Today I am delighted to publish this guest post from ace food eater and writer Kake, who has been writing a series on London Road, Croydon which you can enjoy here. The link to this post is here.
While trawling through the archives at the Croydon Local Studies Library recently, I made a delightful discovery that immediately brought the Vintage Cookbook Trials to mind. I had actually been looking for information on Jay’s Furnishing Stores, a chain of hire-purchase furniture shops that operated in the UK during the 20th century — but to my surprise, nestled among the cuttings of newspaper adverts offering “guaranteed delivery” and “the Best Terms in the World” was a small booklet entitled “20 Ways of Cooking Fish”.
Published by Jay’s at an unspecified date (though an anonymous hand has written “prob 1932” on the back), this booklet contains recipes written by a Monsieur X M Boulestin, billed as “The Worlds [sic] Greatest Cookery Expert”. [Editor's note: He definitely knew what to do with potatoes.] The rather tenuous connection between furniture sales and fish is supported by a short statement on the front cover: “Our object has always been a double one – to supply the Best Value in Fine Furniture and to ensure a Happy Home to each of our customers – by freedom from worry – Every housewife knows what part cooking plays in making a happy home.
Flipping through the recipes, I was briefly tempted by Cod Normande (featuring cider, parsley, shallots, and mushrooms) and Skate with Caper Sauce (which involves cooking the skate along with some of its liver plus cloves, parsley, thyme, bay leaves, and vinegar). However I thought the cod dish might be a bit boring, and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get skate liver; indeed, I hadn’t previously known they even had livers. So I eventually settled on Eels Landaises, a lightly stewed dish of eels with red wine and prunes.
The author states that this recipe comes from “the Landes”, which Wikipedia tells me might refer to several places in France, but I suspect the most likely is the département of Landes itself, particularly as Wikipedia also tells me that M Boulestin had his own holiday home there. I found some interesting pages online while investigating further: Landais Folklore discusses the customs and geography of the area, and Landais Gastronomy discusses the food, mentioning eels among other things.
Take two or three moderate-sized eels
I bought Cooking from Cyprus in the excellent secondhand bookshop on Clarence road in Hackney, which I used to go to fairly often when I lived there a few years ago. (It was different then – there was an ASBO on the entire street.) Anyway, genial proprietress Rose sells fiction, poetry, arts, politics, health, lots of childrens books and a small selection of cookery books, with a focus on Black authors
I rather like this book because the author is as excited as hell about the recipes. In an attempt to convey the hospitality of Cyprus, he comes across like someone who’s had a good go at at the grappa and a followed it with a couple of cups of strong καφές. Luckily most of the recipes seem to warrant this level of enthusiasm – well marinated grilled meats (the full gamut of ruminants, poultry, game and swine), several pilau, flat breads and mezze. Choosing to cook this stew was entirely based on what I already had in the house (and had taken out of my freezer to defrost). Fans of Turkish food will note the word ‘ttavas’ as similar to ‘tava’.
Straight forward to assemble, the only change I made a half portion of the recipe and use tinned, not fresh, tomatoes. The smell while cooking was reminiscent of brown bread. I ended up with 3 portions (by my standards), not sure what that says about my eating habits (um, I like stew.)
Apologies for the blurry photo – low blood sugar and dying batteries meant I only had the chance to wave the camera over the bowl before it conked out/I did.
As you can see, I ate the fruity, savoury stew with some mashed potato and will definitely be adding this dish to my (unwritten) rota of excellent week-night dinners.
Ttavased by Elly
Today, a guest post by Martha (her others are here and here).
I bought Elizabeth David’s Summer Cooking sometime last year and we haven’t really had a summer since. So I hadn’t got around to making anything from this until a week ago when after a day of sun I remembered that it was June.
Ms David is of course famous for her cookery writing as much as her recipes, and for shocking post-war English palettes with her re-introduction of the long-lost concept of flavour. Her achievements also include persuading Le Creuset to increase the number of colours in which its cookware was available, pointing at a pack of Gauloises and stating “That’s the blue I want,” (source).
