PPC 095 (April 2012)
PPC 95 (April 2012)
NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
JAN GROSS was a solicitor and lives in Melbourne. She has recently published Journey Round my Family, a fictional memoir, and Jam Dreaming, a novel, with Sid Harta in Melbourne. CHARLES PERRY is a journalist and writer on food; he lives in California. His particular area of interest is medieval Arab cookery; see the book of that title published by Prospect, with many of his deathless contributions. BETINA PIQUERAS-FISZMAN is a researcher at the Crossmodal Research Laboratory in the Department of Experimental Psychology at Oxford. She undertook her postgraduate research at the Universitat Politècnica de València. CHARLES SPENCE is Professor of Experimental Psychology and a fellow of Somerville College. His publications in the field are manifold. He is the director of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory. LAYINKA SWINBURNE is a doctor in Leeds and researches into both domestic and medical history and those places where they intersect, particularly early manuscripts of receipts. DAVID S. WALDDON lectures on food history as well as cooking medieval and Renaissance banquets in the north-western states of America. His website www.vastrepast.net will give you full information on his many activities.
It is with much sadness that we record the death of Mary Prior on 7 December last year. Martin Dodsworth contributed an obituary to the Guardian which I reproduce below:
In my friend Mary Prior’s first book, Fisher Row (1982), a photograph shows ‘Mrs Rose Skinner and Miss Jean Humphries emptying a boat at Juxon Street, 1956’. They are working hard shovelling coal. The picture sums up her concerns as a historian – the lives of working people and of ordinary women. Mary, who has died aged 89, is best known for the ground-breaking Women in English Society 1500–1800 (1986) which she edited. Hitherto most women’s history had been concerned with moneyed people or those who had been in trouble with the law. Mary and her colleagues worked patiently in archives to reconstruct the unsensational lives of female traders, bishops’ wives, nursing mothers and others whom history had largely forgotten. In 2010 the journal Women’s History dedicated an entire issue in her honour. Mary became a historian in mid-life. She was a New Zealander, born of missionary parents in China. In the early 1940s she studied at Otago University in Dunedin, met the gifted logician Arthur Prior (later to teach at Christchurch University) and married him. The family eventually moved to Britain, first to Manchester, then, in 1965, to Oxford, where Arthur was fellow at Balliol College. He died in 1969. Mary became a doctoral student at St Hilda’s, supervised by Joan Thirsk; the thesis became Fisher Row. The book studies a small community of river and canal people over a 400-year period; tracing change through generations of the same families in eloquently simple prose, as much sociology as history. She came to know and win the respect of descendants of several of those families. She was a small, unassuming figure, of quiet determination and high principle. This is reflected in Rhubarbaria: Recipes for Rhubarb (2009), one of the few English cookery books to have been translated into French. Rhubarb was part of her New Zealand childhood, and part, too, of her life in Shetland, which she visited every summer from Oxford. But the other thing about rhubarb was that anyone could grow it. It was honest stuff, and didn’t deserve the condescension with which it was often treated – like women, like working people. She is survived by her children, Martin and Ann.
†CONSTANCE B. HIEATT
It is with great regret that I report the death of this giant of medieval culinary history. Her last book was Cocatrice and Lampray Hay, the manuscript of which she delivered in a timely and error-free manner. When it was first mooted, I had warned her of a certain hesitation between delivery and appearance in print, but it was with some alarm that I received my first intimation that she was not in the best of health. In the event, she saw everything but the finished volume. I hope she would have been pleased. As I write, there is a further manuscript in preparation (and now in the capable hands of her sister Ellen Nodelman) which comprises a digest of all known English medieval recipes. I give below an edited text of the obituary notice issued by her family, although I am sure there will be many more in journals forthcoming.
