I love Julia Child’s phrase “cookery-bookery” which sums up my attitude to cooks and books. Anyone with a passion for a branch of cookery and the necessary skill can produce a competent book of technical instruction, which is, after all, what a recipe book is. But can they transport you in time and place, can you smell the Greek lamb sizzling on the charcoal, can you feel the dust of Morocco between your toes, can you taste the fine wine as you read?
Not for me those books entitled something like “500 Ways with Chicken”. When I get home with my modern, tasteless little bird there is no place for a chicken casserole relying heavily on a can of mushroom soup. A whole world awaits me as I stand before my ever-growing selection of cookery-bookery. Would I like to try my hand at a Meditteranean dish? The only decision I have to make is between Claudia Roden, Paula Wolfert, Clifford A Wright andElizabeth Luard, to name but a few. I lose myself in evocative description, anecdote, history and am transported to North Africa and the Middle East. As the hours wear on, my chicken defrosts in a disconsolate, watery, puddle. Eventually I tear myself away from my books, pick a few sprigs of fragrantly sharp lemon thyme from the garden, rub a spoon or two of garlic butter under the skin, sprinkle the bird with crunchy sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, peel a few potatoes and yet again it’s roast chicken and roast potatoes for dinner. But I know that my cooking during the next week will be inspired by these wonderful people.
The same thing happens when I want to make a curry. Madhur Jaffrey and Camellia Panjabi, to name but two, transport me to India where I can see the gaudy fabrics and the majestic Taj Mahal and feel the hot sun beating on my back. A few teaspoons of this and that in the coffee grinder and as the spices come in contact with the heat, India’s aroma fills the house. Again, my tiny garden yields pungent coriander to finish off the dish authentically.
Who can fail to think of Laurie Colwin as a sister or a good friend, as we page through her cheerful and delightful books on home cooking. I feel a pang when I think of her early death and make a good Jewish-style brisket, filling my house with fine aroma.
Moving closer to home, Louis Leipoldt’s books take me to a gentler and less hurried South Africa and I mentally gaze at the sheep grazing on the aromatic shrubs of the dry Karoo. I revel in the history of my beautiful home city and can hear the Atlantic washing on the beach, where long-ago peoples are grilling their evening seafood.
I am grateful for having been born in a time and place where cookery-bookery books are plentiful and relatively cheap and where there is such a huge variety of knowledgeable and expert people whose efforts and sheer hard work can transport me with such ease into a fabulously diverse world. I lift my glass of wine in homage to my unknown friends.