Sunday, 2 March 2008

A Taste of the Past

Along with many of my online foodie-friends, I have an almost embarrassing number of cookery books. I fear that the total is nearing triple figures, although I am too scared to do a definitive count. In my defence, they are much-used... although not necessarily cooked-from!

Let me explain... I have long been fascinated by food, and food in history. Whilst studying for my degree in Greek and Roman Studies I was fortunate enough to be able to take a course entitled 'Food in Antiquity' run by an expert in this field, and my interest has expanded from there. More recently I have developed a penchant for collecting 'retro' cookbooks. I scour flea markets and antique shops and have been lucky enough to turn up some real treasures. I am fascinated by the gastronomic cultures of the last few decades, and these books provide me with endless hours of interest and amusement. Finding myself at a loose end yesterday afternoon (well, actually trying to find important-things-to-do in order to avoid filling in my tax-return), I decided to revisit some of my favourite titles and thought I would share some classic moments with you (thus avoiding the tax return for a little while longer...).

I'll start with a long-time favourite of mine, 'Cooking with Beer' by Carole Fahy. I picked up this gem in a charity shop in Salisbury several years ago.


I have actually used it several times, usually for variations on the classic 'Beef in Beer' dish. It once induced me to purchase a 4-pack of Mackesons stout ('sweet stout' in several of the recipes') whereupon I developed an embarrassing taste for the stuff. For those of you not in the know, Mackesons is like a sweetened Guinness, beloved of grandmothers in legend.

While beef in beer is a logical and culinarily acceptable dish, Ms Fahy seems most determined to convince her readers that beer can be used in ALL dishes...



Well, that would certainly give most people yet another reason to detest brussel sprouts...

And for dessert:


Perhaps my favourite page in the entire volume is this one:


Hilarious on SO many levels!

Picked up on my recent visit to New York City, 'Casserole Cookery' is another classic of its time. A common theme in many of my 1950s and 60s recipe books is that the kitchen is the domain of the woman. As you can see from the proud statement on this cover, the ability to cook a casserole is clearly an important part of the 'Vanderbilt Success Program for Women'.


Much as I love to cook, I was only reflecting earlier today that I would probably not enjoy the job half as much as I do if I couldn't share it. As I type Rob is in the kitchen supervising the cooking of our Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding supper - and doing a very good job of it, if the wonderful cooking smells wafting up the stairs are anything to go by. Top marks on Norm's Success Program for Men!

I love the way that products that we today regard as 'trashy' feature so highly in these books. Staying with the Casserole Cookery, feast your eyes on this beauty:


Kraut and Frankfurter Tahitian... guaranteed a spot on the table at my next dinner party!

I'm sure that we're all familiar with Barbara Cartland as the famously pink-wearing best-selling romantic novelist... but did you know that her expertise in the art of lurrrve also extends into the kitchen?


Babs is actually following a well-trodden path here, connecting food with love as cultures have done since the beginning of time - the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, gave her name to the word 'aphrodisiac'.


Is this the real reason behind Rob's reluctance to embrace vegetarianism?! (See previous blog entry).

If there is no love in your life right now, how about getting your thrills elsewhere...


A chance visit to a second-hand book fair whilst in Halifax, Nova Scotia, last year turned up yet another classic - 'Modern Canadian Cooking'. This book is helpfully divided into chapters so that the hostess can find assistance in every social situation. To where else would the mother of a banjo-playing 'teen-ager' turn when planning a 'Go-Go-Go evening' for the local youth?

And in the 'Black Tie Preludes' chapter... there are those 'franks' again, this time elevated from mere casserole to 'Franks in Jelly' (redcurrant, in case you're wondering) for the perfect canape creation. Thoughtful and ingenious, I'm sure you'll agree.

A typical dish of the 1950s appears to have been the savoury jello salad. Quite who thought that vegetables suspended in fruit-flavoured jelly would be an appealing supper dish I'm not quite certain, but suffice to say that it's not a practice that has survived the passing of the decades. Even the thought of it makes me feel rather ill...

I'll finish with perhaps my favourite retro recipe of all time; the Novelty Meat Square. The name says it all, but what swings it for me is the phrase 'an interesting chili sauce meringue'. Now why have none of these modern chefs incorporated the savoury meringue into their best-selling cookbooks? I can't imagine.

Well, I'm off now to saute some brussel sprouts in Budweiser, and whip up a quick tomato and mushroom jello as a starter. And you never know, perhaps this will be the week that I finally get round to making that Novelty Meat Square? I'll expect you all round for supper next weekend!

7 comments:

Sarah Nicole said...

LOL I LOVED this post. How hysterical and how precious in a way. It's funny to see how the times have changed and how what is happening outside in society so greatly affects the food we eat at home. These are types of observation I enjoy.

Thank you for giving me a giggle this morning Norm.

xoxo
Sarah

Sandy said...

You certainly have a treasury of classics in your book collection.
My Mom has some fabulous retro'y ones too.
Your roast beef dinner sounds fabulous too.

Norm said...

These books always make me laugh! They're such fun to read. I suppose food has such fashions, just like clothes, but I love thinking that there was a time when anything moulded in gelatine was the height of elegance (mmm, yum!).

Sandy, the Roast Beef dinner was fabulous... even more fab because I hadn't had to cook it!

Kelly-Jane said...

LOL, I'm not sure which bit is funniest! but I'll go with 'Thrills of Freezing' - be still my beating heart, hahaha

Anna said...

I'll be there Norm, what a lovely thread. I'll have to start looking in charity shops!
xx

culinarytravelsofakitchengoddess said...

What a wonderful post Norm.

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