Constance Bartlett Hieatt died at her home in Essex, CT, on December 29, 2011. A professor of English, a medieval scholar and a pioneer in the field of medieval cookery, Dr Hieatt moved back to Connecticut, where she had spent her childhood summers, upon her retirement, as Professor Emeritus, from the University of Western Ontario. Dr Hieatt continued her scholarly work and published numerous works after her retirement, including her latest Cocatrice and Lampray Hay. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Constance Hieatt grew up in New York City and in Connecticut, graduating from Friends Seminary, attending Smith College, and earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Hunter College. She was awarded a fellowship from Yale and earned her PhD in 1960. Before her entrance into academia, Constance Hieatt worked in a variety of positions in print media and other businesses in New York City. After two brief marriages, to George Loomis and to Michael Bodkin, she met and married fellow-medievalist A. Kent Hieatt, then teaching at Columbia, forming a lasting partnership that took the pair from New York City to full professorships at the University of Western Ontario. They spent their summers at Wytham Abbey, outside Oxford, before they retired and returned to Connecticut, living first in a house built in back of the old family home on River Road in Deep River and, finally, in Essex Meadows. Dr Kent Hieatt died in January 2009. Like her husband, Dr Hieatt began her medieval studies as a Chaucerian, but she moved on to focus her scholarly work largely on writings in Old English and Old Norse. She also formed an interest in children’s literature and taught countless undergraduate courses on that subject. She combined her fascination with things medieval with her considerable expertise as a cook to begin her trail-blazing work in medieval cookery. Her substantial publishing record reflects the variety of her professional interests. She and Kent Hieatt co-authored a children’s version of The Canterbury Tales in the late 1950s. Later, they collaborated once again on The Canterbury Tales, this time the Bantam dual-language edition still in use in schools and universities the world over. Constance Hieatt also published Beowulf and Other Old English Poems, again familiar texts to English students past and present, as well as her translation of the Old Norse saga, Karlamagnus: The Saga of Charlemagne and His Heroes, and a basic text for learning Old English: Essentials of Old English. Dr Hieatt wrote a series of children’s books as well, based on the ‘Matter of Britain’ or Arthurian legends, including Gawain and the Green Knight, The Castle of Ladies, The Knight of the Cart, and others. Among her many medieval cookery offerings was the popular Pleyn Delit: Medieval Cookery for Modern Cooks, co-written with Professor Sharon Butler; Curye on Inglysch with Sharon Butler; Concordance of English Receipes: Thirteen through Fifteenth Centuries; Libellus De Arte Coquinaria: An Early Northern Cookery Book with Rudolph Grewe; An Ordinance of Pottage; The Form of Cury: The Cuisine of the Court of Richard II of England. In the past few years, Constance Hieatt shared her medieval expertise with her fellow residents in Essex Meadows by giving some very well-received talks on the subject, including one on medieval cookery, one on Beowulf and, most recently, one on ‘The Miller’s Tale’ from The Canterbury Tales.
When the sourdough starter for a friendship cake came back from a church function in the village, it was news to me. Then I resorted to the Guardian and the Internet and found it was two a penny. You receive a starter, build it up, keep a fraction and pass three fractions on to your friends while making an apple and cinnamon cake for yourself (other recipes are possible). The process is never-ending, an edible chain-letter. Some maintain its origins are Amish, others that it is German (perhaps it is both). The cake is not bad, but there’s a lot of it. It does keep well. One poster on the Net maintained her starter had been going since the 1970s when her family were in the Middle East. Can anyone trace the practice back further?
Periodically we make our own yoghurt. It is hardly complicated. However, previous campaigns have usually petered out. The end-product starts well and gets worse. This present episode, however, has been more successful, and consistent, perhaps because the equipment (a salt-glazed jar, a thermometer and the Aga) has been better. I now can’t imagine eating shop-bought yoghurt, even French. I find it surprising that no matter which yoghurt is bought as a starter, the result is the same. I also have been interested by the texture that we achieve. If you only heat the milk to ±100°F then start making the yoghurt in the usual way, the texture is much more slippery or junket-like than if you first boil the milk, let it cool to ±100°F then commence the yoghurt. Presumably this is because certain bacteria are killed off by the boiling.
A SAUCE OF FIGS AND DATES
Doing the editing for Cocatrice and Lampray Hay stimulated us to make one of the sweet sauces that fill the manuscript. The recipe chosen was for beef olives and I give you Constance Hieatt’s translation:
Take chuck beef. Cut it as thin as you can, three fingers broad and no more than a handful long; lay it in a container. Take parsley, hyssop, and savory and onions and the suet of beef; chop this small together. Take ground pepper, ground cinnamon, and salt; draw it together. Mix together the herbs and the spices, than lay your slices of beef flat and put on each one some of this garnish of seasonings; then roll each, one after the other. When it is [all] made together, then put it on a small spit and roast it. Then set a pot with fresh broth on the fire. Mince onions and dates, and take currants and add to this, and also crushed maces or cloves and cinnamon. Take figs; grind them in a mortar with crusts of bread. Draw them up with wine or good ale; cast this draught into the pot, and saffron. When the pot boils, add these slices roasted before you put in your liquid. Boil it together and give forth.
If you like your meat sweet, this is for you. The texture of the chopped and ground dried fruits is delicious and the flavour quite novel. It is not for every day.
