Tag Archives: no excuses

Cookery Club

My bookshelves are having a bit of an identity crisis. In the usual way of things (as in, when I have had the time to play Librarians), they are orderly places. Books are grouped, according to size, theme and author, and they happily sit together, enabling me to find the one I am looking for by pointing, in a funny kind of way, to their neighbours. This week though, as last week, they are not happy. Poetry is muddled up with DIY. Sailing with science fiction. And the cookery books; they are scattered.

I have what one might call a weakness for cookery books. I used to stand looking through them for ages in my local supermarket, embarrassing myself into purchases. I the photographs, the explanations, the suggestions of a life you might grasp for yourself, be that low fat, high fibre, fully organic, home-made and home-grown, if only you weren’t more busy gazing at the pages; occasionally, I even love eating the results of my reading. Mind you, you can tell the ones I use regularly. They are spattered tomes, pages stuck together and falling open at favourite recipes – or the ones that everyone is prepared to eat, anyway.

Despite my attraction to the new and the shiny though, there are a couple of old favourites. Books I regularly return to, again and again, either for ideas for meals I have forgotten or for fail-safe recipes I know will work. I don’t know though. My two favourites are so different that I sometimes wonder if I have a split personality. As a cook, that is..

In one corner, we have Delia (commonly known as Saint Delia in my house). A gift from my friend A when I was in my early twenties and had never baked a thing, it took me a while to learn that if you want a Delia recipe to work you have to follow it to the letter, even down to measuring the tins. In the other we have Naked Jamie (remember that, when he was all young and thin and slid down banisters?) ‘taking cooking to first principles’; a bit of this, a bit of that, a glug of olive oil and tadah!

The thing is you see, that while I quite like the results of a Delia recipe, and it’s good to have her there, just in case I’ve forgotten how to make a sponge or pancakes, or something else equally basic, I must admit that I’m much more of a mix it up from first principles kind of girl. I wouldn’t say that I was all into choices, but I do like to make decisions, and cooking is no exception. If (as is usual) I haven’t got the exact ingredients or utensil in my cupboard, I like to feel that I have learned enough to make a meal work nevertheless. If I know the general principles of what goes with what, I can conjure something out of whatever I’ve got in the cupboards. Pretty much.

And then, of course, there is the thing about following a recipe. The number of times I have inadvertently missed a step, in between trips between the book and the hob. Or the times I have witnessed a recipe misinterpreted (jelly in the kettle, anyone?). Or a misprint. Curries taste very odd with a tablespoon rather than a teaspoon of lemon juice. Without the knowledge that underpins the theory, the recipe is just a rule book, and one I am unable to step away from, should the need arise.

In life as in cooking, I suppose. After all, if I never understood how it was supposed to work, if I was only ever instructed to follow the rule, no matter how well-intentioned that rule was, how kind or how much everyone I liked seemed to like it, how would I ever know, when I was baking a cake, or even if I was teaching a class or leading a school, how to deal with an excessively large egg (or, you know, a child who broke the mould)?