An explosion of cooks!
The Cheese Handbook by Bruce H. Axler (Cassell 30s.) Japanese Cooking by Peter and Joan Martin (Andre Deutsch 35s.) Cook Ahead by Stella Atterbury (Macdonald 3$s.) Cooking and Catering the Wholefood Way by Ursula M. Cavanagh (Faber & Faber 25s.) The Margaret Powell Cookery Book (Peter Davies 35s.)
THE sale of cookery books over the past few years has gone with a swing judging from the plethora of new titles displayed on brightly coloured, welldesigned wrappers which flower regularly every season in every kind of bookshop. So much so that I can't help wondering if publishers aren't getting just a little light-headed with success and consequently just a little careless about their choice of who writes them!
These books are very easy on the eye to be sure and look very impressive sitting side by side on One's kitchen shelf at home — providing of course that one's cooking lives up to their promise. After reading some of them recently, however. I found myself longing to shake hands with whoever it was who said that plain cooking simply can't be entrusted to plain cooks. Ed say the same goes for people who write cookery books. While I'm perfectly happy to forget the fact that most recipes can eventually be traced hack to Escoffier or to Brillat Savarin or Mrs. Becton, I do appreciate an author who takes the trouble to wrap up his or her version in a way which makes it fun to read. I don't want my nose ground greyly into the kitchen sink from page 1 to the hitter end.
And while I'm having a moan. I might as well voice a long-felt complaint about the information itself, which isn't always strictly accurate (judging from results) and rarely comprehensive. So few authors take the trouble to tell you, for instance, how to de-curdle mayonnaise, which is essential to know about when you've wasted four eggs and there are none left in the fridge. You'd think they all cooked in heaven where no mistakes are made!
For sheer solid information plus entertainment I haven't yet met a cookery book to compare with the kind of Victorian tome which lists a delectable recipe entitled Aunt Nelly's Pudding, alphabetically next to food for improving Atrophy (general wasting away due to worms, mental anxiety or excessive indulgence in vinous or spiritous liquors) with the addition of a stiff dose of morality. Oh for a cookery book with personality, especially if you are an ardent collector like me.
For those cursed by collector's mania there is, I'm happy to report, a new reference book about cheese, The Cheese Handbook by Bruce H. Axler who, following the scholar's path, seems to have winkled out every ounce of information pertaining to cheeses, from making the stuff to family histories of every possible variety. His book reads like some kind of cheesy Almanac de Gotha. Cheeses One thought indigenous to a certain district or country turn Out to have smart relations all over the world.
He also tells you how to match up various cheeses with wines and beers. suggestions which go on for page after meticulous page. I also enjoyed his style as well as his sense of humour and his sense of poetry. "Perhaps more than any other food. cheese reflects the land of its birth. A touch of chalk in the soil. a wild flower in the pasture. a hreed of complacent cow or persevering goat high on mountain slopes." Mr. Aster, rare among his peers. certainly gives one the understanding of what he is writing about as well as the explanation.
Another collector's piece is the kind of cookery book devoted to the philosophy of and techniques for -preparing meals peculiar to a particular country. In Japan, for instance, food is supposed to he a feast for the eye and the mind as well as the stomach. As Sir John Pitcher. former British Ambassador to Tokyo. says in his foreword to Japanese Cookery, a beautiful book by Joan and Peter Martin, "In Japan food is for the spirit. Mere eating can be done elsewhere."
The notion immediately springs to mind that this is a book which might be worth serious perusal by slimmers fed up with the kind of mush rammed down their throats by Gaylord Hauser et al., especially as the authors are obviously keen on exercise as well. "No self-respecting Japanese housewife," they say, "omits a daily expedition to the market for fresh ingredients."
I also liked their sensible approach to alternatives. If sake is unobtainable where you live, it would not in any way be outlandish to serve a medium dry white wine." There's no nonsense either about "take two fistfuls of wakarne" (seaweed to you) and never-mind-the-nervousbreakdown trying to find it-in Chipping Sodbury. The authors give one plenty of suppliers in London who will presumably send ingredients by post, especially as many of these are dry anyway and have to be soaked before cooking.
The only item I regret in an otherwise delightfully comprehensive view of Japanese eating habits is their fascinating etiquette relating to meals. Apparently when businessmen's wives give dinner parties the guests are seated according to the capital owned by the companies the husbands work fort I would have enjoyed a little more information in this vein.
nn the other hanr1 tk.wp never relished the very English habit of cooking in advance. of heating things up a second time. But I Must admit that Cool, Ahead by Stella Atterbury is not so much a matter of reheating entire dishes as a variety of suggestions for preparing different bases for dishes which can then be cooked far more quickly than if you had to start the whole thing from scratch.
Once you have made a foundation such as cheese sauce and followed Miss Atterbury's instructions on how best to preserve it, she then supplies you with recipes which can swiftly be turned into dozens of delicioussounding dishes. She deals in the same way with pastries. mayonnaises, sweet and savoury fillings and even potatoes. It is a clear and easy book to follow, not overtly devoted to style but the English doesn't actually drive you mad.
Nice to discover at last a book about catering for large numbers — schools, canteens and even prisons so the blurb suggests—which considers the health aspect of food as well as the cheapness of ingredients and ease of preparation. Ursula Cavanagh who wrote Cooking and Catering the Wholefood Way worked at the Yehudi Menuhin school for several years. The great man himself. in a short foreword, writes a testimony to her success, the proof ciT which can be seen in the pudding, in the lack of sickness at his school and in the quality of work. study. general activity and high morale.
I believe him (though thousands mightn't) because I know how much we overcook our food in this country, use too many processed ingredients and pay far too little attention to the vitamin and mineral content of fresh foods, and how much better we can feel if we do. The recipes are made out for 60 persons but are so simple that they can easily -be adapted to a greater or lesser number.
The Margaret Powell Cookery Book is, I'm afraid, the kind of book which drives -me into a frenzy at the thought of all that time, money and paper being wasted. There it is with a nice picture of a dear old lady on the cover, looking very wholesome and kind as apple pie in an incongruous frilly white apron. But inside are the sort of dreary recipes you've read a thousand times before.
Perhaps it's a book to give to a great aunt who remembers "service" and would enjoy the daintily recalled reminiscences of rough life below stairs in the "good" old days, which are served up among the recipes.
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