Who would have thought, twenty years ago, that half a dozen chilli plants would be a fixture of many English kitchen gardens? They are so easy to grow, and nurseries make the task easier. So, come the autumn, there is a host of red and yellow gems winking at you from their corner bed and conservation comes into view. Hitherto we have frozen them. This year we tried drying some on the back of the Aga, but they were never sufficiently desiccated. So for the second batch (so large was the crop) I put them in the coolest oven for a day. My consternation on withdrawing them was palpable. They seemed dark brown and smelling of carbon. I carried on regardless, mashing them in the coffee grinder. What a miracle! No longer burnt, wonderfully fragrant, addictive to all.
Our ram, Julius, was let go in 2010. Last year, therefore, we did not lamb. A relief for my wife and no doubt for the ewes. This year, instead of having a ram en permanence, we had a visitor. He was a Vendéen, a French breed that is neither too large for our hill sheep nor too violent for gentlemanly handling. We hope for his progeny, due in the middle of spring. Among the pigs, the sad demise (though not before impregnating Isabella) of Ferdinand, the young Berkshire boar, left the sows bereft. His place has been taken by Hector, a Gloucester Old Spot–Sandy Black cross. Currently there is much discontent, but we hope that things will settle down and piglets will result.
John Evelyn’s discourse of sallets has had an enduring afterlife. There seems to be always one, if not two versions available at any one time. I picked up from the remainder store the collection Directions for the Gardiner and other Horticultural Advice, published by Oxford in 2009 and edited for them by Maggie Campbell-Culver. This compact yet handsome hardback is impressive value. The texts of Acetaria, Kalendarium Hortense and Directions… are reproduced in a modern setting and given a full work-over by the editor. I envy it.
OXFORD SYMPOSIUM PROCEEDINGS
In pursuit of greater accessibility, the trustees of the Oxford Symposium are making past proceedings freely available online (via Google books). I have supplied them with PDFs of the volumes since Fish (1997), though excluding the most recent (so that sales of these may continue) and not including 2002 and 2003 which were not published by myself.
FRENCH SCHOOL FOOD
We are all familiar with chef Jamie Oliver’s attempts to improve school food. His inspiration, Jeanette Orrey, was awarded a well-deserved MBE in the New Year Honours. While Oliver’s efforts merit admiration, it was their medium that threw them into high relief. There were many who anticipated him, they just weren’t as famous. And we in Britain, it seems, may have been anticipated by the French. Richard Storey sent me an interesting pamphlet De la cantine scolaire au restaurant d’enfants published in 1979 by the Centre de Création Industrielle at the Centre Georges Pompidou which tells of the great efforts made in France to humanize school food, improve its nutritional value and its delivery. These date back as far as the 1940s and the work of Raymond Paumier in the Essonne. Le plus ça change…
Fitzherbert’s Husbandry (1534, the author signed himself ‘Master’ and may be Sir Anthony or John) is a profitable read (www.archive.org/details/bookofhusbandry00fitzuoft). Andrew Dalby drew my attention to the heading of section 79 of the W.W. Skeat edition of 1882 which is, ‘The .x. properties of a woman.’ These are deemed to be, ‘mery of chere … well paced … a brode foreheed … brode buttockes … harde of warde … easye to lepe uppon … good at a longe journeye … well sturrynge under a man … alwaye besye with the mouthe … ever to be chowynge on the brydell.’ Which clerk or printer’s devil substituted ‘horse’ for ‘woman’? Section 152 is headed ‘Of delycyouse meates and drynkes’ and has some enlightening reflections on the increase in luxury in Tudor England. It goes,
Howe costely are the charges of delycious meates & drynkes, that be nowe most commonly used, over that it hath ben in tymes paste, and howe fer above measure? For I have seen bokes of accompte of householde, and brumentes upon the same, & I doubte not, but in delycyous meates, drinkes, and spyces, there is this daye foure tymes so moche spent, as was at these dayes, to a lyke man in degree; and yet at that tyme there was as moche befe and mutton spent as is nowe, and as many good householdes kept, and as many yomenne wayters therin as be nowe. This began with love and charytye whan a lorde, gentylman, or yoman desyred and prayed an other to come to dyner or soupper, and bycause of his commynge he wolde have a dysshe or two mo than he wolde have had, if he had ben away. Than of very love he, remembrynge howe lovyngely he was bydden to dynner, and howe well he fared, he thynketh of very kyndnes he must nedes byd hym to dyner agayne, and soo ordeyneth for hym as manye maner of suche dysshes and meates, as the other man dyd, and two or .iii. mo, & thus by lyttel and litell it is commen fer above measure. And begon of love and charyte, and endeth in pryde and glotony.
