Tuesday, 6 December 2011

December 6th - The Best recipe Books

Dear Nigel,

Where do your best recipes come from? Do you just conjure them up daily from the unfathomable depths of your culinary mind, or do you, like the rest of us, dip in and out of various recipe books for recipes and inspiration?

I have a shelf unit in my kitchen which houses only cookery books. There are plenty of others floating around the house but these ones are the ones in current use. Some are my latest acquisitions, some old favourites, my very first copy of Good Housekeeping which i bought when still at school, my own recipe book of old family recipes. Being the anally retentive sort of person i probably am i have also alphabetically arranged the above books according to author. Thus your books, of which i have six recipe books (and two others) are between Delia's and The River cafe.

The best recipe books, i find, are the ones that you actually use. The recipes that you come back to time and time again, the cooks that you trust to deliver and not confuse or baffle you. Like many people i choose to mark my books. They are books for using and not just salivating over. I write crosses and ticks depending whether it's worth making again, i make comments about whether it was lovely, OK, too expensive, too fiddly or time consuming to bother with. I tweak ingredients or change the quantities e.g. for more sauce or topping etc. Sometimes i make notes to myself about the credibility of the recipe - "who does she think she's kidding", "no one in their right mind would spend this long preparing these vegetables", "has anyone actually tasted this? - it's foul". Some times i like to write notes of a special occasion i cooked something for, a memory saved in time, to be glanced at and remembered at odd times.

I like to think that one day, when i'm long gone, my children or future grandchildren will be able to look at one of these books and find a little bit of me trapped therein. It's easy to leave photos or diaries, and they too have their place, but i like to think that in these books are a lifetime of meals prepared and served and eaten, of friends and family nourished and entertained (in every sense), and a kind of documentary of my life. There are lavish recipes of good times, celebration and plenty; and frugal cookbooks for the lean times, for the post-Christmas recovery, the pre-Summer drive to lose weight, balanced by the books of puddings and pies and comfort food for those cashmere days in Autumn. There are notices on timing, which tin to use - or not - how to rescue something that's in danger of escaping or substitutions for things that i know my family will like better - a different fruit, or nut, or topping. And interspersed with these are the inevitable artwork of splattered recipes, dustings of cocoa or flour, of spitting fat or greasy fingerprints. Some people like to work from a perfectly clean book and will replace worn-out, dog-eared and stained books with new. But for me  it is comforting to know I've been this way before.

You make your Christmas cake and remind me to feed my cake with brandy. This is one recipe that i won't be making of yours. I have my Granny's family recipe and here is one instance when it's about something more than just the recipe: this is about a family heritage which i want to pass on to my children and to theirs.

 So sorry Nigel, I'm sure it tastes absolutely wonderful, but we all have our little family customs.


1 comment:

  1. How beautiful and inspiring Martha. I may just begin to introduce this tradition to my own recipe books.