We’ve been having a high old time at Penguin Towers this week. All the Great Food books are in at Penguin and we have spent the week admiring them. Here is a list of the whole family, and as this is a love-blog to the series, where better to kick off than with MFK’s love letter to food.
LOVE IN A DISH And Other Pieces / MFK Fisher (1908-1992)
Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, writing in the middle of the last century, is as loved in America as Elizabeth David is here. She is a great cook and a gorgeous, elegant, poetic writer – the favourite writer of W.H. Auden. She understood, and makes us see, how vital food is to our emotions, our relationships and our enjoyment of life. Slip this in your pocket or bag and bring it out when you want to think of food, love and joy.
EXCITING FOOD FOR SOUTHERN TYPES / Pellegrino Artusi (1820 –1911)
Every Italian knows and loves Artusi and it’s time that we did too. He was the key figure in bringing together all the ideas and dishes which we know and love as Italian cuisine today. Read him for recipe ideas, for fun – and for the sensation of finding yourself at a mouthwatering feast with a particularly rowdy but rather sexy Italian family. Read the recipes out loud with a cod Italian accent (especially the seafood ones) for fun.
EVERLASTING SYLLABUB AND THE ART OF CARVING / Hannah Glasse (1708 – 1770)
Hannah Glasse is, in Clarissa Dixon-Wright’s words, the First Domestic Goddess. Her advice, recipes and style have inspired generations of English cooks; Mrs Beeton, Rose Prince, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Delia Smith are all fans. To read her – and to cook from her practical, workable recipes – is to be plunged straight into an eighteenth-century kitchen.
THE PLEASURES OF THE TABLE/ Brillat-Savarin (1755 – 1826)
Epicure and gourmand Brillat-Savarin was one of the most influential food writers of all time, and the delightful writings in this selection are a hymn to the art of eating well. His best-loved maxim is probably “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.” (which, I realise, makes me a rather homey cup of tea and a piece of toast; must try harder on the champagne and truffle consumption front).
THE WELL-KEPT KITCHEN/ Gervase Markham (1568 – 1637)
In 1615 the poet and writer Gervase Markham published an extraordinary handbook for housewives, containing advice on everything from planting herbs and brewing beer to how the ideal wife should behave. This, the oldest book in the series, is perhaps the most challenging to cook from but I love it for its instant time-machine effect; it is like reading Wolf Hall through recipes.
THE CHEF AT WAR/ Alexis Soyer (1810 – 1858)
The flamboyant Frenchman Alexis Soyer was the most renowned chef in Victorian England. This is his colourful account of the time he spent trying to improve the diets of soldiers fighting in the Crimean War. The lovely Jamie Oliver channels his spirit today.
A LITTLE DINNER BEFORE THE PLAY/ Agnes Jekyll (1861 – 1937)
Originally published in The Times in the early 1920s, the sparkling essays of the society hostess, Agnes Jekyll recommend food for picnics and excursions, culinary advice for bachelors or how to gain credit for getting the cook to make soup and the boy to send it to an unwell friend. She was super-posh but very funny.
BUFFALO CAKE AND INDIAN PUDDING/ Dr A W Chase (1817-1885)
Travelling physician, salesman, author and self-made man (really, a bit of a snake-oil salesman), Dr Chase dispensed remedies all over America during the late nineteenth century, collecting recipes and domestic tips from the people he met along the way. You can feel the burgeoning American national pride rise with every bread and cake recipe in the book. Cake hasn’t been so political since the French Revolution.
A DISSERTATION UPON ROAST PIG & OTHER ESSAYS/ Charles Lamb (1775 – 1834)
A rapturous appreciation of pork crackling and a touching description of hungry London chimney sweeps are some of the subjects of these personal, playful writings from early nineteenth-century essayist Charles Lamb. It was the lovely Penguin author Anne Fadiman who made me read Lamb’s essays again (she had a major time-slip crush on him); and I love them because he writes about hunger for warmth, friendship and love as much as for food.
THE CAMPAIGN FOR DOMESTIC HAPPINESS/ Isabella Beeton (1836 – 1865)
Firmly of the belief that a home should be run as an efficient military campaign, Mrs Beeton, the doyenne of English cookery, offers timeless tips on selecting cuts of meat, throwing a grand party and hosting a dinner. (I find her a bit scary. She reminds me of my Grandma).