This might be called the potlatch effect.
This is the title of a book by Ulinka Rublack (OUP, 2010, £22.99 paperback). The subtitle is Cultural Identity in Renaissance Europe. I recommend you read it. It’s a study of how people perceived themselves, particularly their dressed selves, and how they perceived cultural difference by dint of alternative costume, etc., etc. The author, a German now teaching at Cambridge, draws almost exclusively on German sources, especially from Nuremberg. It is an excellent introduction to the importance of costume history as well as how to read pictures. She is blessed by some arresting materials, not least the friendship albums of the later 16th century which were sort of elaborate autograph albums or commonplace books to which your friends and your betters might contribute a coat of arms, a motto or a painting. She could also draw upon a ‘book of clothes’ compiled from 1520 by Matthäus Schwarz, accountant and right-hand man to the Fuggers of Nuremberg, for which he commissioned portraits of himself in all sorts of clothing (and twice naked) at regular intervals until 1560. He also commented on his portraits, at first noting details of dress, later recording actions and events. It is intriguing and remarkable. Ms Rublack is also very good on the beginnings of illustrated literature and broadsides, as well as on the way in which religious differences were pointed up by clothing as the Reformation took hold. As a book, I was not so impressed. The publisher has made little effort to edit the not very good English of the foreign author; frankly it is sometimes not English at all. Then the layout and typography makes it difficult for an old man to read – the lines too long, the face too small, the paper too reflective. Although there are plentiful photographs and reproductions, they are often so tiny that you cannot see the detail the author is describing. All of which is a pity; and another is that the many reviews quite failed to mention it. The neophyte will be put off. I will forebear from quoting some classics of academic writing and extended statements of the bleeding obvious, but it is still a book worth reading, big time.
LEEDS SYMPOSIUM ON FOOD HISTORY AND TRADITIONS
The twenty-seventh symposium, entitled ‘Five a Day: Vegetables’, part 1, will take place on 21 April 2012 at the Friends Meeting House, Friargate, York. The speakers planned are: Eileen White on vegetables in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; Malcolm Thick asking to what extent did people in England eat vegetables in the early eighteenth century; Ivan Day and Peter Brears making a closer approach to salads; Ivan Day discussing sallets in early modern England; Rob Gooderidge explaining the twenty-first century Victorian workhouse garden at Ripon; and Ivan Day again on growing period vegetables. Enquiries should be addressed to C. Anne Wilson, c/o Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT. The fee is a modest £20.
A SECONDHAND BOOKSELLER
As our familiar dealers in secondhand cookery retire, so we have found it difficult to know where else to turn. I have discovered a new site, however, with a very long catalogue and prices that do not scare the horses. They are called Books & Bygones, and are located at 40 Hollow Lane, Shinfield, Reading RG2 9BT. Their website is http://www.booksbygones.co.uk
OUR TRIPE BOOK
I am delighted to announce that Marjory Houlihan’s Tripe: A Most Excellent Dish, with contributions by the late Roy Shipperbottom and Lynda Brown has been shortlisted for the André Simon Food Book of the Year Award. Of course, it’s well deserved.
BRITISH FOOD IN 1930
I have just finished reading the biography of Nikolaus Pevsner by Susie Harries (Chatto & Windus, £30). It is excellent. There are some longueurs, as there will always be in a long academic life, but the material dealing with his early years in Germany, his struggle to get established in England, his writing of the Buildings of England, his standing and reputation among others in the field: all this is very rewarding. Here, I wish merely to share with you his comments on British food in 1930, the year of his first foray to this country. They interest me because of my slightly rose-tinted glasses when thinking of the pre-war era. My mythology is that everything was ruined by the war itself. Not if we believe Dr Pevsner: ‘The meals are big enough, but they are disgusting, quite tasteless. Every day the same beans, the same Yorkshire pudding, a ghastly floury gravy and the same tough beef or mutton … Even the sandwiches are in uniform; in no tea rooms is there anything but ham and tongue, cheese is apparently “inappropriate”, and you need binoculars to see the butter.’
Andrew Whitley has sent me his programme of bread-making courses at Bread Matters, Macbiehill Farmhouse, Lamancha, West Linton, Peebleshire EH46 7AZ (www.breadmatters.com). You can choose from one- to five-day visits and will come away enthused by the teaching, skilled in the making and relaxed by the views.
An ageing cat has meant more careful nutrition. Close inspection of the ingredients of cat food sachets seems to indicate that there is virtually no meat in them at all, the protein is all from soya. Small wonder the cat takes a dim view.
