One of the many delights in my life has been food.It was not that I liked everything the first time it was served up to me, what child does, but I learnt over the decades to enjoy most food that I tried. I have favourites such as roast lamb, oranges, brassicas, milk etc hang overs from childhood. Along the way I have discovered many more.
Back when I was a child, olive oil came in tiny bottles from the pharmacist, used for such as pouring in sore ears! Garlic was extremely suspect and only fit for vampires. Coffee was not nice and the country still had ration books. British cooking suffered a serious setback pre- during and post the second world war, except in the hands of knowing housewives and very posh restaurants. My mother was one of those housewives. I was brought up by someone who could cook well and was willing to try the new. How lucky was I?
It has it’s drawbacks of course, I find it very difficult not to be a trifle pedantic when eating out, a little unhappy when served up re-heated microwaved meals.And very unhappy at having to eat ‘canteen’ type meals, cooked early, en-mass and kept warm - uggh. Don’t even start me on ready made meals:)
We have excellent food in this country, our fresh ingredients as good as anyone’s, better than many. A long history of invention and excellence. What we have lost is some of the knowledge to cook them, it is beginning to come back, but somewhere during the violent upheavals the British lost their way
So when did I begin buying cook / food books for myself? My mother had a fair few which I would read when frowning my way through early cooking sessions. A round about my late teens I found I wanted something ‘modern’ ‘up to date’ more ‘cutting edge’ what teenager doesn’t. I joined a monthly cookery book club. The first couple of books I bought? Traditional British recipes through history. Cutting edge. Modern yeah!
The British have been for ever copying/begging/ borrowing and stealing foods and flavours as well as language. They stopped for a while and then began a hideously ill matched love affair with rubbish, however the nation is back on track now as more people travel overseas and enjoy the local cuisines, as chefs get slots on T.V. as shops accommodate our migrant populations and as many are returning to old ways of farming.
Then I went travelling and my taste buds went into over drive. I have never enquired too closely about the food I was eating as I wandered through cultures so different from mine but I suspect I ate and enjoyed much that is vaguely taboo!I came home with whole new taste. And of course the food books in the countries I travelled through were irresistible sensations.
Seasoning, after good raw food, is often the difference between mediocre and sensational. Seasoning often in the form of small leaves, roots, buds and seeds. Such small inconsequential looking stuff. But oh the magic in the small. One of my early purchases told how to grow them and other uses, dishes they could be used for.
I discovered more spices and many interesting ways of using them on my travels.I have my favourites, middle eastern food is so mouthwateringly delicious I could overdose on it. Eastern European cultures can deliver food that is amazing. Chinese of course although not of the take away variety. Then there are individual dishes from all around like the Navajo fried bread, basmatti rice, Kangaroo, Greek herbed roast lamb, Portuguese fish dishes, Morton Bay Bugs. There is the goats cheese, heavy dark bread and apricot preserve of the Balkans, the Chai of the Hindu Kush, Louisiana shrimp, and oh the list is endless.
Seasoning is I suppose the key to all this, the type of herb/spice, cooking fat etc then the wonderful combinations of tastes, chocolate with chilli (you laugh now but back when I discovered the combination it wasn’t actually well known) the day I discovered Vanilla was an enhancer of other flavours as well as a flavour for ice-cream was a revelation.
My cook book collection now takes up shelves and shelves. Recipe books I rarely follow ,they are read with excitement for the ideas and inspirations, I cannot resist fiddling with a recipe.
Apart from these I wanted to know about food, benefits, history, dangers, sociality. One of the reasons I studied nutrition at University. The original ‘miles’ a food stuff travelled. I discovered the barbarity of food security and the obscenity of price wars over this most basic of stuff. I read about the chemistry of food as it changed from raw to cooked to rotten. I find every aspect of this wonderful sustenance fascinating.
But it is probably time to stop buying so many books eh?