Fascinating Cookbooks – The Week in Books #37

I try to visit the blogs of readers who comment here, and one such blog that I enjoy is by a reader from England, Paula.  Recently I was reading about a birthday tea at her house and began to wonder why English cakes are frosted between layers and on top, whereas in America we always frost the sides as well.  This pondering led me to check out a number of books on British cookery, the first two of which I will review here today, although neither of which answered my question about the cakes.

Great British Cooking is a witty and entertaining book of British recipes along with a good dose of history and many droll observations about life.  I read quite a bit of this book out loud to my husband as he was working on something else, and kept him laughing at the author’s funny way of putting things.  So far I have tried two recipes from this book: Yorkshire Fat Rascals and Bosworth Jumbles, both of which were tasty.  We all enjoyed learning the history behind the Bosworth Jumbles, and felt badly for poor Richard III and his horrible day at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

Many of the recipes sound like they would be great for cold winter suppers, plus they have fantastic names like Pan Haggerty and Tiddy Oggies and Toad-in-the-Hole.  I’m looking forward to trying those out soon.

Next I read Good Old-Fashioned Teatime Treats, published by the British National Trust.  Although not as entertaining as Great British Cooking, this book also contains a nice history of tea and how it came to be such an icon of British life.  Due to my pantry not having key ingredients required I have not yet sampled any of the yummy sounding recipes from this book, but do plan to try Bara Brith (a tea bread with dried fruit), Cheese and Celery Whirls, and Apricot Sesame Slice (apricots and dark chocolate sound like an excellent match!) and perhaps a few others.  I found the book to be nicely laid out and enjoyed the pictures.  It seems the sort of book that would make a nice gift, especially if you gave it along with some homemade treats and a box of tea.

Unrelated to British cooking, but because of a recommendation from a friend who used to live in Scotland, Heather at The Cooks Next Door (how’s that for a segue, hm?), I read and enjoyed Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours.  As someone who has experimented with random flours and gotten mixed results, I appreciated the author doing the leg work to figure out how to use interesting flours like amaranth, barley, kamut, quinoa, spelt and teff since (as I learned the hard way) you can’t always make a 1:1 substitution with those.  I also liked how the recipes are inventive but not off-putting, and the food photography is enticing.  On the menu for this week are Quinoa Porridge with cardamom and currants, and Ginger Peach muffins.  I would LOVE to make injera (Ethiopian sourdough flatbread) but I am not sure where to find teff locally.  If anyone knows, please fill me in.

If you’re gluten-free or just need some alternatives to processed white flour in your diet, be sure to check out this cookbook!

Also at Heather’s suggestion (I get lots of fabulous cooking and reading ideas from The Cooks Next Door!) I read The Cook and the Gardener : A Year of Recipes and Writings for the French Countryside.  This book is a hybrid memoir/cookbook and I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s essays on seasonal life in a chateau garden and the relationship between cooking and the land.  The author also poignantly documents the ways that traditional food production is disappearing with the retiring generation in France, and gives arguments for preserving traditional foods and methods wherever you are cooking or gardening.

The recipe sections follow a seasonal progression, and include lots of tips for finding and selecting different types of produce and ingredients.  I found the recipes inspiring, but after a few weeks of having the cookbook languish on my counter, I had to admit to myself that I’m probably not ever going to get around to making Pork with Red Wine, Orange Peel, and Apple-Thyme Chutney or Duck and Sausage Stew with Celery Root and Sage, delicious though they sound.  If I ever find myself with a lot of extra time and key ingredients though, I would love to try either dish!

If you enjoy reading cookbooks and food/travel memoirs, you would probably love this book.

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2 thoughts on “Fascinating Cookbooks – The Week in Books #37

  1. I’ve never really thought about the way I ice cakes before, but I wonder if it has to do with wartime sugar rationing. I ice my cakes the way my mother does, who learnt from her mother. Sugar rationing didn’t end in Britain until 1953, after my mother was born. Might have nothing to do it with it of course, but it’s a theory.

    Toad-in-the-hole is delicious and one of my favourite cold weather comfort foods. Make sure you get decent sausages and getting the batter right can take some experimenting. Soggy toad-in-the-hole is not great!

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