Category Archives: education

Love your old cook books

A friend recently leant me a couple of old cookery books she picked up rummaging second hand shops in Kennington Sarf London. She is one of those annoying people who seem to be just browsing but always comes away with something rare or special.

There are no glossy pictures in these books, in fact no pictures at all, no oven temperature charts, conversion tables, trendy chapter headings or suggested Spotify playlists. These books score zero on the coffee table scale and yet I found myself reading both of them from cover to cover and then started digging out a few I had on the shelf at home.

The first was Arabella Boxer’s Book of English Cookery (1991)…not that long ago…. Arabella BoxerThrough reminiscences of her childhood she charts the changing trends and fads in town and country dining between the wars. Big yawn, not for a minute.

The world of the professional chef had already been permanently changed with the publishing of Escoffier’s Guide Culinaire in 1903, over 5000 recipes and still in use today, although every restaurant kitchen had a copy this was not for dinner party cooks or hostesses. Boxer pays tribute to the society darlings, Nancy Astor, Jessica Mitford “it took the butler 6 minutes to walk from the kitchen to the dining room at Chatsworth” then comes Boulestin and many more leading on to Constance Spry (1942) and Elizabeth David (1950) and they pave the way for Robert Carrier, Jane Grigson, our Delia, and the road to Saturday Kitchen and home cooking as we know it today.

Her recipes are scattered with anecdotes and lots of name-dropping, but it’s soooooo readable. Potted shrimp sandwiches, Yeah, “I remember these from Goodwood races”, the picnic section closes with a recipe for sloe gin. Look a little deeper and there’s water biscuits here too.

The second book was Countryman’s Cooking by W.M.W Fowler (1965).

Countryman's CookingWhat a guy, totally outspoken, views on everything, not a trained chef or cook opens with “This book is written for men. Men who, through choice or circumstance, live on their own, so that they can give a small dinner party and at the same time remain on speaking terms with their friends”

He goes on to totally equip your bachelor kitchen including how many butchers hooks you will need (6 by the way), gives no-nonsense easy to follow instruction on butchery, the preparation and cooking of furred and feathered game, hunting, shooting, fishing and lots more. He doesn’t do desserts, probably just as well, and closes with a full page of instructions for perfect Brussels Sprouts; the back cover has his recipe for beer and a great quote “my weak will is one of my most prized possessions”.

Having read these very quickly I found myself sorting through the shelves at home, so pleased to find my grandmothers cook book Olio Cookbook (1918) Olio Cookbookwith a forward to mothers and housekeepers, tips on everything, vegetarian recipes, how to harden a newly enamelled bath, oxtail jelly, pickled lemons

931 Cucumber should always be sliced first from the thick end……we know now.

Not a book, a DIY manual for life. There is nothing the modern housewife/househusband can’t make or fix armed with a copy of this!

And saving the best till last…when learning my trade cooking in Paris in 1981 I was asked to make a Foie Gras Terrine  for a friend to take to the family celebrations for St Sylvestre. He thanked me with a copy of Le Nouveau Cuisinier Royal & Bourgois (1720) by Paul Prudhome. Prudhome

 

Written in old French and sometimes quite difficult to read these guys were cooking everything we have today Crayfish & Asparagus, Ris de Veau aux Truffes and Partridge with Morel mushrooms and Cognac.

 

 

These books are real gems and we have all got them at home, have a look on your bookshelves, the boxes in the loft, ask your Nan!

So what’s changed?……Take a short trip in the time machine…….you wake up to Heston’s Snail Porridge and deep fried Mars bars. How do they do that?

Modern cookbooks look great, lots of arty photos, you flip through, maybe try a couple of recipes, but why are they always just a bit too complicated and it never looks anything like the illustration, so it goes back on the coffee table….yeah I’ve got the new Jamiepollenstebulifrenchlaundry cookbook…its great.

Nice quote from Prue Leith recently “Clever Chefs? They’ve lost the plot”

Post script.  Most of the things I grumble about have got nothing to do with chefs. I have spent my entire life in the kitchen and have been very fortunate to meet and work with the most amazing, dedicated, talented and lovely people on the planet. They work stupid hours in bloody hot kitchens creating absolutely delicious food that some  moron  covers in ketchup and then slags off on Tripadvisor….. Its marketing, publishers, sales, branding, image rights, Tah dah and all that chews me off. I think I’ll stop there!

