not already come across the writings of Kentucky farmer Wendell Berry, I can only urge them to put everything else on hold and read his latest collection of essays. It should be required reading for anyone who has ever bought food at any point in his or her life or might ever do so at some point in the future. For anyone with one iota of sensitivity towards food production, the sense of homecoming that his writing induces is almost tangible. The more so since the work of Wendell Berry, an ardent but reasoning locavore for over half a century, will come as a revelation to anyone who has not already discovered his powerful analysis of the damage that is being wreaked on food production the world over by corporate greed. Like the eighteenth-century physiocrats, Berry contends that economic value can only arise from the land. Unlike these precursors of modern economics, Berry’s vision is populist, based on that rare commodity, common sense. It flows from a logical view of man as a species within the natural order rather than master of a world of which he is singularly ignorant. Berry describes eating as an ‘agricultural act’ at regular intervals in his writing. He develops the idea in his 1985 essay A Nation Rich In Natural Resources, arguing that good food cannot arise without good soil, any more than good soil can exist without good farming, which in turn cannot exist without a good culture that maintains natural sources. The corporate machine, he warns, drains the value of anything it can wrest from the earth: soil fertility, fossil fuels, clean water, nothing is sacred. That, in fact, is part of the strength in Berry’s argument against a narrowly specialized scientific approach that discards human values. By its own definitions, science cannot objectively attribute anything to social values, least of all basic respect. It is the knowing incompleteness implicit in a scientific view of the world that makes it so inadequate for understanding the complexity of the real world. This is in fact a plea for more humility on the part of science, which needs to be as locally focussed as the people it is nominally paid to serve. Like Sir Albert Howard, whose work continues to inspire him, Berry believes that the intelligent application of science depends on understanding the local characteristics of a problem rather than applying a profitable but ill-fitting and supposedly universal solution. The global scale of the combined economic crises and the lack of any meaningful international or national response to any of them has propelled Wendell Berry to rise and defend his vision for a truly sustainable local economy that has shaped and supported his life. As what Berry calls ‘the paper economy’ crumbles into oblivion, now is the time to take localized sustainable alternatives seriously, because it is unlikely that there will be much else left to turn to. Peter Crosskey As is so often the case, there are many more books for review than space to review them: Henry Notaker’s exciting new bibliography of early cookbooks, as well as the new history of milk by Peter Atkins, discussion of Carolyn Steedman’s work on servants in eighteenth-century England, the new facsimile from Pickering & Chatto on tea, and Sandra Sherman’s new work on the eighteenth-century cookery book.
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