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The Great Food Series
  1. Book Reviews by CHEW Members and Others
  2. Cooking | Strand Books
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  4. Risotto With Nettles

I found myself fingering them, like fine pottery plates. As for the content, they are eloquent reminders that food writing is not just about food. These books have the power to summon up — and often prescribe — an entire way of life. In Notes from Madras the Anglo-Indian Colonel Wyvern tells us to throw away an over-roasted coffee bean "as you would a reptile".

This instantly evokes the world view of the Raj: martial, superior, impatient. Wyvern is the kind of man who berates "native cooks" for laziness and thinks you can never have too much redcurrant jelly around the place, even in India. To read Waters on the contents of her daughter's lunchbox — a pot of vinaigrette with "a selection of things to dip into it" ranging from romaine leaves and shaved carrot curls to radishes, fennel and leftover fish or chicken — is to get a glimpse of the good life in California circa a little rarefied, perhaps, but deeply ethical. Waters is engaged in transforming school food across the United States.

Or take Agnes Jekyll, a very grand food writer of the early s. A Little Dinner Before the Play brilliantly summons up the atmosphere of brittle boredom that plagued society hostesses after the first world war.

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Her view of food is Manichean in its divisions. There is food for the Punctual and food for the Unpunctual; food for the "too thin" and food for the "too fat". Chase's Buffalo Cakes and Indian Pudding embodies the homespun frontier life: nothing is too fancy but it is all aimed at people with a very sweet tooth — lashings of maple syrup, molasses and sugar.

Many of the writers remind us how disappointing food can be. Recipes from the White Hart Inn by William Verrall, an 18th-century gem, is good on the horrors of attempting to cook without adequate tools, where the only sieve has been used by a servant for sanding "nasty dirty floors" and the frying pan is "black as my hat" with "a handle long enough to obstruct half the passage of the kitchen".

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Eating can go wrong, too. The Pepys volume, a distillation of some of his best diary entries on food, brings home all too vividly how quickly the pleasures of dinner can disintegrate as the evening progresses.

Cooking | Strand Books

With Pepys, a meal may start well, with lobsters, capons, cheesecakes, only to end with him vomiting "in the bayson". What those glossy picture books can never show are the consequences of indulgence.

Alexis Soyer, who set up field kitchens in Crimea with Florence Nightingale, writes about food as a facet of war: how to cook soup for a regiment of 1, men the main problem, apparently, was carrying the 30 quarts of water needed for each of the 20 saucepans. The essayist Charles Lamb recognises that eating, and the rules we devise about it, are facets of morality. He is best known for his "Dissertation upon Roast Pig", included here summary: man discovered cooking when a house containing some pigs accidentally burned down and for the first time in human history someone tasted "crackling!

The humorist Calvin Trillin ponders the relationship between food and culture — the arbitrariness by which Thanksgiving is celebrated by eating turkey instead of spaghetti carbonara, Trillin's preferred dish — and how foods swim in and out of fashion: "What happened to brie and Chablis? Not every volume gains from being cut down to size.

If you don't already own the complete Mrs Beeton, Eliza Acton or Hannah Glasse, you might enjoy these reduced versions, but they feel diminished. Similarly, it seems a shame to experience Alexandre Dumas's Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine , one of the wittiest reference works of all time, in such a truncated form. And The Alice B Toklas Cookbook is a masterpiece, whose meandering rhythms should not be messed with though I must admit that Murder in the Kitchen is a great title. The real surprise, however, is that most of the series works so well.

The Elizabeth David volume is a revelation. I own all her books and thought this might feel like a tired rehash. Yet by cleverly weaving together writings from no fewer than seven books, the editor makes her speak to us fresh a similar trick has been performed with MFK Fisher. We get a strong impression of David's scariness: "Let it be understood by all members of your household that there will be serious trouble if your knives are borrowed for screwdriving, prising open packing cases, cutting fuse wire or any other purpose for which they were not intended. And then a sentence comes along reminding us that she can still summon the pleasures of the table better than anyone: "Soft, pale, creamy, untroubled, the English fruit fool is the most frail and insubstantial of English summer dishes.

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Another famous writer who seems absolutely new and bright in this format is Claudia Roden. Her recipes — whether for chicken with olives, spiced rice with pine nuts or Moroccan mint tea — are both meticulous and sublime. One of the cakes had to be adapted as it originally contained smelling salts! That is really interesting. Imagine putting smelling salts into a cake.

I wonder why they used that. OF course I have no idea what smelling salts are made of. Just what I see in the old films where some neurotic female faints and they wave the salts under her nose. Thank you for sharing such interesting info. This is a Penguin set that I have been coveting, too.

Risotto With Nettles

They just look so lovely! Have fun with the recipes there! I have the English journeys set and it is lovely. A bit older than the cookery set but they do pop up quite a bit esp in England which is where I ended up ordering mine in the end. Even with postage cheaper than Australia and available. Thanks for your comment Michelle. I love comments.

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I promise to try very hard to reply to any message left. Goal C. I have a real attachment for Penguin boxed sets. At last count I had 37 of them, both large and small. They really require a separate post. The oldest one is the vintage Classic 60's Penguins and this cookery set would be the most recent one.

It is very easy to let a Boxed set sit prettily on the shelf and not pull them out to read. This must stop. The Cookery set of books ranges across the 20th century of recipes and anecdotes related to food. It is quite comical a man named Lamb writes about a roast pig.