You have just read TEN books! And we’re only half way there…
MURDER IN THE KITCHEN/ Alice B Toklas (1877 – 1967)
In this memoir-turned-cookbook, Alice B. Toklas describes her life with partner Gertrude Stein and their famed Paris salon, which entertained the great avant-garde and literary figures of their day. Her most famous recipe has got to be Haschiche Fudge.
RECIPES AND LESSONS FROM A DELICIOUS COOKING REVOLUTION / Alice Waters (1944—)
A champion of organic, locally produced and seasonal food and founder of acclaimed Californian restaurant Chez Panisse, Alice Waters emphasizes the joys and ease of cooking with local, fresh food. Yum, yum, yum.
NOTES FROM MADRAS/ Colonel Wyvern (1840 – 1916)
A TASTE OF THE SUN/ Elizabeth David (1913 – 1992)
Legendary cook and writer Elizabeth David changed the way Britain ate, introducing a postwar nation to the delights of Mediterranean climes, and bringing garlic, wine and olive oil into its kitchens. (Elizabeth David needs no advertising by me so I’ll give you an interesting fact instead: the copy-editing-chief, Richard Duguid’s mum, has the original china shown on this jacket.)
EATING WITH PILGRIMS AND OTHER PIECES/ Calvin Trillin (1935—)
THE JOYS OF EXCESS / Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703)
Calvin Trillin is America’s funniest and best-loved food writer. He expands on the Buffalo chicken wing, the deep-fried wonton, the New York bagel and the brilliant, inimitable melting-pot that is US cuisine.
Samuel Pepys was a hearty drinker, eater and connoisseur of epicurean delights. These irresistible selections from his diaries provide a vivid picture of the joys – and the side-effects – of over-indulgence. This selection was done by Caroline Elliker at Penguin; when I first read it I laughed out loud on the tube.
AN ALPHABET FOR FOOD LOVERS/ Alexandre Dumas (1802 – 1870)
THE ELEGANT ECONOMIST / Eliza Acton (1799 – 1859)
RECIPES FROM THE WHITE HART INN / William Verrall (1715 – 1761)
William Verral, a redoubtable eighteenth-century landlord in Lewes, Sussex, trained under a continental chef and was determined to introduce the ‘modern and best French cookery’ to his customers. His recipes are fresh and fabulous and nearly all work (but it’s that ‘nearly’ that’s the interesting bit, isn’t it… watch this space!)
A MIDDLE EASTERN FEAST / Claudia Roden (1936—)
Well, thank you for your patience. Perhaps now you can have a cup of coffee… there are some excellent tips in Claudia’s book; or Colonel Wyvern, if you happen to at camp at an Indian hill station.
Claudia Roden brought the wealth of Middle Eastern food and traditions, from mezze to sherbets, to Britain in the sixties. Her knowledgeable and entertaining comments on recipes carry a delicate flavour of loss and longing for the food from her homeland. Claudia Roden is a goddess, really, so I was thrilled when she agreed to let us publish this; reading it is instant sunshine on a wintry day.
Eliza Acton’s crisp, clear, simple style and foolproof instructions established the format for modern cookery writing. Discover recipes for ‘superlative mincemeat’ and ‘Baron Liebig’s Beef Gravy’ among many others. At Penguin we’re still puzzling over ‘The Rich Publisher’s Pudding’ and ‘The Poor Author’s Pudding’. Shouldn’t it be the other way round?
A glorious culinary compendium from the author of The Three Musketeers, this collection of ingredients, recipes and anecdotes takes you from Absinthe to frogs’ legs, oysters, Roquefort and vanilla. Sometimes useful, sometimes just plain wrong, but always entertaining.
Colonel Wyvern, stationed in Madras during the height of British imperial rule, provides foolproof recipes for curry powder, tamarind chutney, korma and ‘mulligatunny’ soup. One of my best, most useful cookbooks, The Conran Cookbook, has a recipe for ‘Wyvern’s Chicken Curry’ so I was thrilled to meet the original good egg; definitely a good man in a tight kitchen.