Magazine article The Spectator

An Abundance of the Unnecessary

Magazine article The Spectator

An Abundance of the Unnecessary

Article excerpt

One of the welcome results of the current war, or at least of the atrocity which caused it, has been a slight increase in seriousness. In this new climate, the trivial and the self-indulgent can be seen for what they are. Cookery books with their ghastly glaring or minimalist pretentious illustrations are a prime candidate for both. They are certainly unnecessary: there are quite enough cookery books and recipes already published to keep anyone busy for a lifetime. Never have Britons cooked fewer meals than today. Never have they possessed more cookery books. What they do with them only the Lord, or the devil, knows. Wouldn't it be wonderful if Mr Blair introduced paper and print restrictions as in the second world war, which resulted in coarse muesli-like paper, no pictures and next to no white or light brown space? That would stop the cookbook industry in its tracks.

So food books have to be rather special to be worth any attention at all. What about these six? The first, Food Mania, is special and unusual. How good to have a food book with no recipes. It is simply a collection of pictures of food, of animals and vegetables, kitchens and equipment, meals, cooks and eaters, drawn from paintings, prints, cards and advertisements. If you want a book to leaf through in bed or on the lavatory, this is it. I throw away most food books after review but I think I might well keep this for a while.

And I shall keep the Jill Norman. The only question is where. It is a basic book which lists ingredients and recipes for them simply and without garish illustrations. It has little advice on how to acquire ingredients, which is a serious fault. But the recipes, while fairly standard and refreshingly old-fashioned, would be good to show a new cook, should one visit me. The puzzle is why it's a hardback. On the cover, Claudia Roden calls it 'a brilliant kitchen companion', but it's too big and unwieldy for the kitchen. My best Davids and Grigsons, torn, bent and damp, stained black with squid ink, yellow with saffron, brownyred with pig's blood, are greasy with olive oil and covered in bass and mullet scales. They sit on the work surface, bent open, the page held down by a full and dripping glass of wine, surrounded by pots, ingredients and steam. …

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