A Grand Day Out-Mash ‘N Secretts

Few large companies manage to stay in touch with their grass roots customer base. The bigger they become the more corporate the management and the less personal the service with little or no interaction with their most valuable asset……..their customers. Newsletters and  Nectar cards just don’t bridge the gap.

What a great surprise then to be invited to “A Grand Day Out” by Mash Purveyors.

This family run business that is now a household name in every professional kitchen in London has just moved to a new multimillion pound state of the art site near Wembley Stadium. Mash HQ

From humble beginnings peddling spuds in Spitalfields market in the early 1800’s

Early Mash Mash is now one of the most respected suppliers to the restaurant trade in the capital working with the most demanding and difficult clientele…professional chefs……but they haven’t lost touch with their customers and continue to show just how important we are.

Monday morning then 9.00am and 60 chefs from all over London arrived at Mash HQ to be greeted with a Champagne breakfast, croissants, delicious cherries, smoked salmon sliders and much more. After breakfast (sorry no photos, haven’t mastered holding a champagne glass, smoked salmon and an iphone yet!!) we were ushered onto  luxury coaches and taken to another family run business with a special history Secretts Farm in Milford near Godalming.

Here we were welcomed by the family, refreshed with cold drinks and then treated to a brilliant tour of the farm. Secretts grow a huge range of products, both avant garde and heritage, for cooks and chefs throughout the south. Our tour guide was Greg Secrett, Greg Secrett4th generation,  enthusiastic, knowledgeable, entertaining and informative, he clearly wasn’t reading a script and lives and breaths the family business passing on his love of the land and produce to his audience. We saw salsify flowers, red mustard frills, land cress, heritage beetroot, rainbow chard, strawberries, redcurrants, composting, potting, pruning and of course some weeding too.

Nothing is held in stock and every item is picked to order, not an easy job as Mash send down a lorry to collect orders for London’s top restaurants everyday at noon. The same traditional family values are fundamental to both businesses which is probably why they work so well together. After the tour, more hospitality as we were treated to a wonderful hog roast, cold beers and  strawberries from the farm (too busy eating to take any photos). The day finishes with a return trip to London and a tour of the new Mash HQ. This huge state of the art facility has packing rooms, cold storage, ripening rooms, foraging tables, drying rooms (wild mushrooms), preparation tables etc. The size of the investment and attention to detail is staggering.

Needless to say all the lucky chefs who attended the day were blown away by the people they met, the good old fashioned hospitality, care and generosity of the invitation. We were all inspired by the passion for the land and farming and by the range of produce available for our kitchens. Every chef went away happy, feeling valued, and motivated……what a shame the banking industry can’t learn from this.

So thank you Mash and thank you Secretts and please put me down for next year!

 

 

Westminster Game Seminar-Jose Souto

Now in its 9th year Jose Souto’s one day game seminar at Westminster Kingsway College is without doubt the best one day introduction to game in the UK…….. bar none. Jose is an exteremly talented and well respected chef/lecturer, active in falconry, shooting, wildlife husbandry, foraging and stalking and of course cooking and makes regular contributions to The Shooting Gazette, Countryman’s weekly, The Caterer, The Shooting Times, Pub Chef, Eat out and the Stock Pot. 

Game-Seminar-Jose-Souto-new-web-size

This is the only opportunity you will get to see and learn about all the furred and feathered game indiginous to the UK unless you work at Sproat & Harvey!

 

The seminars attract food experts, skilled chefs, students, foodies and enthusiastic amateurs.  The lecture is very informative, accessible, relaxed and professional. The day includes an excellent lunch in the college restaurant and an advanced butchery masterclass of a whole carcass of deer.

Jose Souto

 

 

 

 

 

 

This event is so popular that it now runs on 2 separate days

Wednesday 19th November 2014
Wednesday 14th January 2015

Tickets and more information can be found at http://www.westking.ac.uk/game/