A Book for Cooks

Given how much I love cookbooks and books in general (as a conservative estimate we have a couple of thousand books in the house), it’s not a surprise that I’d be charmed into picking up a book highlighting 100 classic cookbooks.

I hadn’t quite realised that it was a very personal selection by the author so some of the choices are not necessarily what one might expect. Therefore, I was introduced to books shown in the other pictures in this post, such as “Cooking in a Bedsitter”.

The book kicks off with Eliza Acton and with the titbit that Acton was the first cookery writer to specify separately the ingredient quantities and for how long a dish should be cooked. Both of which we have come to expect as a given in recipes these days but apparently before 1845, things were more akin to our grandmother’s instructions of “use what amount you like and cook till it’s done”.

Arguably though, we sometimes (oftentimes?) pick up cookbooks not because we want to cook anything but simply for the romance of food. To read things like:

“Catalan cuisine is a cauldron full of prawns and monkfish simmering in rich broth on a butane stove in the galley of a fishing boat off the Costa Brava port of Palamos; it’s a brace of rabbits roasting on an open fire beside a slate-roofed field-stone farmhouse in the eastern Pyrenees; it’s an elegant salad of white beans, celery leaves and marinated salt cod posed on a cool black plate in a restaurant dining room in Barcelona.”

The author is more enthusiastic about some of the books than I am but I’m sure some folks will be rather envious of her possession of several first editions of these classic books.

I enjoyed getting a literal glimpse into the featured cookbooks through the snapshots of their pages. We can see how books were so dense and text-heavy in the past and now arguably some books could do with a little more in their explanations. And I wished this book had slightly longer discussions of the selected cookbooks – perhaps a few more excerpts or more of a context of the period when the books were published.

Perhaps the author was under pressure to fit the format demanded by the publisher and had a cap imposed on how much she could include. Nevertheless, it was a fun book even if it was over rather too quickly.


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