FROM GALWAY TO SOHO
This is a ballad sung by Máirtin Mac ConIomaire, who contributed to the last issue. The notes explain all.
1 This anonymous poem is learnt from my father, Liam Mac Con Iomaire, who first heard it recited by the late Dick Brown while on holidays in the Aran Islands in 1971. 2 A white homespun collarless and sleeveless jacket made from un-dyed wool, from the Irish Bán (white). 3 Traditional west of Ireland boat made from canvas spread across a light wooden frame and covered in black tar / bitumen. 4 Dún Aengus was the name of a passenger and cargo vessel which connected Galway city with the Aran Islands for many decades.
Clarissa Dickson Wright: A History of English Food: Random House, 2011, 500 pp., hardback, £25.00. Readers who have followed the author’s various television programmes will immediately recognize her voice in the printed word. The style is chatty, almost breathless, and personal. For some this will increase the appeal of this long book, for others it may get in the way of an ambitious historical survey of the nation’s eating, from the mid-twelfth to the twenty-first centuries. (But which nation? Page 269, for example, features both an ice-house in Northern Ireland and Keiller’s Dundee Marmalade.) Without wishing to depersonalize a narrative which will appeal to many who are perhaps new to the fascination of food history, one could argue the need for a stricter editorial hand, not only to correct the spelling of Barnack (p. 10), Mazawattee tea (p. 369), and the misnaming of Kenilworth Castle as House (p. 497). As far as the structure of the book is concerned, removing such details as a chamberlain’s duties (pp. 80–81) and building construction details (p. 100), as distinct from kitchen layout, would have resulted in a shorter and more focussed work. This is very much food history from the top down: the first half of the book, to the late Stuart period, being a seemingly endless sequence of banquets, difficult to digest in any sense, with crumbs falling from the rich men’s tables to the less fortunate classes. The author is aware of this, but the weight of the feasts so described threatens to crush the wide-ranging and significant contextual material which she also supplies. As she approaches the Georgian age, such developments as the use of turnips for winter cattle feed, attempts to popularize the potato, learned consideration of salads, even the introduction of the sweet orange, bring us closer to the modern scene. In this context the opportunity is missed on pp. 30–31 to draw a parallel between the medieval practice of culling greenstuff from the hedgerow and the modern advocacy of foraging. There are no footnotes, but assiduous use of the bibliography will help to identify sources when these are not given directly in the text. In summary, an enthralling story, told by a (slightly garrulous) friend, who knows her subject thoroughly, from hard work in the kitchen as well as the library. RICHARD STOREY Joyce Molyneux and Gerard Baker: Born to Cook: Angel Food: Adam White, 2011, 149 pp., paperback, £14.95. This book appeared in late 2011, ready to make a timely appearance as a Christmas gift both on its own merits and also because all the profits go to the Save the Children Fund. Anyone attracted by the author’s name, and also as in my case, by very pleasant memories of calm and delicious lunches at the Carved Angel in the 1970s, will find much of interest. Prue Leith’s enthusiastic introduction rightly draws attention to the wide range of cuisines drawn upon for the contents. She also refers to the author’s extensive experience of teaching the skills and enjoyment of her craft. The authorial tone is indeed gentle and encouraging; however, many of the recipes are sophisticated and require a degree of technical competence which may be somewhat daunting for the average, if keen, domestic cook. Similarly, depending on your resources, some ingredients may not be easily available. However there is also a good choice of simpler recipes, and in any case the format of the book will certainly help. The large pages are helpfully laid out, frequently with a brief description of the dish, followed by the method, and the list of ingredients highlighted to the side. Each recipe is contained within a single page, and the book remains conveniently open and flat(tish) on the kitchen work surface. Many dishes are accompanied by a colour illustration. If you wish to have an idea of what you are trying to achieve, then some are more useful than others. The depicted slice of apple and cinnamon tarte Tatin (p. 129), for example, shows clearly what you might hope to take to table, whereas the photograph accompanying the roast pheasant (p. 109) is at somewhat of a remove, being of several birds still in their feathers. In her final paragraph Prue Leith declares that she personally wishes to cook everything in the book: all can share in its interest and aspiration. JENNIFER STOREY Andrew Webb: Food Britannia: Random House, 2011, 560 pp., hardback, £25.00. Barny Butterfield is an artisan cidermaker who has recently won CAMRA’s Champion Cider award. As you approach the farm where the cider is made the scent of fermenting apples reaches you down the muddy track giving a very clear clue as to what goes on there. But like many small food and drink businesses Barny doesn’t stand still, so when asked to supply soft drinks for