As a child I can remember my mother always using one or two cookery books. She seemed to be able to produce tasty pastas and terracotta pots of beans, cooked long and low, out of nowhere. Ingredients in the grocers or a bargain in the butcher would spark a dish idea. A good cook, despite the gloopy curried eggs, so I didn’t understand why she kept cookery books at all. (I was very young!).
Three favourites came out regularly: Robert Carrier’s Great Dishes Of The World, Elizabeth David’s French Country Cooking and The Good Cooks Encyclopedia. None of these had photographs, but at least Elizabeth David’s French Country Cooking had illustrations. Really important to a child.
These are the books I learnt to cook from, my first cake was made following the recipe in The Good Cooks Encyclopedia and my first dinner party came from the pages of Robert Carrier, despite never being quite sure what the dish was supposed to look like.
What each of these books had in common was reliability. The recipes worked every time and in the case of Elizabeth David and Robert Carrier they inspired a new way of thinking and cooking.
My favourite books now serve a slightly different purpose. They are a check and confirmation of things I think I know. Maybe I can’t remember the quantities, or the exact method, when getting the steps in the right order is vital. This is when I need an utterly dependable book. Recipes that I can adapt, as well as follow to the letter. What are the quantities for Potato Dauphinoise or where do I find a good Piccalilli recipe? For these questions I have, Forgotten Skills Of Cooking by Darina Allen.
Darina Allen’s book is a comprehensive look at traditional cooking. How to make butter, cheese, roast a pigeon, cook Hogget or just perfect, creamy, scrambled eggs. I’ve often read disparaging comments about books that seem to cover basics as well as more complicated recipes, as if no cook should ever need to check the basics. I frequently check up on the simple recipes. Getting them perfect is what makes the simple so delicious.
Do you have memories of favourite family books or one book that’s your absolute bible?