First, let us praise the author for not ****ing about regarding the title of this book. Ms Elaine Hallgarten, freelance food and travel writer, is the creator of and contributor to many works, including the Jaffa Cookbook, Mince Matters, Cookery Do, The Yoghurt Cookbook, Gourmet’s Guide to London (1992 ed) and Reminiscences and Recipes of the Bakharian Jews of Samarkand. I’m not mocking her oeuvre - someone on Amazon has called Mince Matters an ‘excellent practical cookbook‘, something many, many cookbook writers fail to achieve (I should know).
After buying 2 cucumbers in order to make one into a Chinese salad for a party, I decided to make the other into salad as well (as opposed to tzatziki and a tzatziki delivery system). After checking the index of Modern Cookery For Private Families (first published in 1845, reissued in 2011 by Quadrille), I decided to make the cucumber dish with the oddest name.
I canot find out much about the words ‘mandram’ or ‘mandrang’ or who went to to where in the Caribbean to bring the recipe back to Acton. Most descriptions of this ‘salad-like hash’ (William Woys Weaver, Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, edited by Harlan Walker, 1991), lead back to Acton’s recipe, although I enjoyed the idea of it as an ‘unfailing stimulant to the appetite‘. Food in England by Dorothy White (1945) has completely different recipe for ‘cucumber mandram’, so perhaps I’ll have a go at that another time.
I made this stew in order that my dinner of fried cheese pastries have a glancing acquaintance with the principles of good nutrition. This recipe is also from Puerto Rican Dishes (Waverly Press, 1956) and include ingredients found in many of the recipes in the book, especially the base of ham, onion, tomato and pepper (there is a soffrito recipe earlier in the book which uses these things and two kinds of pork). In fact, although some of the recipes in this book may be similar, they help give the reader an idea of popular flavours combinations, much like an Italian cookbook will repeatedly demonstrate the love of basil, garlic and parmesan.
This is from a pamphlet, of cheese cookery, probably seventies, that I picked up for 49p.
Look at their happy faces. The publican and his wife/ husband (they both look like men to me). Standing happily in front of their pumps and rack of tankards this pair look the right people to listen to when it comes to pie making. But wait! Look at the ingredients. Frozen mixed vegetables. Instant mashed potato. This is not a recipe for a publican from a quaint centuries-old Cotswold inn, with pie recipes running through their veins like, er, blood? Like blood? I’ve lost this metaphor somewhat. Never mind. No, this is no traditional recipe; this is a recipe for landlords who want to make a token effort to food, but don’t want to splash out on frivolities such as a chef, ingredients or a kitchen. It’s a few levels below Wetherspoons in the haute cuisine stakes. It’s perfect!
This marvellous book was given to me by Alix for my birthday a couple of years ago and I have used it regularly since, although always skipping or substituting an ingredient or two, as is the way with weekday cooking. For you, gentle readers, I shall do things strictly as Ms Chowdhary instructs! I have the fourth imprint from 1963, though it was first published in 1954, with the author reassuring readers that they do not need to add plenty of chilli, can omit onions and garlic, and that the majority of ingredients can be obtained ‘from my local grocer, chemist and corn merchant’. She also states that there are 3 or 4 well-known Indian grocers in London.
Despite the fact that I really like Indian food, I don’t think I’ve made any Indian recipes for the blog yet, so typically I’ve now done two. The first is chicken curry, Britain’s Most Popular Dinner (according to every arm of the food industry with a finger in the pie of Indian food retail. Wait, hang on…).
I’m not going to go into how curry is not actually a dish and trade routes between England and India are hundreds of years old, because other people have done that already and better. (I found a fantastic concise history of all this on an old website, but then my virus software went berzerk, so you’ll have to make do with Wikipedia.)
Hannah Glasse was one of the first famous English women of domestic writing, pre-dating Eliza Acton by almost a century (this is a cracking article about her).
Although this book is one I’ve had since even before I started actively buying vintage cookbooks I don’t think I’ve ever cooked anything from it (may not be true, can’t be bothered to check). This is because it’s horrendous. Every single image in it is a browny-yellow shade and it makes vegetarianism sound like a problem which they’ve come up with a few palliative measures to make the burden slightly more bearable rather than a perfectly reasonable culinary choice. I’m sure with a bit more enthusiasm and better food photography many of the recipes would be more appealing but as it is, I’ve never wanted to cook any of them. Why I suddenly decided to the other night remains a mystery.