a local event he made up a batch of lemonade; Sandford Orchards now makes a range of fruit-based soft drinks, as well as great ciders with layers of taste that show up mass-produced ciders for the bland products they are. This last year he even came up with a mulled cider based on an old Devon recipe with a secret ingredient which I managed to wheedle out of him. And no, I’m not letting on; you’ll have to taste it yourself. Barny isn’t in Andrew Webb’s book but many other great producers are. The book, born from the diary he made whilst putting together the Channel 4 documentary, The Big British Food Map in 2008, is a wonderful exploration of British food, ranging from the more obvious such as haggis and Whitstable oysters to the perhaps less well-known Devon cheese, Sloe Tavy (whose rind is washed in Plymouth Sloe Gin). Similar in some respects to Rick Stein’s British Food Heros project, Andrew tells some great stories about a range of foods and their producers with passion and respect; he correctly states that ‘the food sector today is one of incredible dynamism for those who want to seek, if not their fortune, then at least their own destiny.’ One such is Richard Ord, in South Shields, whose grandfather started the family fish and chip shop in 1905. According to Andrew it continues as a chip shop with Richard moving with the times by signing up to Greenpeace’s Seafish Sea Life campaign to promote sustainable fishing thereby becoming ‘the closest thing to an eco-chippie you could find.’ The book also highlights the cosmopolitan nature of traditional British food, something Jamie Oliver has attempted recently, but Andrew Webb has added some of the detail, albeit tantalizingly brief at times. For example, and perhaps appropriately for this journal, Andrew starts his journey in south-west England telling some great stories particularly about the sources and history of foods in the region. For example, from the owner of the Dorset Blueberry Company we learn that the first batch of commercial blueberry plants arrived on the Queen Mary from Canada in the early 1960s, having been offered to Britain by a Methodist minister who ‘wanted to add a little cheer to post-war Britain.’ He is doubtful about the claim that saffron was introduced to Cornwall by Phoenician merchants trading it for tin around 1000 bc; he suggests that the distances involved are improbable. In fact, there is evidence that the Phoenicians did indeed trade with south-west England, as with other Atlantic parts of western Europe – it’s a shame Andrew hadn’t checked this. The dynamism of the sector that the author correctly identifies means that a book such as this is likely to be soon out of date; in our closest town here in Devon we have seen three new food businesses start in the last year alone. And the breadth of what he tries to cover means that many of his readers will know what he has missed in their region. Another problem with the book is that it is not sure what it is; some reviewers have said it would be a good guidebook when on your foodie travels, but given the changing face of the sector you are likely to miss out on many treats if you rely on this alone. The late Carol Trewin’s The Devon Food Book would be what you need if visiting this county, for example, and well-maintained food websites are likely to be more up-to-date sources these days. Others suggest that Andrew gives a lot of detail about British foods, but some entries can be frustratingly brief, for example, his story of marmalade, which fails to refer to its wonderful quince antecedents and the related trade with Portugal. So, just as I was drawn in by the author’s obvious knowledge, we move onto the next story. Some entries lapse into flippancy – describing a Pembrokeshire shellfish processing plant as ‘weapons-grade’ doesn’t add a great deal to our knowledge; neither does knowing that Cheryl Cole’s mum bought Tyneside stottie cakes for her when ill with malaria … These frustrations are in contrast to Andrew’s obvious commitment to British food; he celebrates its history, for example, with reference to a range of early cookery books, as well as its decline – in 1845 there were 171 gooseberry shows in Britain whilst now there are only two. He is also a passionate advocate of the use the EU Protected Name Status for British food products to ensure standards of quality as well as to help access to European markets. I will continue to dip into this book from time to time, while wanting to add my own entries. A helpful directory at the back gives you the information to visit some of these producers and to support our dynamic food sector. TIM HARRIS, CREDITON Jake Tilson: In at the Deep End: Quadrille, 2011, 224 pp., paperback, £20.00. As an amateur cook, I am wary of cooking fish. There, I have admitted it; if I were to attend a support group it wouldn’t be AA but FF (fish fearers). I enjoy cooking, but my attempts at preparing fish following recipes from some of the greatest have only resulted in disappointment. So, do I need another cookbook to fill this gap in my culinary offerings? The answer is yes, especially as the author of In at the Deep End owns up to his fear of fish on the very first page – ‘for as long as I can remember I have always been scared of fish’. Yes, most definitely that is how I feel when attempting to produce a fish dish, even if it comes with a jolly man on the front of the packaging (even then I am guaranteed to burn the contents). So, I immediately warm to this personal voyage of discovery. Tilson will be empathetic and show me there is nothing to fear … I just have to dip my toe in at the deep end. In at the Deep End is Tilson’s second book after his well-received A Tale of 12 Kitchens: Family Cooking in Four Countries. As The Observer Food Monthly wrote, ‘a fascinating combination of autobiography, recipes and pictures put together artistically.’ Before I became too involved with the recipes, I flicked through the rest of the book, stopping as images arrested and intrigued me, enjoying the bricolage approach. I then turned to the first chapter, ‘Bacala for Breakfast’. Like Tilson, I have a love affair with Venice, so the pictures painted in the first chapter were familiar. I too have eaten alongside locals, on foggy November evenings, and visited the Coop Italia. As apparent in his first book, Tilson’s reflections have an honest sense of time and place which make his experiences seem real and drew me in. Reading about Venice encouraged me to choose one of the recipes, from that chapter, in the comfort of my kitchen. In at the deep end, I look at the method for Folpetti Lessi Conditi (mini-octopus). The first instruction is to remove the eyes, beak, and internal organs of each octopus, and wash the rest thoroughly. I feel lost before I begin. (I do wonder how Tilson got to this stage so quickly?) There is little ‘technical’ description for a fearful amateur, so another recipe for Bigoli alle Vongole (Bigoli with clams) is marked down as my first outing. But is this too ambitious for an amateur? I flicked forward and found myself in New York City. The recipe pages are the ones that delighted, so in my eagerness to read the recipes I skipped the descriptive introduction to this new chapter. I enjoyed reading the small asides, with the species references and the ethical warnings and descriptions of time and place. The next recipe that caught my eye was Bass with Horseradish and Sour Cream Sauce; I recognized all these ingredients and the method seems straightforward. Shopping for the ingredients was easy, as everything was available locally. Back home, I set out the ingredients for New York-style bass and I was ready to start cooking. The fishmonger had skinned the bass, and it passed the sustainability test. So to begin – at which point hubbie walked in and said, ‘You’re not cooking fish are you?’ I am immune to these insults and carry on. My approach to following recipes is loose, so the end-result, is based-on rather than a reproduction of the recipe, which I believe is in the spirit of Tilson’s book. The recipe was easy to follow and the end-result was to some degree a success. (My guinea-pig husband wasn’t sure about horseradish and tomato). Tilson’s memories are so evocative, I could imagine that I had stumbled across this recipe in New York and brought it home myself. The scrapbook approach to Tilson’s personal journey of cooking fish works in adding the personal touch of friends sharing their experiences. The varied typefaces are fun but the book would live happily without them. If I were to express a reservation it would be the size of typeface for instructions: a few points larger would make it easier to follow the method. The book could also do with some additional images giving a blow-by-blow account of how to gut that squid, followed by a ‘this is how it should look’ photograph. This, I am sure, is a failing in me, but I am not a confident cook. After all the travels and travails the story has a happy ending back in Peckham. Tilson concludes, ‘I’ve shucked off my fish phobia’. As with all travellers, there are warnings and recommendations about sustainable fishing, and useful tips on sourcing alternatives that are nearer to home. Tilson’s experiences have inspired and as a fellow amateur cook I look forward to becoming fish-savvy at the deep end, but if my fear gets the better of me, there is always the travelogue and make-believe. SUE SNELL Sally Butcher: Veggiestan: a vegetable lover’s tour of the Middle East: Anova Books, 2011, 271 pp., hardback, £25.00. Sally Butcher is married to Jamshid, and has thus become part of a large Iranian family. She and her husband keep the Persepolis Persian shop in Peckham and in her new book Veggiestan she specializes in vegetarian dishes of considerable complexity from the Middle East. Iran may be her first love, but Veggiestan covers a vast area from Turkey, Kurdistan, and the Lebanon, to Egypt, Tunis and Morocco. It is plain that cooking and meals in Iran are a family affair, meals eaten sitting on the floor with much chat and gossip and the opportunity for the foreign daughter-in-law to learn Persian. In other countries men and women may eat separately, the women sometimes after the men, but even then there is no concept of the isolated supper-on-a-tray syndrome. On the other hand the TV apparently stays on throughout. A grisly thought. In Persia in Peckham the author refers to ‘the hypochondria of the Arab male’ and this perhaps accounts for the possibly reassuring chapter in Veggiestan on herbal remedies, and the ancient principle that most bodily ills are caused by an imbalance in the four bodily humours. Later the author refers to the belief that the balanced diet should be based on sardi and garmi, hot and cold foods eaten in proportion, but