Thursday, January 13, 2005


Cooking I could do without but NOT my cookbooks. I never part with one, and I always find new ones that are irresistible. They are a genre of Literature. I can't describe all of them but I can give a taste of this and a soupcon of that, to whet the appetite.

My first was given to me by my mother - The Chatelaine Cookbook- pedestrian but useful. Very much in the "how to" vein but it has sections I would never use. E.g. Broiled Marinated Bear Steak. Take 1 thick slice of bear loin...Cover and refrigerate in marinade for 24 hours . Or Pot Roast of Bear? "Trim fat from meat, scrape meat surface lightly with the blade of a knife to remove any hairs or splintered bone."

Along the same lines is the Better Homes and Garden New Cook Book. The ring binder style has pages added with recipes from periodicals or hand copied giving it the air of a scrapbook, reflecting food fashions over the decades. I love one page, with pictures and recipes of sundaes and floats . What wonderful names: Broadway soda- vanilla and chocolate ice cream with chocolate, coffee syrup and fine stream soda, or Moon over Moose Jaw -Vanilla ice cream, fresh fruit, maraschino cherries, pecans, and 2 slices of peach , or Merry Widow- vanilla and chocolate ice cream, thick French chocolate sauce, sliced bananas around chopped walnuts, topped with fresh whipped cream and a cherry of course! Better to read about these and not indulge in making them.

From the same era is the Betty Crocker's Cook Book for Boys and Girls which my mother used to inspire in us an urge to cook. Where else would you find a recipe for S'mores? Brownies and fudge were popular- these pages have chocolate smears on them. I think my mother hoped we would pay more attention to the "Saucy hamburger crumble" or the "Chili Concoction" pages.

But it was French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David which convinced me cookbooks could be literature. Illustrated with a few pen and ink drawings of cooking utensils, it is a delight. Introductions to each section and scattered gems among the recipes inspire with a wonderful mixture of description, history, anecdote, and quotations from famous chefs. In reading one enjoys the feast without tasting a bite! I have two other David cook books, French Country Cooking and Summer Cooking, smaller but equally charming. All three are in terrible condition, with yellowing, loose pages and oily stains everywhere, but I cherish them and hope I will find them in fresher copies.

The most unusual cookbook I have is The Royal Cookbook- Favorite Court recipes from the World's Royal Families. I bought this in England, where else? In it one will find "Prince Charles' Summer Pudding" and "Duke of Windsor's Gingerbread" as well as "the only soup ever eaten by Queen Victoria". From France comes "Fillets of Sole Pompadour" and "Ballotine of Pheasant", from Italy "Umberto's Salad" and "Cavour Lemonade"- which is not a lemonade but a wine punch. There are entries from exotic kingdoms such as Tonga, Polynesia and Hawaii: "Island Pudding" made with sweet potatoes sounds good as does "Avocado Whip" with sugar, lime juice and coconut. More intriguing are recipes from antiquity such as "Ova spongia ex lacte" (honey omelet) and "Patina de piris" ( poached pears) with "Dulcia domestica" (custard sauce) supposedly enjoyed by the caesars. Impractical but a great read.

Along the same exotic line are cookbooks I have picked up when I lived in other countries. I have two books of Greek Cookery -Greek Cooking by Robin Howe and The Home Book of Greek Cookery by Joyce Stubbs. These were useful at the time for grocery shopping and at restaurants as it gave the Greek words and pronunciation for items I wanted such as lathi (oil) and melitzanes (eggplant) or Taroma salata (egg roe salad). From Trinidad I have Carribean Fruits and Vegetables and Cooking the Carribean Way and from Curacao Aasina nos ta cushina (This is the way we cook). Dishes from these books have become family favorites, such as satays with peanut sauce from Curacao, fried eggplant, horiatiki salad and tzadziki from Greece and curries from Trinidad. They are nostalgic reminders of pleasant times and good friends in those wonderful places. When I read these books I recall the first time I had spit roasted lamb fragrant with lemon juice and oregano, or balmy evenings at micro-limino where we enjoyed kalamari and fresh red snapper. When I see the recipe for funchi I am taken back to Marthe Koojis Restaurant in an old landhuis outside of Williamstadt where we would often stop for a biera after a day on the beach and the gregarious, hospitable proprieters would serve crisp fried funchi with pica. I sometimes get the urge to try dishes I never had time to make when there such as stuffed breadfruit- a concoction of minced beef, breadcrumbs , celery and pickled lime. But bread fruit is difficult to come by here so I am free to just think about it.

Illustrated cookbooks are tempting. A pretty book called A Basket of Berries has enticing watercolours by the author Val Archer. Perhaps some summer I will try Blueberry soup or blackberry vinegar. Another which is both useful and artful is Across the Table by Cynthia Wine, illustrated by Mary Pratt. The Nanaimo Bar recipe and the recipe for Tourtierre in this book are two I often use but Mary Pratt's watercolours- of fish in a sink , berries in a glass bowl, or tea in a china cup- are as inviting as the recipes. Photo illustration can make even common recipes look appealing. A friend sent me winter recipes by a British chef, Delia Smith. I haven't tried many but I love reading them and looking at the photos of Irish stew with Crusted Dumplings and Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding. The illustrations glow with warmth; one can almost smell the fragrant steam coming off the pages.

With so much wonderful reading no wonder I have no time to cook.

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Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep as a Well (1937)