Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cookbooks

The point where comfort eating and comfort reading meet. A week or two ago I threw a big party for a special family birthday and did lunch for over thirty people. There was much list-making and anxious scanning of cookery books beforehand. This set me thinking about cookery books as a branch of literature. My cookery books can be divided into those that have a purely practical function (all of Delia plus The Good Housekeeping Cookery Book), those that can be read for pleasure (more on that in a minute), and those which I never consult at all. Elizabeth David exemplifies the genre of cookbook as literature, and hers are on the shelf, but I'm also fond of two books I bought in my student day: Georgina Horley's GOOD FOOD ON A BUDGET and Jocasta Innes's THE PAUPER'S COOKBOOK. There is something tremendously reassuring about the view of domestic life that one glimpses here: thrifty, even a little frugal at times, but life-enhancing and celebratory, too. Possibly my favourite cookbook simply for reading is Peg Bracken's THE I HATE TO COOK BOOK, first published in 1961 and designed as she says for 'those of us who want to fold our big dishwater hands around a dry Martini instead of a wet flounder, come the end of a long day.' Some of the recipes have dated (though one day I intend to try Stayabed Stew, designed for 'when you're en negligee, en bed, with a murder story and a box of chocolate, or possibly a good case of the flu'), but the humour hasn't.

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