I know I am not alone in my love, and that is what it is, love, for cookbooks. I know many many others live like me, with an urgent need to read, use, touch, flick through, idle over, buy, collect, protect, refer to, take to bed and hoard cookbooks.
It started when I was very little indeed gazing up at my Mums small but perfectly formed and beloved collection sitting on a shelf in the kitchen. I knew they were important, I knew inside those well thumbed volumes lay the secrets of all the delicious things we ate. They were also out of reach and thus all the more intriguing. I quickly discovered the clambering and balancing act required to reach them and my inquisitiveness was rewarded with my very own cookbook, my first, a small penguin hardback which I seem to remember had a recipe for cheese and pineapple hedgehog. Now I too could take my cookbook, choose a recipe and open out the page on the work surface before commencing the cooking, just like my Mum.
Looking back my Mum almost always had a cookbook open in front of her even when she knew the recipe backwards, reassurance I suppose, a friend. As I grew older and taller and having donated the penguin book to my little sister ‘this is for babies’ I probably said scornfully. I began to frequent my mums cookbooks and my passion really began. I entered a world of Elizabeth David’s Mediterranean Food, French Provincial Cooking, Italian Food, Bread, and her glorious essays in An omelette and a glass of Wine. I encountered Jane Grigson’s masterful books on English Food, Good Things, her Vegetable book, Fruit book, Fish book. I was enchanted by Claudia Roden’s Book of Middle Eastern Food. I met Eliza Acton and Mary Berry. It didn’t matter that the books were maybe too sophisticated for a pretentious teenager, reading the recipes was almost hypnotic. I loved the way the books, many of which were penguin paperbacks, fell open at certain pages. The way English food page 323 bore the evidence of many Christmas cakes made with love and eaten by my Dad for weeks after Christmas. I learned to cook with my mum and these where the books that guided and comforted us.
Some where around seventeen I lost my way, for a long time. During these years I had books, cooked…… but it was not very happy.
It was only a few years ago, three and a half to be exact when I had moved to Rome, happier and healthier that I reacquainted myself with the books the cooking and eating I had loved so much. My cookbooks were some of the only things I brought with me. I began to read and use and appreciate them as I had as a teenager, but now with adults eyes. Of all the books it was those by Elizabeth David’s and Jane Grigson’s that really recaptured me. Of course it was the glorious recipes, but more than that, it was the way in which both women wrote, it enchanted me, masterful, scholarly but at the same time utterly engaging, honest and enticing food writing of the very highest quality.
Reacquainted with cookbooks and eagerly cooking I began seeking out copies of the Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson books I didn’t have. Then through these books I was inspired to seek out Auguste Escoffier, Antonin Carème, Robert May, Ambrose Heath, Dorothy Hartley, Hannah Glasse, Patience Grey and Primrose Boyd, Richard Olney. It didn’t stop there, after alI was living in Italy in a sort of gastronomic frenzy, I needed some Italian cookbooks. I began buying, borrowing, furrowing in markets for Italian cookbooks Artusi, Marcella Hazan, Ada Boni, a 1964 and a 1979 copy of il Cucchiaio d’Argento with tenicolour photography vivid enough to make your eyes water…….. I was in heaven. But, I reasoned with myself, all these Italian cook books, I really mustn’t let go of my English roots. Severals trips to London and Daunt Books saw the purchase of books by Simon Hopkinson, Furgus Henderson, Nigel Slater, Hugh Fearnley – Whittingstall, Colin Spenser, Alan Davidson and Gillian Riley.
After my London book buying sprees and the hefty assess baggage charges I paid to heave them back to Rome I did pause for breath and then I slowed down and then I stopped for a while. Stopped buying that is, not reading, using, touching, flicking through, idling over, taking to bed, protecting, referring to and hoarding.
I do still have a list of books I really do need though.