Take 5 cookbooks

Last night I was chatting to fellow food lovers Gower Cottage Brownies and Presents Queen (aks The Foodie Gift Hunter) about cookbooks and in particular first cook books and the first things we cooked.

Now as anyone who has read this post about food book I did knows I now have many many food related books….but of course a long long time ago I started with none….

Here’s five books that have heavily influenced my cooking and count as first in some way or another

The Play and Cook Book, Marguerite Patten (1973)

This is genuinely the first cookbook I had that was my own. It was undoubtedly a gift but curiously I don’t recall who from. By the time I got it I suspect I already helped out cooking things like scones or fruit loaf with my mum and grandma. Neither had hardly any cookbooks and mostly cooked from memory or handwritten notes of recipes passed to them. We did have the Dairy Book of Home Management which I spent countless hours flipping though and looking at the pictures and projects. The book is in great condition mainly because I spent lots of time looking at it rather than cooking from it and also because I learnt very early to keep the cookbooks away from the action. Even my most used cookbooks have no splatters!

The three things I recall making from it are: Stuffed eggs, Eggs in a Nest and Rainbow Squares. The Rainbow Squares were a great disappointment it seemed impossible to get the coloured effect for each layer of the sweet even.

Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course (1982)

The copy in the picture is actually my husbands, my copy has gone AWOL and is a BCA special smaller format on really thin paper…it’s been well used and the pages are falling out. It’s the book I really learnt to cook from. In truth I learnt to cook from my Mum’s copies of the three separate paperbacks printed to go with the television series rather than these subsequently compiled versions. The first recipe I remember cooking on my own is Normandy Pork with Cream and Apples as a welcome home dish for my Mum after she had been on a school trip, I was 14. Other dishes I recall fondly are Paprika Liver, Scone base pizza and Lemon cheesecake. It’s still the book I turn to fist for basics and timings, though i promise I don’t make scone base pizza anymore. I don’t care what anyone says about Delia this book is a great place to learn.

A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway (1929, this edition 1984)

Okay now this isn’t a cookbook…but there is a description of food in it that made me want to cook something simple….the book is about the first world war and the part i recall is where some troops have become detached from the column and happen upon a farmhouse…they look for food…

‘There is not much to eat,’ Piani said. ‘They’ve cleaned it out.’
Bonello sliced a big white cheese on the heavy kitchen table.
‘Where was the cheese?’
‘In the cellar. Piani found wine too and apples.’

The soldiers drink some wine and eat slices of cheese and then they move on and back to the horror of the war and the wet and the mud.

In my mind there is a further passage where they simply cook pasta and slice cheese into it…I can’t find it now as I scan through, but the description stuck and the idea something as simple as pasta and cheese can be delicious stuck…and morphed into a regular recipe at home of creating pasta dishes from what ever we had (and calling the result pasta mix!). Of course any self respecting Italian is probably horrified by this gung ho approach…but there happens to be no Italian blood in my family and in Lancashire in the early 1980s I think we didn’t mind whether it was authentic or not just that it was easy, economical and tasted good. The idea lives on in dishes like this.

Middle Eastern Cooking, Claudia Roden (1986)

This is from a series that Sainsbury published in the mid 1980s and edited by Jill Norman. It’s got lovely vibrant illustrations by Julia Binfield. Supermarkets don’t seem to commission cookbooks as much these days but in the late 80s and early 90s there were great compact versions of books by well known authors to be had at bargain prices. I’ve quite a haul of them (not all are quite as nice as this in design terms). All of them though took me on a journey into cuisines I knew little about and got me to experiment with mexican, indian, middle eastern, chinese and more. My favourite recipe from this particular book is the Lentil and Spinach soup with Lemon…a wonderfully thick tasty soup thats easy to make.

The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, Marcella Hazan (1992)

My first Christmas present from my husband, way before he was my husband. This is where I learnt to make fresh pasta, really rich ragu and the best ever lasagne, light yet full of flavour. It’s a sort of Delia of Italian cooking for me and the place I go to check first for an Italian recipe.

All that without even knowing who Nigel Slater was….five books that have shaped how I eat and cook…what are your important five??

7 thoughts on “Take 5 cookbooks”

  1. No Nigel Slater? To be fair, I have the two original Real Fast books, but v rarely cooked from them. If I had to pass on a book, then it would be my Tamasin Day Lewis, which is very well used.

    And it doesn’t seem to matter how far I move my books, they still get something on them. I always say never trust a cook with clean cookbooks!

    1. I know I was amazed there was no NS I have got all his up to Kitchen Diaries and some i’ve cookd from lots but i realised by doing this i’d already learnt loads before i even knew who NS was. I don’t have any Tasmin Day Lewis at all!
      I think because I love books as objects (all that paper lol) as well as for the words I can’t bear them to get messy (I have well read books that look unopened) also I mostly scan recipes then erm make it up when I get to the stove. this probably explains why I don’t bake much.

  2. I am very keen on Claudia Roden’s cookery, I love the simplicity and spices of middle eastern cookery, it is a healthy way of eating. Also, our copy of Farewell to Arms has been kicking round our house for years. When writers describe food, it gives us all a real insight into the period of the good. Good luck with your cooking!

    1. Yes me too, Claudia’s books are great and she writes so well. Middle Eastern food is delicious one of the cuisines I cook from a lot now. Reading about food is a great way to get inspired to cook I think.

  3. Really odd – I remember the Hemingway book so clearly from my junior school days – and recall reading it around 1972 – but the food passage clearly passed me by! It has made me want to read it again now! I love Elizabeth David’s books – they are just as much a good read as they are a cook book and so evocative of the 50’s and 60’s. Thanks for sharing this list! Lucy

  4. Hello Linda,
    thanks so much for talking about the Middle Eastern
    Cookery book I illustrated for Walker Books – one of
    my favourite projects!
    Since then I have become specialised in food projects.
    All the best,

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