This blog is the first in a series where we are asking members of the #bmFamily💜💚 to share their cookbook memories.
Even though recipes are available online, I still love my cookbooks. Turning their pages always evokes a memory. Let’s start with my shelves. They are colour-coordinated in a rainbow pattern. As a visual person I can recall what the cookery book looks like, rather than what the title is. It helps me find them quickly. Who knew that on Pinterest there are boards dedicated to awesome ways to display your cookbooks?
Ban the brown
My oldest cookbook is the ‘Crank’s Recipe Book’ by Professor David Canter. It’s a paperback and as you can imagine after 40 years all the pages have fallen out! Back in the 80s there weren’t many vegetarian cookbooks. The cover features a lot of brown food (think lentil bakes!). Wendy Bartlett MBE would not like this book – she has a ‘ban the brown’ policy for food! Its mushroom stroganoff recipe is unbeatable. My now sister-in-law bought me the book and it always reminds me of her.
My most dog-eared cook book is ‘Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course’ (circa 1980). This is my go-to for all my basics; sauces, pastry and home comfort foods. My husband bought this for me (before were married) perhaps as an insurance policy!? The loose cover is long-gone, along with the spine of the book. This places my cook book rainbow colour cataloguing system in a conundrum! Should it go in the black (original cover) or yellow section (beige cardboard spine)?!
Chatty recipes and lunches
‘Nigella Bite’s’ brings back memories of happy family Sunday lunches. Nigella’s chardonnay jelly served with my Baileys ice cream was immortalised by my 5 year old daughter in a school story. I always felt the teacher treated me rather suspiciously after that!
I never go wrong with Nigella, she writes clearly and she is easy to follow. I like her anecdotes and slightly slapdash methodology! The pages in my book between the slow roasted aromatic pork and stir braised savoy cabbage are stuck together with her creamy potato gratin. There’s so much potato in there, you could make a small meal from it. This menu used to be my Sunday lunch triumph and was always finished off with her easy sticky-toffee pudding. Apart from the time I over-cooked the slow roast and it looked like a tiny pork scratching by the end!
And there are the books that remind me of the people and the events I have been to. ‘Beyond Brilliant’ by Dipna Anand reminds me of the time the BM board went for dinner at Brilliant in Southall. Some of her team showed us how to make naan breads, Francois and Simon both singed their ties and eyebrows in the tandoor oven! My favourite recipe is Dipna’s samosa chaat with chickpea curry. I loved visiting ‘Books for cooks’ with Wendy Bartlett. We went to several workshops including by Celia Brooks and Ursula Ferrigno. Polpette di melanzane con pomodoro al forno from Ursula’s ‘Bringing Italy home’ reminds me of Mediterranean holidays. I always make this once during my holiday using local fresh ingredients and finish it off with a little nip of our home made limoncello.
The Celtic connection
The Happy Pear are from my family‘s hometown in Ireland. I’ve been going to their café for about 15 years and I remember buying their fresh pesto when they first opened their fruit and veg shop. They opened a café in 2006, even though it’s only 15 years ago good veggie cafés were then still a rarity. My favourite recipes include a special treat for my daughter – white lasagne. I batch make their recipes and freeze them into portions and take them in a cool box for her to put in her freezer at university. She keeps them as a treat to enjoy on long days. She always sends me a message to say when she’s eaten them and how they remind her of home.
Staying in Ireland, I love the Avoca cafe cookbook, it reminds me of trips to see my family and relaxing lunches at Kilmanogue and Powerscourt. Their sweet potato and lemongrass soup and strawberry meringue roulade never disappoint.
The king of cauliflower
I was late to the party with Ottolenghi. I love eating in his restaurants. But when I looked at the list of ingredients in his recipes, they put me off making them. But once I tried a few I realised that the methods are quite straightforward. His flavour combinations are amazing. I grow specific summer vegetables especially so I can make his salads. My favourites are his spring salad with asparagus, green and edamame beans and Cauliflower steaks with zahter. He’s also got me in to the habit of putting banana shallots into everything! I love his photography and his cookbook cover designs.
Christmas with Jamie and Delia
Even though it’s still officially summer, I do start thinking about Christmas about now. My go-tos at Christmas are Delia Smith’s Christmas and Jamie Oliver. At Christmas we don’t want anything to go wrong and that’s why I like these pair. Even though I’m a vegetarian, I make Jamie‘s ‘get ahead gravy’ for my Dad. It’s always a winner and with Delia’s bread sauce and her celeriac and potato mash… yum.
I also have my Mum’s St Michael’s ‘Cake icing and decorating’ cookbook by Pamela Dotter. It reminds me of all the birthday cakes made by my Mum. I always wanted her to make the gingerbread house too, but sadly she didn’t. It was one of my favourite Christmas activities, but now my children and nieces and nephews are grown up I have no one to make them for. That’s one reason, plus the sugar coma caused by the kilo of sweets I use to decorate it would be frowned on.
My best veggie cookbook is Leith’s Vegetarian Bible. As befits a favourite, the cover has taken a battering. As a visual person, I miss not having a photo for every dish, but I am prepared to overlook this when the recipes are so good. There is literally something for every occasion. There are over 1,000 recipes from the classic and simple to the innovative and sophisticated. I’ve set myself a challenge to cook them all. That’s dinner sorted for the next three years at least. It was given to me by a very special friend (also vegetarian) she has sadly passed away. But every time I cook something from the Bible I think of her. I love it so much I’ve even been known to take it on holiday with me! There is a great recipe for Laksa that I made for my children when they were little. Only last week one of my daughters who lives in Sydney asked me for the recipe
One way or another all my cookbooks have marks that tell a story, from greasy thumbprints and notes in the margin to magazine cuttings used as bookmarks. When I open the books to browse for ideas they are comforting. It feels like my life in recipes.