Friday, August 01, 2008

Favourite cookery books

I like cookery books and I have quite a collection. On my shelves you will find Mrs Beeton, Elizabeth David, Delia, Nigella, Jamie Oliver and AWT sitting happily alongside Tamsin Day-Lewis and Ina Garton. I enjoy reading about food, where and how it is grown and prepared, the people who cook it and those who eat it. Many cookbooks are as informative as travel books and often are more entertaining.

But which books do I turn to for actual recipes? The Aga Cookbook is so well used that it looks quite disreputable and I have a second copy kept just for lending to visitors. I bought this little booklet from Friends of the Earth more than 20 years ago. It told me all I needed to know about planet-friendly home economy long before it became a fashionable issue.

Many schools and organisations produce recipe collections to raise funds for good causes. I bought this one from the school my children attended, to boost the funds of Guide dogs for the Blind. It has a frequently used recipe for Courgette (zucchini) Tea Bread; a Blackberry, Apple and Elderberry Jelly to die for, and one recipe which confidently proclaims itself to be the 'Queen Mother's Favourite Cake'.
My sister-in-law sent me this book, another fundraiser, from her Edinburgh Ladies' Curling Club. Among the recipes for fish, game and desserts, there are some unique gems such as one for the Scottish sweet known as 'Tablet', instructions for making a genuine Hot Toddy and a definitely not for drinking concoction for Furniture Restoration.
On a trip to Bath earlier in the year, I found this collection of recipes which might have graced the table of Mrs Bennet, or indeed, Jane A herself. "Mr Whickham's" Indelicate Pudding might rest alongside "Lady Catherine de Burgh's" Brittle Bites or Meryton Market Squares on my tea table. Or I might fanct Lydia's Ginger Curls or Simpering cake, which is illustrated with a picture of Mr Collins.
Now I come to my favourite: Ann Hutley's 'little book of memories - made up from people who live either on or near by Wintershall.' Some of the recipes are for soups, poultry, cakes and so on but there are snippets of advice, humourous quotations and lovely illustrations. It was given to me by Crinny (MBFIATW), who lives in the little Pigeon House pictured on the back cover of the book.
You have already seen one of the recipes from this book, my favourite one for lavender biscuits. Here is the Wintershall recipe for Heaven and Hell:
Heaven is when
The Cooks are French
The Mechanics are German
The Lovers are Italian
And the Whole Lot is run by the Swiss

Hell is when
The Cooks are British
The Mechanics are French
The Lovers are Swiss
And the Whole Lot is run by the Italians.


  1. A little chopped lavender mixed in with vanilla ice cream is also very lovely. Or you could try some vanilla scones by adding ½ tablespoon of chopped lavender to 8ozs (1cup) of flour. Lavender sugar: 1 tablespoon lavender to 2lb (1 quart) of sugar. I understand that lavender was used often in 17th Century cooking and that for maximum aroma and taste is best picked when the flower buds are formed and mature but not yet open. These measurements are approximate.

  2. Hi Crinny, thanks for the extra recipes. I think I'll start some lavender sugar off today as I have some chopped flowers left from the biscuits. I discovered, the hard way, why it is advisable to pick flowers like elderflower and lavender in the sunshine. contrary to my belief that it was a superstitious practice, the flowers are difficult to chop when wet and, of course add unwanted moisture to the dish. Living and learning still!

  3. ...and in the rain flowers have little insects sheltering in their inner recesses, whereas in the sunshine the insects come out to play and so don't end up in your food.

  4. I hadn't thought of that, Crin. What have I been eating?

  5. Well whatever you have
    inadvertently eaten you have lived to tell the tale.

  6. What a delightful post, M. I have far too many cookery books but, like you, enjoy food writing that combines history, travel and recipes. (Claudia Roden probably tops my list.)

    As for more personal connections, I still have the book my grandmother won as a 10-year old schoolgirl in 1889 for cookery and a collection compiled by one of my American cousins. Her mother (my aunt), who was born here in the UK in 1903, was, like her mother and sisters, a superb cook. My cousin carefully noted down all the traditional recipes that her mother used and, when she visited England and stayed with various members of our large extended family, she would add to the collection. When my aunt died, aged 95, my cousin had the recipes printed and bound and each of us was given a copy of 'Nana's Nosh'. We discovered that each recipe was prefaced by something about the family member who had provided it. Yes, it's a cookery book but so much more - it's a repository of family history too.

  7. What a wonderful book to have, D. Perhaps, as members of the last generation to remember home-cooked food, should all keep such a book to pass on to future generations.


I love to read your comments and promise that I will reply as soon as I can leave my garden, sewing room or kitchen!