Monday, 25 May 2009
The lure of old cookbooks
I finally got to post about the two old cookbooks I picked up for a song in Topsham the other day. Do I need them? Absolutely not - the shelves are already bulging with cookbooks but for less than the price of two glossy magazines, how could I resist?
The first - for which I paid a princely £3.50 - is Len Deighton's quirky and original 'Où est le Garlic' first published by Penguin in 1965 (this is the '67 edition). Deighton was a successful thriller writer who turned his hand to cookery writing. The appeal is equally though in the charming comic strip illustrations (below), done not by Deighton but a team of designers
The diagrammatic treatment of the families of French sauces and how they relate to each other are particularly good. I love the sound of the improbably named Sauce Mohammed - a variation on tartare sauce flavoured with chopped eggs, anchovies, capers, celery, cucumber and chopped onion.
There's a useful chart on Measuring Heat and Bulk which tells you what temperature milk boils at (196°, less than salt water at 224°) and that butter burns at much lower temerature (278°) than beef suet (356°) Heston Blumenthal would approve.
There are diagrams showing how to julienne vegetables, make quenelles and create a Chaud Froid, a type of aspic used to glaze boiled chicken (One forgets how in thrall England still was to French cooking in the '60s. Did Observer readers, for whom Deighton wrote, really make such things?)
The writing is also wonderfully lucid. "The most difficult thing to explain in a cookery book is the amount of moisture that should be added to flour mixtures" Deighton writes. "Batter mixtures are like cream; they can be poured. A cake mixture is wet and will almost pour; it will drop from a spoon. Yeast mixtures are moist and plastic like modelling clay" Perfectly put. Who needs photographs, or even videos?
There are forgotten, frugal recipes for making brawn or stuffing a cabbage, all of which would take hours. Even bombes which Deighton says "date from the time when men in long beards with 'ski' at the end of their names hid these gadgets, still, smoking, beneath ankle-length cloaks." As you can see, a great book to dip into.
By comparison Green Cuisine: the Organic Vegetable Cookbook, self-published 10 years ago in my home town of Bristol is a much more modest affair though again I was seduced by the illustrations (above) Unlike Deighton's book I don't think it will become a regular kitchen companion though their are some nice ideas for cooking different vegetables such as Spicy Green Beans, Parsnip and Potato Dauphinoise and Pea and Cucumber Soup and for kohlrabi, a vegetable I admit I've never got to grips with) And at £1 who could resist?
By the way I bought both of these books in a charity shop, a much better-priced source of cookbooks than most second hand bookshops although you can occasionally get good bargains from Abe Books and Amazon. (Incidentally I just looked up 'Ou est le Garlic?' on Abe and the cheapest price for that edition was £40. So it was a bargain!)
Do you share my weakness for old cookbooks? If so which are your favourites and have you picked up any good bargains lately?