Note that this doesn’t say ‘my favourite cookery books’. This is because several of my favourite cookery books are ones I read rather than cook from. I adore Elizabeth David’s writing, and love the sound of the food she describes. I find that reading her books gives me ideas. But I very rarely follow her recipes (and when I do, they don’t always work – but then I know people who find her recipes very reliable, so who knows…?) So here, in no particular order and with my very subjective comments, are the ten books I actually use in the kitchen, rather than read in bed…
Home Baking by Carole Handslip.
This little book was given to me years ago by my mum’s godmother. I must have been twelve or thirteen. She was all kinds of crazy, by the way, but those are stories for another day… It is resplendent with late 80s-type styling, but it is wonderful. The recipes are lovely, and they all, without exception, work. I can bake something from this book for the first time and know, without a doubt, it will work. This is where ‘my’ apple and cinnamon cake recipe came from. And ‘my’ gingerbread recipe. Also the drum cake I did for the Little Boy’s birthday. Bless Carole. And bless mad Auntie M for giving me this book. It’s out of print but Amazon have copies for a penny plus postage.
The River Cottage Preserves Book
by Pam Corbin
My goodness, this book is wonderful. Jams, jellies and chutneys. Cordials and things made with lots of booze. Fruit ‘leathers’. Compotes. It’s wonderful. The recipes are clear and comprehensive, and for a country dweller, there are plenty of ideas for using things like rosehips, beech leaves and haws. But city dwellers needn’t panic – there’s strawberry jam and apple chutney and things like that. Although I do suspect that calling something ‘Saucy Haw Ketchup’ was an exercise in playing with homophones as a trap for the unwary. It also has a lovely binding and smells like a proper book. These things matter to me.
The New English Kitchen
by Rose Prince
I really like this book. Lots of recipes, but with an emphasis on using good quality produce, seasonal food, sustainable non-intensive meat, making the most of leftovers… it sounds terribly preachy and worthy, but it isn’t. At least, I don’t think so. I think it’s delightful. (Although her recipe for lemon curd is achingly sweet – cut down the sugar by a third…)
Tamarind and Saffron
by Claudia Roden
I love Claudia Roden’s books and have several – and want the rest. But this is my favourite. From the evocative title and the beautiful blue and yellow picture on the cover to the beautiful writing and the droolsome recipes, it’s a gem. Plus, the recipes are delicious. Claudia Roden’s Book of Jewish Food is also wonderful, but as yet is more of a bedroom cookery book than a kitchen one…
by Nigella Lawson
I have a love/hate thing for Nigella. I love her books and her writing. I cannot bear watching her on TV. The hair flicking and finger sucking and flirty looks at the camera drive me to teeth-grinding lunacy. But her books … well, I have several and was torn as to which to include. ‘How to Eat’ is great – it’s my go-to for the basics and for new ideas with staple ingredients. ‘How to Be A Domestic Goddess’ is a fantastic baking book, and I do like baking. But I chose this in the end. I love the idea of a book centred on seasonal feasts and the ritual of cooking. I love reading about the food of other traditions and seeing what is familiar and what is less so. And I love anyone who can include a recipe for ‘Blood Clots and Pus’. (It’s in the Hallowe’en section and when my children are older I am totally making this…)
I picked one Claudia Roden and one Nigella Lawson, but I couldn’t pick just one Nigel Slater. Nigel Slater is my favourite cookery writer, bar none. I love the way he revels in both the simplest dishes (roast chicken, a baked potato) and the more complex (fish with a beautiful sauce, a home made ice cream). So I have selected two of his books:
Real Food is a kitchen and a bedroom standby. It is a big squeezy warm hug of a book, with chapters devoted to a particular food: bread, potatoes, cheese, chocolate. It is comforting, it is delicious, it is inspiring and happy making. ‘Real food means big-flavoured, unpretentious cooking. Good ingredients made into something worth eating. Just nice, uncomplicated food,’ he says. Who could argue with that? It tends to come out more in the winter months, when my need for comfort food is highest, because nobody does comfort food like Nigel. No, not even you, Nigella.
And we also have Real Fast Food.
I used this lots when I worked in an office and had people home for dinner on weeknights. Proper tasty food, ready in half an hour or less from start to finish. And yummy.
Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache
by Harry Eastwood
This is a book I picked up on a whim at the library. I liked the name and I liked the cover. But I have a wheat allergy and the recipes are all wheat free, so that was wonderful. They also use vegetables in place of the fat. And they’re delicious. Really. Cake made with swede, courgette or sweet potato is moist and yummy and proper cake-like. Ms Eastwood does come over a bit dippy in places – all the cakes have little potted descriptions of their personalities – but it’s a fabulous book.
I like many of the River Cottage books, but this is the one we use most. The Family Cookbook
is brilliant for child-friendly recipes, and also explains why food does what it does – why we beat eggs and whip cream, why milk turns into butter, why things burn. It’s awesome. Plus, it has a top notch recipe for fudge, and is the place we go when we’ve forgotten how to make pancakes. This is coming into its own now my older child is getting interested in food, and I foresee a food-splattered future for it.
And for the basics, I turn to the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book.
It tells you, plainly and simply, how to cook pretty much anything. It was a present a couple of Christmasses ago and I have used it regularly since.
So, there we are. Here are my favouries. How about yours?