Cooks & chefs – there are literally thousands of them too and each of them say their book is the best thing since sliced bread; each of them preaching how to eat healthily/on a budget/quick as a flash/impress your friends/etc. But trust me when I say they are all wheeling out the same old message but with their own twist, and how do I know this?
The Anglice Café Cookery Book compiled by M A Feilden M.C.A. U.C.F.A. written circa 1920’s, a time when you would think everyone was not only eating homemade meals but the ingredients had been freshly picked, plucked or prepared the same day. But it would seem the message we hear from Jamie Oliver et al was also being broadcast nearly 100 years ago suggesting our diets have been on the rocks for a while.
In her preface Mary says “I have been approached so often by Doctors, Health Officers, Educators, Pupils and Friends, that I have been urged to compile this book……It is essential that everyone should study the principles of diet if one would keep mentally and physically fit and avoid various diseases which so lowers one’s vitality…..”
I adore this book, not just because it belonged to my mother and her mother before her, but because it is fantastically iconic of a time when we were emerging from the horrors of World War I but had not yet faced the terror of the next War; a time when families had been decimated, homes destroyed and the reassurance that civilisation could once again return to our everyday lives was being proclaimed to all.
So a time of great turbulence and turmoil, but the importance of a healthy diet, an ordered kitchen and sensible planning was being emphasised as a way of improving your outlook on life and general wellbeing.
There are also plenty of money saving (and it would seem environmentally sustainable) tips e.g. “don’t use sooty pans and kettles, as they conduct heat badly and require longer to boil and consequently more gas is burnt.”
The recipes are brilliant and sound like something out of Alice in Wonderland e.g. Mock Turtle Soup and Forcemeat Balls or what about Cotelettes A La Pompadour?
Not for the easily offended is the advice on: “Hares and Rabbits: If young, the ears will tear easily and the feet snap when bent.”
The names of the puddings conjure up all manner of interesting visions of sophisticated dinner parties and teatime treats including Ben Rhydding Pudding and Bloater Sandwiches and of course there are explicit instructions on how to make tea (Russian) and coffee (Turkish, Viennese & iced!).
The guidance on Invalid Cookery is another timeless example of advising people how to look after poorly family members: “Food should never be left about in the sick room…..Never let the patient feel faint for want of food…..Warm food is more easily digested than cold….” (Some hospitals and carers may also learn a thing or two from this book).
The Art of Using Up page could be applied to all of us today, from stale bread and cheese to half a bloater (don’t ask me!) and is packed full of useful tips and of course for those occasions when you are landed on unexpectedly by family and friends, there is the Emergency Dishes section.
What I also love about this book is that ‘it does everything it says on the can’ but there is nothing fancy or fandangled or flashy, no celebrity blurb or high browed commercial enterprise, just the information you want and need.
Another aspect of this wonderful book is that it heralds from the days of the good old fashioned print press when they used ink and block….hence the delightful mistake under the Welsh Rarebit recipe where they put ‘custard’ instead of mustard but on realising their mistake, they just ‘strike through’ the custard and put the ‘mustard’ alongside!