Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Book Reviews: The Gentle Art of Cookery and Simple French Cooking for English Homes


These books look amazing.  If you like to own books, feel them, sniff them, display them on your shelves and slightly drool over the quality of the paper and feel a bit pleased when there is a little satin bookmark.....these are just the books you are looking for.  They are from a new series called Classic Voices in Food.  They are re-published 19th-mid 20th century forgotten classic cookery tomes.

The binding of The Gentle Art of Cookery is beautiful: a deep green cover embossed with a silver dandelion and contrasting scarlet edged thick pages.  I'm won over already.  Originally published in 1925, one of the authors, Mrs C F Leyel, was a bit ahead of her time in the use of herbs and spices and includes quite a few Arabic dishes that would have been seen as very modern at the time.  I particularly love The Alchemist's Cupboard section at the end of the book where she tells you all the best London shops where you should buy your Mushroom Ketchup, Parisian Essence (qu'est-ce que c'est?) and Cream of Hominy (dried maize kernels).

There's a hilarious recipe, The Ostrich Egg, that had me creased up.  It is suggested that children will be enchanted if you get a pig's bladder and via a convoluted method, cook 12 eggs inside it so that you end up with one enormous giant boiled egg.  My children would certainly be surprised if I made this and might think their mother had gone bananas.

The recipes are simple, a couple of lines long and don't specify quantities of ingredients.  It's all far more free form than our modern recipe books.  I love the old-fashioned-ness of recipes such as Prune Soup, Devilled Lobster, Green Foie Gras Sandwich (foie gras, slices of chicken and lettuce dipped in French dressing in between bread).  In common with other historic cookery books, there are way too many egg recipes.

It's all very homely and you get the feeling that Mrs Leyel and Miss Hartley, the authors, were jolly nice womenfolk, and passionate about their subject.

The second book, Simple French Cookery for English Homes by X. Marcel Boulestin has a bit more of a haughty 'Zee Ingleesh! Zey cannot call zemselves real chefs!' attitude.  Again, it's a beautifully presented book and I loved every minute of his faintly patronising tone.   He was a pre-cursor of Jamie Oliver, in fact, he was the first TV chef, appearing in 1937 and he does seem to be truly keen to make simple, good honest cookery available to everyone.

Monsieur Boulestin offers advice on a post-party meal and advises Cabbage Soup, Mixed Cold Meats, Salad and Dessert Coffee.  (Beats a kebab, I guess.)  He says:

'This is more suitable for Chelsea than for Bayswater - unless the inhabitants of this "highly desirable district" happen to feel, for once, "delightfully bohemian."'

Again, lots and lots of egg recipes.

It's easy to be flippant about these books, and their descriptions of how to cook a steak, or how to dress a salad, but this book was hugely influential in bringing the French style of cooking to the English speaking world, so as a historic (and ironic) document, I love it.

6 comments:

Liz said...

I have a 1929 copy of The Gentle Art of Cookery and I look at it often. Mrs Leyel was one of the founders of The Herb Society and a formidable force. I love the section on Dishes from the Arabian Nights. Almost contemporary with it is my other favourite - 'Kitchen Essays with their recipes and occasions' by Lady Jekyll (Gertrude's sister in law) Perspehone have reprinted this, and it includes chapters entitled 'For the too fat' and 'a motor excursion luncheon' ..all a different world. Great post Kate.

Gourmet Chick said...

I found these books fascinating as well - really interested to know if you tried a recipe out of them? Perhaps not the ostrich egg one!

lolb said...

'This is more suitable for Chelsea than for Bayswater - unless the inhabitants of this "highly desirable district" happen to feel, for once, "delightfully bohemian."'

Love it :-)

Choclette said...

Interesting review Kate. The green book with dandelions looks particularly appealing - ostrich egg notwithstanding. Will have to look out for it.

Grazing Kate said...

Liz - Lucky you to have an original 1929 copy. 'Formidable' is the right word and yes, I love the Arabian Nights dishes.

GC - No, I haven't tried a recipe, I looked at them as browsing material only, but I shall and will report back.

Lol - made me laugh!

Choclette - they are beautiful books - perhaps look out for the original 1929 publication that Liz has got her hands on

Northern Snippet said...

I LOVE these sort of books but I doubt the egg idea would go down well here either!