she does not dwell on this, describing the book as being ‘a light hearted, fun cookery book’ and it is indeed an engaging round-up of the Middle East’s vegetarian dishes, written with panache, and a genuine passion sometimes masked by a ‘jolly hockey sticks’ approach. Expressions or phrases like ‘Gosh’; ‘O my’; ‘But golly was it good’; ‘I won’t tell if you don’t’; ‘Girlieness’; ‘Right. Rubber gloves on first’ do perhaps crop up a bit over-frequently, but they in no way detract from the meticulous presentation of the recipes and the real enthusiasm of the addict. In the background there always looms the formidable, perfectionist figure of the Iranian mother-in law, helpful and loved, but plainly not one to mess about with or to condone short cuts. Similar recipes for the better-known dishes can be found in other books on Mediterranean food, but there is often a slight difference of emphasis, or a variation in the spices used. For example, The Imam Swooned contains pekmez (see below for lemon juice as substitute). One of the pleasures of the book is the opportunity to read of the doings and sayings of the eccentric Mullah Nasruddin. Stale bread for warding off the nonexistent tigers is plainly indispensable. There are anecdotes about the way the aubergine got its hat, the soup of Ezo the Bride, and how the Nile peasant found out why you should never put all your eggs in one basket. I enjoyed these almost as much as the recipes themselves. At the outset, I was pretty sceptical about the likelihood of being able to get hold of Middle Eastern ingredients in darkest Sussex or Devon. There are still some that remain (to the ignoramus) incomprehensible or indeed unobtainable (freekeh – green wheat? ) but the author is good about explaining obscure names of ingredients, adding enlightening information at the side of the main recipe. I have to admit to having nearly emulated the imam by swooning when to my amazement I found za’atar and sumac in Waitrose, Storrington (a small branch). So it’s not only Middle Eastern supermarkets that stock at least some of the ingredients. Where she thinks it unlikely that the provincial will find something, she often gives a prosaic substitute – lemon juice instead of pekmez. But as pekmez is a syrup made from ‘boiled up fruit bits, usually grape or mulberry’, I would question whether this reproduces the original taste. The recipes themselves all seem to have endless lists of fairly similar spices and herbs, plus the exotic ones that you may or may not be able to find. The ones that I’ve tried all work, and there’s only one really daunting one, untried, I fear, which says it takes six days to make (wheat grass mousse). There is an interesting section on rices and grains, complete with possibly enlightening instructions as to how to cook rice, classified by levels of culinary sophistication. Curiously, there is a separate section on vegetables (though this indicates the scope of the rest of the recipes) and, as the author says, ‘some lovely recipes for beetroot, turnips, carrots and radish’ and, in another section, a delicious recipe for carrot and cardamom soup. In fact all her recipes for soups are alluring. Pickles and preserves form a vital part of Veggiestan cooking and the section on them includes pink pickled turnips (with come-hitherish illustration) and onion, chilli and mint marmalade, which might well become a vital larder item. The section I found least enticing was that on desserts, but this is no doubt the fault of personal taste rather than anything wrong with the recipes. Noodley pud contained, amongst other things, butter or ghee, vermicelli, turmeric and cardamom, custard powder, condensed milk, raisins and nuts. This did not induce experimental fervour. The book encourages you to try new ideas. It is attractively illustrated with enticing matt, colourful but not glorious technicolour, pictures of What it Ought To Look Like, and I didn’t detect any of those irritating extras not mentioned in the recipe that sometimes appear in lavish illustrations. The book does not take itself too seriously, but one is left in no doubt about the integrity of the writing and the dedication of the author. I enjoyed it. PAT PHILLIPS Peter Bazalgette, ed.: Egon Ronay. The Man who Taught Britain how to Eat: Newbaz Ltd., 2011, 136 pp., hardback, £25.00. This is a most enjoyable funeral book, in memory of the Hungarian restaurateur and guidebook entrepreneur about whom, when he was in full flow, one may have had very mixed feelings. But this little compilation of affectionate essays works the miracle of the best obituaries: it makes you wonder at the man’s determination, good intentions, pleasant nature and all round good-eggness. Most of the contributors are members of Egon’s club of gastronomes – another thing about which one has very mixed feelings – and some were employees, colleagues and restaurant inspectors. It is, therefore, very interesting, though not as ‘interesting’ as it could be, about the compilation and composition of these guides. Quite frankly, the Ronay guides were a curate’s egg of an operation (as are most such guidebooks), but that’s not to say their influence was bad. I enjoyed particularly the pieces about his Hungarian years, but all of it is a delightful way to spend a couple of hours, glass in hand and memory working overtime.
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